Pix given pricey kickoff

Studios eagerly ante up touting tentpoles to key demos

The Cowboys beat the Steelers by 10 points in a fairly close game, but that’s not the big reason why the 1996 Super Bowl stands out in the minds of many media execs.

What really grabbed people’s attention, says Stacey Lyn Koerner, exec VP and director of global research for Initiative Media, was the eye-popping commercial promoting the movie “Independence Day,” highlighted by an indelible image: the White House being blown to smithereens.

Even though the “Independence Day” spot ran Jan. 18 and the movie didn’t open in theaters until July 4, the commercial was so memorable it helped build momentum for the 20th Century Fox release, which ended up grossing $306.2 million in U.S. multiplexes.

Some of the major studios buying ads in the 2005 Super Bowl, which takes place Feb. 6, are also planning to promote movies not scheduled to open before late spring/early summer.

Paramount says two of its three spots will go to Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” starring Tom Cruise and due in theaters June 29, and “The Longest Yard,” with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock, slated for May 27. (“Sahara,” scheduled for April 8, gets the third spot.)

Warner Bros.’ June 17 release “Batman Begins” will likely get a spot, with “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” (July 15) and “The Dukes of Hazzard” (July 29) also in the running.

Chris Geraci, director of national broadcast for OMD Worldwide, says Paramount and Warner Bros. will use the months-in-advance Super Bowl spots “to kick off the awareness campaign.”

“You’ll see lots of marketing” for these movies between February and the summer, Geraci says, ranging from billboard campaigns to Web sites.

By contrast, Columbia Pictures decided to use its one 30-second Super Bowl spot to promote “Hutch,” the romantic comedy with Will Smith, which opens in theaters the Friday after the game.

Geoffrey Ammer, president of worldwide marketing for Columbia Pictures, says the studio wasn’t comfortable with marketing one of its summer movies so far in advance because “many of these pictures are still shooting. We may not have all of the best materials to create a standout spot.”

Ammer says a studio is going out on a limb when it ballyhoos a movie in the Super Bowl, months before it opens, and not only because, at a record $2.4 million a 30, the pricetag is higher than any other spot in the history of television.

An even bigger reason for caution, he continues, is that the game has also become a Super Bowl of commercials. Companies such as Honda, Anheuser-Busch, FedEx, Frito-Lay and Visa each spend millions of dollars to produce one 30-second spot.

Thus, says Ammer, it has become harder for any one spot to stand out, even when a studio can use the image of a Cruise or a Sandler or a Johnny Depp in its ad.

But ads for non-showbiz corporations “use Hollywood-quality production values,” says John Rash, senior VP and director of broadcast negotiations for Campbell Mithun, citing an H&R Block gem directed by the Coen brothers.

Peter Adee, president of worldwide marketing for MGM, which has bought one 30 in the Super Bowl for “Be Cool,” the studio’s March 4 sequel to “Get Shorty,” says he’s fully aware of “huge competition among all the companies buying spots to come up with the funniest and most memorable 30.”

But since MGM is aiming “Be Cool” at male moviegoers, Adee says he couldn’t think of a better way to reach masses of them than through an ad in the Super Bowl.

“My main concern is to create an effective ad that will speak to potential ticket buyers of ‘Be Cool,’ ” he says, even though his spot probably won’t be at the top of the list in the next morning’s edition of USA Today, which ranks Super Bowl spots every year for wit, creativity and filmic quality.

The bottom line for all of these movie companies is that no other annual TV event is guaranteed to harvest more than 80 million viewers, a number that has stayed fairly steady over the past couple of decades. Every other yearly TV spectacular, from the Academy Awards to the World Series, has, on average, sustained severe drop-offs in viewers since the late 1970s.

“The Super Bowl is the unofficial secular American holiday,” Rash says. “It’s the perfect coming together of football, marketing, consumerism, overeating and gambling. It’s an event that transcends sports.”