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Summer tentpoles ink promo partners

Wal-Mart, Intel, Lenovo jump on early tie-ins

Marketers are looking to get a lot more mileage out of the millions they spend on movie tie-ins.

In an unusually early move, Wal-Mart, Intel and Lenovo have begun promoting “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen” and the reboot of “Star Trek” — two tentpoles that Paramount Pictures won’t release until next summer.

The campaigns are significant because marketers that want to associate their brands with high-profile pics typically don’t roll out ads touting their tie-ins until a month before a film’s release.

Yet hyping a film six months or more in advance makes sense, marketers say, and could signal an evolution in Hollywood’s relationship with Madison Avenue.

“The old model is not forward-thinking,” says LeeAnne Stables, Par exec VP of worldwide marketing partnerships. “When you’re marketing big tentpole movies, there’s a lot of discussion of what goes when. Sometimes utilizing partners as part of that strategy makes sense.”

Entertainment properties have long been seen as a valuable tool for brands to raise their profiles with consumers.

And promo partners are eager to capitalize on the wave of early excitement studios create around future releases with the rollout of websites, trailers or presentations at Comic-Con.

“Wherever we can, we try to align ourselves with the movie so we can both benefit in promoting each others’ product,” says Tim Takeuchi, consumer campaign manager for entertainment at Intel, who has paired up with computer maker Lenovo on “Star Trek.” He calls the film “one of the big buzz programs at the company” (along with next year’s “Monsters vs. Aliens” from DreamWorks Animation).

Intel created an online Starfleet Shipyard for “Star Trek,” complete with a virtual tour of the U.S.S. Kelvin, a new ship seen in the film.

The site is being promoted online and with ads in magazines like Time, Entertainment Weekly and People.

The launch was timed around the release of the pic’s first full-length trailer on Nov. 14, and aims to associate Intel’s high-tech chips with “Star Trek’s” emphasis on new technologies.

Lenovo, which is looking to tie its products in with the pic’s techie theme, is also featured in Intel ads at a time when consumers are out shopping for computers.

Even before the launch of the lavish website and ad campaign, Intel and Lenovo made the trek to Comic-Con to court the geeks with displays and giveaways.

“It’s a tough audience,” Stables says. “Star Trek” is a brand “that’s very well-known with a core audience. Talking to that fanbase early and appropriately is important.”

In Wal-Mart’s case, the retailing giant is looking for any way to boost sales as rivals struggle to keep cash registers humming.

The company bowed a microsite for the “Transformers” sequel in September, timed around the release of the first film’s Blu-Ray DVD, housed in exclusive packaging. The site shows three exclusive behind-the-scenes production diaries of the making of the next installment.

The purpose was to get consumers in stores or online to buy the DVD. If they do, they may shell out for other wares as well.

The efforts may be mostly web-based, reducing their costs, but that doesn’t detract from their impact for both the brands and the studio, considering the audience those films try to reach rely heavily on the Internet for info on movies they want to see.

Wal-Mart’s “Transformers” videos, prominently featuring the company’s new logo, have wound up on YouTube, expanding their viewership and the retailer’s exposure.

Naturally, Par benefits from the early exposure, as well.

Wal-Mart and Intel are hardly the only partners “Transformers” and “Star Trek” will attract; both are expected to boast more than most movies next summer.

Still, the online efforts are enabling the studio to generate early buzz around the pics without having to shell out considerable coin on its own.

While “Transformers 2” is expected to be an easy sell, the studio has a lot riding on “Star Trek.” It needs all the help it can get to launch the reboot of the franchise with a new cast to non-Trekkies.

Another yet-to-be-disclosed partner will begin promoting the pic in January.

Not every tentpole will help a brand with an early push, however.

Some properties mean more to auds and boast more built-in brand awareness than others.

“Transformers” and “Star Trek” are already well-established properties.

“You can only do this on giant tentpole films that have a certain level of interest on them,” says Stables, who is working with promo partners on early ads for next summer’s “G.I. Joe” as well. “You can do it because the studio is out there making noise about the movies too.”

That kind of noise generates excitement that’s “very compelling,” says Devery Holmes, prexy of Norm Marshall & Associates, which handled Hostess’ tie-in with “Mama Mia” and “The Incredible Hulk” DVD. “But it always comes back to what’s the business objective of the brand.”

Not every promotional partner will pull the early trigger on campaigns. Or can.

Many marketers will still wait for the month leading up to a film’s bow to cash in on any excitement of its release.

Early buzz wouldn’t help a fast-food chain sell more kids meals, for example, considering their short attention spans. And those companies are usually promoting multiple movies during the summer session, anyway.

Either way, the early efforts are paying off, at least for the brands.

Wal-Mart and Intel have generated considerable buzz from blogs and other websites publicizing their efforts around the films. And those companies will continue to roll out new materials around the films as their release dates get closer.

“Star Trek” has been “very good for us,” says Takeuchi. “The audience is very hungry for content they can get around ‘Star Trek,’ just because of the type of movie that it is. It’s a science fiction franchise with a theme of using technology that’s magical, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to show with our products.”

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