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‘Pacific Rim’s’ Legendary Marketing Challenge

Campaign to start with fanboys, reach out to families, women

The 25-story-tall robots of “Pacific Rim” may have shoulders big enough to carry the hopes riding on the picture.

Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. have dared to hope that auds will find Guillermo del Toro’s giant-monsters-vs.-giant-robots opus as compelling as “Star Wars,” and that they’ll flock to it again and again, be it in cinemas, theme parks, graphic novels, games or apps. Legendary, which developed the property and put up 75% of its nearly $200 million production budget, needs the film to be a monster hit, given its economics and the leverage it could afford Tull in negotiating a new studio deal, if, as expected, he ends his company’s longtime partnership with Warner Bros.

Pacific Rim” also represents a coming-out proclamation of sorts for Legendary, which is growing into a more full-fledged independent that hatches and bankrolls more homegrown movies. With its recent acquisition of the savvy boutique marketing agency Five33, Legendary plans to implement and execute the marketing strategy for all or its upcoming tentpoles.

Jon Jashni, Legendary’s president and chief creative officer, says the company had always planned to evolve toward creating its own content, and self-financing more of its pictures. He insists the effort to develop “Pacific Rim” as an original tentpole wasn’t tied to the expiration of Legendary’s Warner deal at year’s end.

“If we stay at Warners, this would still have been a part of our strategy,” Jashni says, noting that Legendary intends to fund potential franchise pics in the future, such as “Warcraft” and “Hot Wheels.”

For “Pacific Rim” to be the kind of phenomenon Legendary is banking on, the picture must draw on an audience beyond the core fanbase of Kaiju and Gundam aficionados. Jashni says “Pacific Rim” is aimed at “all quadrants.”

Warner’s marketing strategy has been to rev up core fans first, then expand from there. Del Toro’s appearances at last year’s Comic-Con and this year’s Wondercon, and the action-oriented trailers, have stoked the fanboys. Sue Kroll, Warner’s president of worldwide marketing, told Variety, “We have the benefit of strong reaction from the core, but we are also enjoying an outstanding reaction to the materials from general consumers.”

Early marketing, says Jashni, focused on the high-concept hook. To use del Toro’s gleeful description: “Giant (bleeping) monsters vs. giant (bleeping) robots.”

Jashni, too, sees the film’s scale as an asset. “People want big summer entertainment,” he says. “We’ve got to indicate that.”

But the Legendary exec also readily acknowledges that using flash won’t work by itself.

“We’ve brought the tasty, but we’re also going to bring the nutrition,” he says. That “nutrition” began to show up in the marketing campaign last week, with the unveiling of a featurette about “Drift Space,” which reveals one of the pic’s conceptual conceits.

Within the world of “Pacific Rim,” the pilots inside the robots must link their minds, sharing memories and thoughts. In this link, called the “Drift,” pilots have no secrets from each other; when lonely, troubled pilots Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) must team up, they experience what Jashni terms “the fastest speed-dating of all time.” If the bots and monsters hook the fanboys, this aspect of emotional intimacy figures to play to femmes.

The TV campaign will ramp up next week and will target kids, teens and families, with spots on NBA and NHL playoff games, “Good Morning America,” the “Today” show and network season finales.

Jashni maintains that the “fanboy psychographic” isn’t limited to men anymore, and that character helps sell a movie to all audience segments. “There’s an emotional aspect to this movie, and there’s a bombastic aspect,” he says. “Some women will respond to the emotion inherent in the movie, some will respond to the spectacle. Same is true for men and adults. ”

To reach all those viewers, though, the film’s marketing must overcome the perception that “Pacific Rim” is “Transformers vs. Godzilla.” (In fact, a Google search for that mashup, with the words “Pacific Rim” returns about 21,300 hits.)

“The comparison is only a problem if we fail at differentiating the film from the other properties,” says Kroll, who remains confident audiences will be satisfied with the picture’s big action sequences and the fact it “looks so new and fresh.”

And Warner’s marketers aren’t exactly bristling at the comparison with “Transformers.” They feel if they have to be pigeonholed with something, it might as well be a multibillion-dollar franchise.

(Pictured Up Top: Legendary hopes more than just young men will get caught up in “Pacific Rim,” with Charlie Day.)

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