Cashing in on the Twilight phenomenon
Brands are clamouring to tap into the success of popular cinema releases.
Twilight: tie-ups with Burger King and Volvo
You do not have to be a marketing visionary to see why brands such as Volvo and Burger King want to piggy-back Summit Entertainment's multibillion-dollar film series Twilight, the third instalment of which, Eclipse, has just been released.
Yet, it wasn't always obvious that this tale of vampire passion, based on Stephanie Meyer's novels, would be the biggest youth movie sensation since Harry Potter. In 2008, when Summit was filming the first Twilight, the modestly budgeted production did not arouse much interest from brands or the showbiz press, despite the popularity of Meyer's books.
Summit executives, including worldwide marketing president Nancy Kirkpatrick were optimistic, having seen plenty of fan love for lead characters Bella and Edward at bookstores, conventions and online. However, it was only after the $37m film had clocked up $700m in box office and DVD revenues that the media and marketing industries started paying attention.
By the time New Moon, the second of five planned films, was released in November 2009, brands had recognised Twilight's potential as an exceptional platform for reaching 12- to 24-year-old female consumers, as well as their mothers. Kirkpatrick's hope was that, if Summit injected enough action into Eclipse, it might become a breakout hit with young men as well.
As with most major movie franchises, there are two main ways for brands to get involved in the Twilight phenomenon - through direct partnerships with Summit or by hooking up with cinema adsales agencies such as DCM, which manages screen advertising inventory for 64% of the UK market.
A good example of the former is Volvo's product-placement deal. It positioned its XC60 model as the preferred car of vampire heart-throb Edward, played by Robert Pattinson. The Swedish marque's association with Twilight was lent authenticity by Meyer, who had the character drive a Volvo S30 in her books.
When sales of the S30 rose following the first movie, Volvo developed a TV and digital strategy for the XC60 based on the franchise. For the release of New Moon, it launched a website that offered fans the chance to attend the premiere, meet the cast and win the car.
According to Volvo project manager Oliver Engling, the connection with the character in the books means that Volvo's participation is 'credible and logical', and this seems to have had an impact; after New Moon, parents came to showrooms to photograph their children in the 'Twilight' car.
For Eclipse, Volvo has rolled out ads by Arnold Worldwide which show clips from the film, as well as flashes of the XC60. The campaign also pushes viewers to a website where they can play a game in which they navigate an XC60 through the town of Forks, in which the films are set. According to Engling, the fact that many fans are too young to drive is not viewed as a problem because 'in a few years' time they will be our potential customers'.
Twilight is not the first blockbuster film series to attract this kind of attention from brands. James Bond releases have long been packed with branded devices, while Michael Bay's Transformers films offered a major placement opportunity for General Motors. The key difference is the more sophisticated approach studios are taking to brand partnerships. For example, Fox signed up McDonald's, Coca-Cola, LG Mobile and Panasonic as partners for James Cameron's 3D hit Avatar. As with Twilight, this cut two ways. While the brands developed 360 degs marketing campaigns, Avatar secured exposure via McDonald's outlets and Coke Zero packs. In the US, Coke Zero cans featured augmented-reality prompts that made a helicopter from the film appear on screen when the can was held in front of a PC webcam.
However, this kind of tie-up carries some risks, as it requires brands to agree deals well ahead of release. This is why many companies prefer to carry out their cinema marketing via ad reels that run before films.
'What we sell is audience, delivered via an ongoing slate of movie releases,' says DCM managing director Martin Bowley. 'Looking ahead, we have Star Trek 2, Iron Man 3 and a new Pirates Of The Caribbean release - all titles that will appeal to the youth demographic.'
With less uncertainty surrounding portfolios of films than individual releases, brands can benefit from a medium that, according to Bowley, has not only survived the recession, but enhanced its proposition. 'Cinema is very resilient. For 16-35s, going to the cinema is still an event - particularly now 3D has arrived,' he adds.
This approach can also work for other demographics. 'Lego wanted to create a sense of scale on a limited budget, so we managed its sponsorship of Kids AM - weekend and holiday screenings of family films at 64 Vue cinemas,' says David Peters, sponsorship director at media agency Carat.
Its strategy involves in-store and online activity, as well as 30-second cinema spots. 'The campaign helps Lego reach a captive dual audience, which is engaged with the film more than it would be with TV,' adds Peters. Because family cinema is growing hugely, due to 3D releases, we surpassed 30m admissions in the last year of the deal, which is now the foundation for all of Lego's brand communications.'
Moreover, the portfolio approach did not preclude activity around specific films, such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Prince Of Persia: the Sands of Time.
Emma Hart, associate investment director at media agency Starcom, adopted a similar strategy to exploit Honda's tie with Avatar. This became the focal point of the marque's winter campaign because 'it wasn't a good time to go on to TV'. Honda also made clever use of cinema foyers, promoting test drives, for example, using lenticular postcards.
Samsung, another of Starcom's clients, was just one of several brands that used Twilight as the centrepiece of its activity last year. According to DCM, 'the COI used the Twilight films to target hard-to-reach teenagers on subjects such as road safety', while Wrigleys launched its Cobalt and Electro chewing-gum brands during New Moon.
Hart believes that brands should be looking at something similar this year. 'Twilight is a phenomenon, in terms of the audience size it attracts and the way fans relate to it,' he says. 'Now that Hollywood consistently delivers good-quality sequels, it's a great marketing environment.'
Brands often increase their adspend for specific films, such as Sex and the City 2, which was popular with brands including Lastminute.com, Kellogg's Special K and Cadbury's Dairy Milk. Yet, this does not undermine DCM's primary goal of helping agencies unlock the value of audiences. 'Since I joined, I've focused on longer-term planning - so brands know what is coming up - and integrating our activities more with digital media,' says Bowley.
He emphasises this last point, referring to the impact of Facebook and Twitter on consumers' choice of films. 'Twilight has certainly benefited from that buzz and so did The Hangover - a film that critics didn't like, but was turned into a box-office hit by word of mouth,' adds Bowley. 'Our contribution to that debate is the creation of a mobile app that enables us to become part of the digital conversation.'
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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