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Hollywood Tie-ins: How to Avoid a Horror Show

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Dear CMO:

Let me tell you a true story. I was having dinner with my boss back in my Iomega days, and we were talking about how you get more people to buy Zip disks. The industry just did rebates back then, so anything value-added was pretty bold stuff. My idea was to get more merchandising in stores by packaging disks preloaded with unique content from the film, and maybe with a movie ticket or a game. This was an unusual way of marketing data media at the time. His reaction was pretty unusual, too.

He slowly stood up, and with food falling out of his mouth, began an incoherent speech, quickly increasing in volume, about getting in front of the board by tomorrow and embarking on a Dr.-Livingstone-seeks-the-source-of-the-Nile tour. Other diners studiously avoided eye contact and physically shied away from us, no doubt fearing that they would somehow be dragged into the expedition carrying displays, sherpa-like, through Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport.

I grabbed my beer as it headed toward the edge of the table—he had tucked the table cloth into his pants—and told him the one thing that ruined the whole deal: "What if the movie bombs?"

Now, we all knew the movie wouldn't bomb because it was a sure thing. It was going to redefine Hollywood, push the boundaries of integrated entertainment marketing and be the biggest licensing bonanza in any of our lifetimes. Movies like Godzilla just don't bomb.


And therein lies the moral of the story.

In case you missed it, or if a few years of successful therapy finally blocked it out, Godzilla was a bomb. And if a sure thing like Godzilla can bomb, who among us is safe in the entertainment marketing world?

Here is a quick primer on getting the best seats in the house.

Rule #1: Everything you do is about selling more stuff. Not "getting more buzz," "generating more impressions," or "having more cocktails"

Sell something. I know, it's hard, but you need to do this. You will have fewer angry people around the boardroom table if you nail this one. Everything you spend money on needs to help sell-through. Pay attention to incremental merchandising—more ads and off-planogram in-store inventory. And if your property and offer are strong enough, you shouldn't be paying for any of this. If you don't get the merchandising, give them generic inventory and move on to the next guys.

Rule #2: Do just enough to get what you want out of your customers and your channel, then slam your wallet shut

Here's the acid test: How little do you need to spend on the consumer offer to get the channel to give you incremental merchandising? Here are two ways to do this. First, manage the trade-off between the expensive immediate gratification of an on-pack with the relatively cheaper delayed gratification of a mail-in. Second, understand the economics of your promotional options, from the theatrical release to home entertainment, video gaming, and music. Offer enough to get the consumer's attention and the channel's real estate. Nothing more.

Rule #3: A sure number 2 is better than a crap-shoot that might be number 1

You will be pitched properties that even family members of the studio marketing department wouldn't touch. Be strong. Hollywood believes in "safe," too, because they are investing heavily in franchises. Spiderman is safe. Bond is very safe, even with a new Bond. And how about Fast and Furious?

Rule #4: Give them what they can't get

Provide what the studio doesn't have or can't easily get. This can mean reach, channel breadth, or relative market strength. If you can't do this, you make up for it with envelopes filled to the brim with cash.

Rule #5: Contingency planning is everything

Film release dates move and actors get fired, hurt, and occasionally killed. Your channel doesn't care. Have something in your back pocket in case disaster strikes. You may find allies in other brands promoting the same film.

Rule #6: Plan very, very early—then get it in writing

On January 1, Target is planning out its post-holiday efforts for the next year. Office Depot is planning out Dads and Grads, and probably back to school. Hollywood is moving release dates in March. This is a real problem if you're trying to get a contract signed. Get inside the planning process with help from the studios and product placement agencies.

Rule #7: Herd your geese

Get alignment with your sales organization, your channel, and your executive management. This sounds obvious, but it's not. Next, get all the wood behind the arrow—product placement, your Web site, sales incentives, everything. Last, keep the shelves clean in both your warehouse and your channel. Can you sticker product without creating custom packaging? Can you remove the promotional elements in-store after expiration? Your operations people and channel partners will love you if you can. The time will come when you need to deal with what's left over.

Rule #8: Leave before the party's over

The best entertainment promotion is one that is over before opening weekend. Leverage the hype and sell product while there is excitement in the market and you won't need to worry about box office results. Ship the promotion when the studio's marketing starts, ride the momentum of their marketing spend, allow consumers to get excited and then give them time to forget to redeem as you move on.

* * *

You can do this right. It just takes nerves of steel, the ability to say no to a lot of very charming people, and a ton of planning. But you will live to fight another day.

Why not just do the rebate? Entertainment promotions transcend your brand and capture the imaginations of your consumers and your channel. Your buyers look at you with glazed eyes when you talk about rebates, but they get excited about James Bond.

Cheers and regards.


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Stephen Denny has been a marketer for more than two decades and blogs about strategy, marketing, and big ideas at www.stephendenny.com. Download his e-book, This Sentence Has 5ive Words: Eigen Values, Creating Truisms and the Future of Marketing and follow him on Twitter: @Note_to_CMO.

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