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Mission for Studios, Should They Accept It: Big-Ticket Item Tie-Ins

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Movie tie-ins aren’t just for toys and fast food anymore.

Apple Computer and Paramount Pictures last month teamed up for a $15-million cross-promotional blitz for the film “Mission: Impossible.” Print, TV and in-store ads are plugging both the film and the notebook computer used by star Tom Cruise--who reportedly approved every piece in the campaign. Apple executives say the is the first partnership between a studio and a major high-tech firm to push a specific movie.

Viewers can expect more of the same in coming months. With marketing costs skyrocketing, studios are looking for ways to blast through publicity clutter, especially during the peak summer and Christmas seasons. Tie-ins help offset ad expense because the manufacturer typically pays for the promotion. In return, a product gets a bit of high-profile Hollywood cachet.

In fact, Apple is reportedly on the verge of announcing another major cross-promotion, this time with Twentieth Century Fox’s upcoming “Independence Day.” Apple executives could not be reached for comment.

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Studio executives and manufacturers point to a multiplier effect. “The impact [of a good tie-in] goes well beyond the dollars” spent, said Gerry Rich, president of worldwide marketing for MGM, which teamed up with auto maker BMW for a $15-million tie-in for last year’s “GoldenEye.”

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Although tie-ins have existed for years, the phenomenon has recently been extended to big-ticket items such as computers and luxury cars--a reflection, some say, of the intense merchandising power of Hollywood.

“The products are getting bigger and higher-priced,” said Harold Vogel, analyst at New York-based Cowen Co. “It used to be a can of beer, bottle of soda, cereal package or fashion item.”

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Yet the strategy has its drawbacks. Many products make awkward or unsuitable marketing partners, studio executives say. Moreover, the benefit of cross-promotions can be difficult to quantify, especially for a manufacturer. And filmmakers are under increasing pressure to blur the line between a serendipitous plot point and outright corporate shilling.

“GoldenEye” included a scene in which spy James Bond was introduced to a new BMW roadster; the segment, originally scripted for a generic automobile, basically amounted to an in-film commercial. Paramount officials approached Apple about a tie-in after viewing early footage in which the company’s computers figured prominently.

“I don’t think many people like spending $8 to see an infomercial in a two-hour movie,” Vogel said.

Yet in the case of “Mission: Impossible,” the bet seems to have paid off. The movie has grossed more than $100 million in its first two weeks, giving troubled Apple a welcome boost of positive publicity after recent management turmoil and huge losses.

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“I think this was the perfect time to pursue this type of promotion,” said Jon Holtzman, director of worldwide brand marketing at Apple. “It brings new excitement to the brand at a time we really needed to do that.” However, Holtzman conceded that the computer maker was seeking merely better brand awareness rather than a specific sales goal.

“The advantage to [Apple] is the opportunity to associate with the glamour, hopefully, of a hit film,” said Arthur Cohen, president of worldwide marketing for Paramount. “For us, it gives us a presence we otherwise wouldn’t have” in stores and the media.

Indeed, the studio plans similar ventures in the future. “We’re always out there pitching movies” to companies, Cohen said.


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