Promotional partnerships have become crucial to the success of any mass-market film today. Our special report on feature films looks at the role that marketing and promotional support programs play in the successful launch of kids and family-oriented movies. We outline the extensive cross-promotional programs, the licensing and merchandising activities and the host of related spin-off products that are supporting upcoming features.
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During the 1996 Super Bowl, Twentieth Century Fox blasted audiences with the first promotion for Independence Day, and blazed one of the heaviest pre-release promotional trails ever. But that campaign may be just a spark compared to what Fox envisions for Anastasia, the first theatrical release from Fox Animation Studios.
‘Internally, we refer to Independence Day as a warm-up for Anastasia,’ says Pat Wyatt, president of Twentieth Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising, stressing that the film is the most important animated project for Fox in 1997. The Super Bowl spot for Independence Day, Wyatt explains, ‘was the first awareness that the public had of a movie that opened July 3.’ For Anastasia, adult movie trailers kicked off in December ’96, with kids promotions following soon afterward, even though the film d’esn’t open until November ’97, with international releases slated for the spring of ’98. ‘Our goal is that everyone know about this film before it opens,’ says Wyatt.
Targeting both adults and children is key to Fox’s marketing plan. This is possible, Wyatt explains, because of the strength of the movie’s plot, which is based on the true story of Anastasia, a Russian princess who was separated from her family during the Bolshevik Revolution. In the film, the young girl, who is suffering from amnesia, searches for her true identity and finds her true love along the way. ‘It’s based on the greatest mystery of our time,’ says Wyatt. ‘We think it contains the elements that make for a great animated feature.’
Already Fox has signed up an impressive lineup of licensing partners, including Galoob Toys as its master toy licensee, Burger King for fast food, as well as HarperCollins and Golden Books for various publishing projects. Fox has also been in negotiations with almost every major retailer, Wyatt says, and is about to close a number of worldwide licensing deals in all major product categories, including apparel, gifts and lunch boxes. Fox Interactive will be releasing an interactive game to accompany the movie’s launch.
But unlike most animated features, Wyatt explains, ‘there’s an adult component in the marketing and licensing program, and layered around that will be the kids component.’ Fox is betting that adults will be as crazy about the story now as audiences were in 1956, when it turned the Russian legend into a movie starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner. Bergman won an Oscar for best actress for her starring role. Not only is the story a likable one, says Wyatt, but it’s also a beautiful one, spanning two distinct eras, Imperial Russia and France during the Art Deco period. ‘The imagery is very rich and lends itself to licensing a wide array of products,’ Wyatt says, including high-end collectibles such as figurines and music boxes.
But kids are just as important a part of the equation. Fox held focus groups to see how familiar children were with the story of Anastasia. Surprisingly, she says, a large percentage of U.S. kids know that she was a lost Russian princess. ‘That’s part of the reason we chose it,’ she says, explaining that kid promotions will naturally focus more on the animated characters, which are voiced by Meg Ryan, Angela Lansbury, Kelsey Grammer, Bernadette Peters and John Cusack.
Capturing the attention of kids and adults, Wyatt points out, is critical in supporting Fox’s debut into the world of family animated features. Anastasia could make or break Fox’s reputation in this arena. ‘We feel that it’s really important to build an animation franchise,’ she says. ‘All that has been carefully strategized in the film itself and the marketing and licensing projects.’
Wyatt believes Anastasia’s rich character development will set it apart. ‘It’s a contemporary fairy tale,’ she says, explaining that the dialogue will work on several levels, appealing both to kids and adults through double entendres and subtle humor, all of which helps make the characters more endearing to audiences. ‘I think some of the recent animated films have missed that. There haven’t been a lot of lovable characters for a while. And I think that’s critical to driving licensing and merchandising.’