AOL TW’s big `Swordfish’ splash

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The world’s largest media company and the nation’s largest advertiser have combined in a multimillion dollar promotion deal to jointly tout a would-be summer theatrical blockbuster.
“The marketing partnership between Warner Bros. Studios, General Motors, the Turner networks and Time Inc. is a model of how movie releases can be promoted and handled in the future,” says Joe Uva, president, Turner Entertainment Sales & Marketing, who did the deal for the Turner side.
The AOL Time Warner properties involved are “Swordfish,” the Warner Bros. thriller starring John Travolta, Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry; TNT and TBS, the two big general-entertainment Turner cable networks; and Entertainment Weekly (including its Web site), the Time Inc. publication. Also in the mix are a willing star (Mr. Travolta) and a sweepstakes-a GMC Yukon Denali is the big prize.
The deal is the latest, and possibly most sophisticated, example to date of the cross-platform synergy that AOL Time Warner has been promising advertisers-and from which this time it benefits itself. “It’s a classic example of the sum being greater than the parts,” says Mr. Uva.
As buyers and sellers are waiting for this year’s marketplace to break in earnest, it is cross-media deals that are getting the initial scrutiny. For example, American Express is said to be looking at a Viacom Plus deal, and Toys R Us is looking at an ABC Unlimited pact, sources said.
After “Swordfish,” the next Warner Bros. theatrical to get the AOL Time Warner cross-platform treatment is likely to be “Cats & Dogs,” an animated action-adventure comedy (voiced by Alec Baldwin, Tobey Maguire and Joe Pantoliano, among others).
“Swordfish” already has TBS, TNT, the Cartoon Network, Kids’ WB and Entertainment Weekly on board with AOL Time Warner’s overall promotional plans.
This is how the “Swordfish” deal will play out: The movie, a high-tech heist/spy thriller directed by Dominic Sena (“Gone in Sixty Seconds” and “Kalifornia”), opens June 8. On May 31, John Travolta, the movie’s star attraction, appears on TBS Superstation’s “Man Made Movie,” hosted by Chad Taylor. The actor and the TV host will chat, do shtick and skits about a fictitious spackle convention [bringing a house up to “guy code” is a premise of the TBS hosted-movie show] and tout the movie. And, oh yes, there will be a GM vehicle to talk about and ride, too.
That will be the same GM model being given away in the sweepstakes that is tied to the film. That sweepstakes is being touted, courtesy of GM, in the pages of Entertainment Weekly, an AOL Time Warner publication, in a double-page spread. One page of the spread is the film’s one-sheet; the other is the sweepstakes and an invitation for readers to click on EW’s Web site to sign up.
Less than a week after turning up during Superstation’s airing of “Jackie Chan’s First Strike,” Mr. Travolta will strike again, this time on TNT during a double-feature movie night sponsored primarily by General Motors.
The featured movies will be “L.A. Confidential” and “Boss of Bosses,” a TNT original. There will be more Travolta interviews and behind-the-scenes-of-“Swordfish” footage. In addition to the usual electronic press kit materials, both TNT and TBS will use original footage drawn from about two hours that was shot recently with Mr. Travolta by two different TV crews, one for each Turner network. And the Travolta TNT tour will be preceded by several days of tune-in spots, also sponsored by GM.
John Travolta also has lent his image to a Heineken beer campaign tied to “Swordfish,” and the beer company and the auto company have product-placement positions in the picture, according to a Warner official.
One element of the AOL Time Warner empire that’s missing from this promotional picture is The WB. “That’s a timing issue, No. 1,” said one official. “And No. 2, The WB as a network has less flexibility with their programming to do interstitials and behind-the-scenes things like this. When you think about it, they’re only on the air 10 hours a week, and they have station affiliates that have other commitments.”
The GM/TNT/TBS/EW/“Swordfish” deal is regarded as a model for future promotions, so look for The WB to come into the mix in the near future. Said the official: “Right now we’re trying to work something out.”
On the GM side, the deal was coordinated by GM Mediaworks, the auto company’s buying agency. There will be other, similar deals with General Motors in the future, one official familiar with the deal predicted, “But no long-term deal has been done.”
The several millions that GM put into this multilayered second-quarter scatter opportunity was “absolutely not” money the carmaker would have spent anyway, Mr. Uva said. “This was going out with a good idea at a time when they didn’t have any money working in the market,” he added. “The idea and the opportunity begot the money.”
For Warner’s theatrical arm, the advantage of the deal is obvious: According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the marketing cost of the average Hollywood studio picture reached a stellar $27.3 million in 2000. The deal with GM and the Turner networks suggests a way to cut into or get added value from that cost.