Marketing: You loved the burger - now see the movie: British companies are latching on to a growing range of merchandising opportunities that are linked to film releases

THE LATEST Disney animated feature film, The Lion King, opens in the UK this week with more than 50 licensing deals for merchandise already struck.

But it is not just character licensing that offers marketing opportunities for brands. Makers of fast-moving consumer goods are being encouraged by Hollywood studios to develop quick-turnaround, in-store and on-pack promotions tied to a range of movie releases.

For The Lion King, McDonald's, the fast-food chain, is running a Happy Meal campaign aimed at children and teenagers across Europe. Boots is offering vouchers for a free child's ticket to the movie. Such promotions enable the studio to maximise exposure for the film, while brands ride the wave of interest in a new release - taking advantage of the movie studio's marketing budget.

Movie and television joint promotions with a range of products and services - from hotel chains to sandwich wrap - are established practice in the US, although they are under-exploited in the UK. The main reason for this is lack of advance information on new releases. Now the big Hollywood studios are attempting to rectify this and take advantage of the continued growth in European cinema-going.

In 1993, the number of cinema tickets sold increased by 9.4 per cent year on year, from 103.6 million to 113.5 million. The big studios forecast a bigger increase this year.

Last week, senior executives of Twentieth Century Fox were in London to present UK promotions agents and brand managers with details of film releases scheduled for the next 18 months and beyond. 'There is a need to get information on future releases out into the marketplace earlier,' says Al Ovadia, president of Twentieth Century Fox's licensing and merchandising. 'We are actively developing more tie-in promotions across a broader range of movie releases.'

Promotional partnerships enable the brand to become part of tbe excitement surrounding any movie release, he explains. 'They take advantage of the equity of the property and the studio's spend on advertising, while we get our (film) product on-pack and in-store.'

Themed promotional activities run for only a couple of weeks, starting just before a movie opens and ending on a high - before interest in the film fades, or it is panned.

Mr Ovadia believes a range of children's and family movies are ripe for such exploitation, and not just the big box-office hits. 'People are starting to recognise it need not be a Batman or a Flintstones - there are plenty of other solid pieces of entertainment that offer a real opportunity for a very short window to create a blip in sales, by motivating people to sample the product.' Such movies include forthcoming Fox titles. Far From Home: Yellow Dog is the tale of a golden labrador and his young master who get lost in the wilderness. The Pagemaster, a live action and animation fantasy starring Macaulay Culkin and the animated contents of a library, opens in the UK in November. Already, the fast-food chain KFC and Nabisco have signed up to run in-store and on-pack promotions. In the US, Tropicana will be involved in a campaign to promote children's reading, with branded posters in more than 100,000 libraries.

Adult fare is also being pitched to marketers, including the yet to be released Die Hard 3 and Alien 4. Heineken ran a successful Alien-themed promotion tied to the UK release of Alien 3, Mr Ovadia says. But care must be taken to ensure the right match. 'Partners have long-standing images in the market they do not want to tarnish,' he explains.

Familiarity is also important. 'When a movie is already associated with an established TV series, book or comic, like Judge Dredd, which is currently in production in the UK, clients come on board quickly, knowing there is less risk,' says Tina Egerton, marketing executive for promotions at licensing specialist Copyright Promotions, which works for Fox in the UK.

Even so, there will always be an element of risk involved. 'One potential problem is that hype builds fast and you must move quickly to cash in on this,' says Jackie Ferguson, UK managing director of the international licensing company Leisure Concepts International, which is working on a number of film and television projects, including The Shadow and the animated feature The Swan Princess.

A successful tie-in promotion can boost business by encouraging sampling. Burger King, which ran a highly publicised promotion tied to The Lion King in the US, trebled food sales in the weeks following the movie's opening, according to one estimate. Fast- food chains, along with breakfast cereals, are leading exponents of movie promotions in the US. But hotels, airlines and makers of a wide range of packaged goods are following suit.

'As more companies do it, it's becoming recognised as a relatively safe opportunity,' Mr Ovadia claims. And for those that have missed the boat in this autumn's releases, take heart: there's always the video release.

(Photograph omitted)

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