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Product Pitching: Movies Open New Theater in Advertising Wars

By Louis Weisberg, Los Angeles Business Journal


When MGM/UAs ,"2010: Space Odyssey Two" -the  much anticipated sequel to "2001: A Space Odyssey" -opens amid great fanfare Friday it undoubtedly will send long lines streaming to a theater near you. For sci-fi buffs, "2010" offers another titillating installment of a favorite saga. But for Omni Publications International, which publishes Omni magazine, it offers the chance to find out whether the appearance, of their product in a film can boost circulation. Although Omni's time on screen, where it will appear in the hands of Roy Scheider- the film's star - will be brief, it will mark the culmination of an ambitious and original advertising campaign that has ballyhooed both the magazine and the picture


across America in recent weeks. This campaign has included "2010's" complete domination of Omni's cover, followed by a 13-page article written by no less a personage than Arthur C. Clarke - author of the books on which "2010" and its predecessor are based ---'and illustrated by exclusive photos from the movie.


In exchange for all this devotion, the producers of "2010" ensured that Omni would enjoy visual prominence on camera. The campaign has also included radio and TV spots by Clarke for Omni.


This marvelous symbiosis is the result of a sophisticated marketing deal worked out by International Film Promotions, one of several companies that specialize in the placement of merchandise in feature films and television programming. Once a casual affair that seldom involved more than a phone call and a thank-you in the closing credits, this merchandising method rose to respectability after sales of Reese's Pieces soared when the interplanetary creature in the movie "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" showed a predilection for them. H.B. Reese Candy, a division of Hershey Chocolate Co., fueled the phenomenon with commercials and point-of-sale displays featuring E.T.


Having a product seen in a film with a popular actor or character is "the next best thing to a direct endorsement," according to Donna Estes, president of International Film Promotions. "In the future, this is going to become an even bigger and more structured business for companies that understand advertising."


The promotion for Omni was part of International's annual contract with the magazine. According to Estes, International generally makes one-year agreements with its clients for a flat fee of exposure, such as a direct verbal mention in a major film, a company might pay an additional fee to both International and the film's producer - perhaps as much as $150,000. In this event, Estes would get a money-back guarantee for her client, signed by the producer, ensuring adequate and, advantageous exposure.


The ability to obtain such a contract represents a substantial advancement in this merchandising approach, says Estes. Clients sometimes fear their product will be seen in an unfavorable light. An automobile manufacturer, for example, would not want its product shown in a gruesome accident.

Occasionally, a star will refuse to be seen with a particular product. Paul Newman will never be seen drinking a Miller beer on film because of his loyalty to Anheuser-Busch, which sponsors his racecars. Other actors might similarly shun one brand out.

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