Movie Studios Up Ante With Newspaper Inserts

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By: Nicole Sperling

(The Hollywood Reporter) In the escalating marketing wars, Walt Disney Studios employed one of the newest tricks, disguised as a kid-friendly treat, this past Halloween.

Just a few days before the end of October, Disney stuffed a plastic tote bag into newspapers in the five top markets across the nation. Decorated with the key art for Disney films — “Brother Bear,” which opened nationwide Oct. 31, and “The Haunted Mansion,” which bowed Nov. 26 — the bag was intended for use by trick-or-treaters. In the parlance of the trade, it was just the latest variance on the art of the insert, promotional items that are inserted into local newspapers in an effort to grab the attention of potential moviegoers.

In the case of the Disney Halloween bag, the gimmick was actually something of an insert-plus that provided two “hits” — the parent who opens the paper and discovers the insert and the kid who lugs it around the neighborhood. And because it also had the potential to reach other kids who saw their friends sporting one of the bags, it potentially turned the trick-or-treaters themselves turned into virtual guerilla marketers.

For Oren Aviv, president of marketing at Buena Vista Pictures, the Halloween bags represented a unique opportunity to reach out to an audience in an unexpected way.

“You do it for impact, you do it for awareness, but we only do it if it makes demographic and creative sense,” Aviv said.

It’s not the first value-added insert that Disney has sponsored. The company also put together a four-color interactive gatefold insert advertising all the characters in “The Haunted Mansion.” The insert encouraged children to look for objects hidden throughout the paper and — Disney hoped — then hang the poster on their walls.

Earlier in the year, Disney featured a pullout four-color insert featuring Johnny Depp as Capt. Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

According to Aviv, the “Pirates” poster proved its worth at the premiere at Anaheim’s Disneyland. Although the poster had been wrapped in the Sunday paper four weeks earlier, hundreds of fans showed up at the premiere, poster in hand, looking for autographs.

Aviv declined comment on the costs of such inserts, and the impact of such efforts is anecdotal at best. Said Aviv: “For me, it’s all about creative execution, whether it’s a TV commercial, a trailer or something online. The goal is to stand out. We raise the bar creatively, and I’m very proud of that. We’ve done it for projects that people seem to like enough that they keep them.”

Disney is not the only studio to engage in such tactics. 20th Century Fox employed an insert to advertise its Oscar hopeful “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” and Sony Pictures inserted a DVD featuring trailers for its four fall movies in the Los Angeles Times fall movie roundup issue.

“We did it because there are always roundups, and rather than buy four full pages of ads, which don’t get much attention, the best way to highlight the movies it to show you the trailers,” Sony president of marketing Geoff Ammer said. “The public may believe that you must have something if you are going to such an elaborate expense. It has the proper effect as long as you do a really good job.”

But are inserts becoming so commonplace that they are losing their impact?

According to Donna Freed, president of Terry Hines and Associates, a media placement agency that works with the majority of Hollywood studios, saturation has not yet occurred.

“I don’t think there are too many yet,” Freed said. “If this starts happening all the time, it will affect their impact. What’s always most effective is when a studio is the first to do something. And when it’s linked to an event or a holiday and the creative lends itself to something that pops, then consumers are likely to hold on to it differently.”

For the moment, the end of this phenomenon is nowhere in sight. DreamWorks president of marketing Terry Press said there’s likely to be a lot more inserts as the Oscar race draws near. “You can’t send things directly to the Academy members, but you surely can target them through their newspaper,” Press said. “It’s doubtful someone in La Cresenta (Calif.) will know what’s going on, but when this race starts to get heated up, you will find inserts falling out of your paper in January.”

Oscar campaigning is not the only other reason for going to the added expense of creating an insert. Attracting the attention of your peers in the industry is often just as much of a goal, Press said.

“Ads targeted specifically at the industry are sent to specific ZIP codes and are done exclusively to make an impression, to cause other marketing people to have aneurysms because it ups the spending level,” she said. “It’s done to invoke jealousy and oohs and ahhs from the industry.”

Ammer doesn’t disagree. “Mostly, you are trying to impact the reader, but the press picks up on it, the industry picks up on it, and the minute you see it from another company, every filmmaker you work with is on your call sheet,” he said.

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