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Selling Movies Takes Creativity, Delicacy, Savvy--and Oodles of Money

February 23, 1988|BRUCE HOROVITZ

MGM wanted just the right image for the film "Moonstruck." So it paid people to sit around and select an upbeat poster for the movie. MGM, however, was told exactly what it didn't want to hear.

Some of the people said they liked that now-familiar image of the film's star, Cher, prancing in the moonlight. But most of them said they preferred the image of Cher and her family sitting around the kitchen table.

"It was a tough decision," said Greg Morrison, president of worldwide marketing for MGM. "We had the focus group telling us to go with the image of the family, but we decided to go with Cher. Happily, it's all coming up roses."

While all may be roses for "Moonstruck"--which last week received six Oscar nominations--the business of advertising films is also full of thorns. Advertising executives find themselves dealing with huge studio bureaucracies, intense egos and products that you can't eat, wear or wash.

"You are asking people to leave the security of their homes and sit in a darkened room with a bunch of people they don't know," said Anthony Goldschmidt, president of Intralink Film Graphic Design Ltd. "And we're asking people to pay for it . . .

"In our business," he said, "we market products that won't clean your toilet bowl better or make your shirts whiter. All we have to market is emotion."

Emotions aside, Paramount Pictures made a major business decision last week when it handed its estimated $70-million advertising placement business to a new ad shop. Similarly, just four months ago, Walt Disney Co. also took its film advertising account to a new agency.

When an ad firm gets a big new account, it generally handles the entire marketing campaign--the slogans, the commercials, sometimes even the name of the product itself. But not in Hollywood.

The main job for the new agencies handling Paramount and Disney is to identify the best spots to place ads and buy the necessary television time or print media space. While relying on big-name ad firms to buy their advertising time, the movie makers usually look to little specialty shops to create most of their ads.

More than a dozen advertising and marketing companies may work on a single film, executives say. One outfit creates newspaper ads. Another may edit those "coming attractions" trailers. Yet another designs posters.

This is all very different from what ad agencies usually do for most major advertisers. When car makers or fast-food companies switch ad agencies, the public soon sees big changes in its ads. For example, Nissan's current ad campaign about how its cars are "built for the human race" is a far cry from past ads about how its cars "make you feel like driving." That is the direct result of a recent ad agency change.

Film executives say the reason they turn to specialty shops for ads is simple. While Madison Avenue is great at building long-term image campaigns for products such as dog food and diapers, it seldom knows what to do with less tangible products such as movies. Films, after all, can't be called "new and improved," and their shelf lives are measured in days instead of years.

"I thought I knew what pressure was when I worked on the Ford account at J. Walter Thompson," said Intralink's Goldschmidt. "But I never knew what last-minute pressure was until I got into the business of advertising movies."

There was plenty of pressure at five Los Angeles ad firms last week, while executives waited to hear who had won the Paramount business. The big winner was the Los Angeles office of the ad firm D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Last October, Western International Media picked up the lucrative Disney account. Last week's loser was the ad firm that goes by the name AC&R/DHB & Bess, which had handled much of Paramount's business for the past 18 years.

Already, D'Arcy has new notions of how to market some of Paramount's upcoming films. Among the movies is the yet-to-be-titled "Crocodile Dundee" sequel. "Although TV remains the most important medium" for film advertising, said Jim Helin, managing director at D'Arcy, "there's a mandate now for innovation."

D'Arcy looked beyond television when it sought to build interest in another client's film, "The River's Edge." In an effort to reach teen-agers, D'Arcy bought advertising time on electronic TV screens in shopping mall kiosks nationwide.

For its part, Western has been turning more and more to cable television, where channels like MTV are quick to reach teens, said Larry Olshan, executive vice president at Western.

The ad agencies also have to be able to respond quickly to box-office bonanzas and to events like the Oscars.

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