Studios find new marketing tools

March 27, 1992|By San Francisco Chronicle

Struggling with declining ticket sales and spiraling production costs, Hollywood studios are turning to new, often less expensive ways of luring moviegoers.

Increasingly, they are reaching out to viewers via direct-mail campaigns, advertising aimed at specialized groups and marketing partnerships with consumer-product giants such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola.

For example:

* The promotional effort for the Kevin Costner film "Dances with Wolves" concentrated on one of its target audiences -- American Indians -- with radio advertisements in several American Indian languages.

* To help sell its World War II bomber movie "Memphis Belle," Warner Brothers mailed promotions to World War II veterans, pilots and buyers of Time-Life war books. It also distributed information about the film at Blue Angels' stunt-flying shows.

* For the coming sequel to its hit film, "Home Alone," 20th Century-Fox is talking with Coca-Cola about a deal that could include a mention of the film in a Sprite ad and Sprite commercials featuring star Macauley Culkin. By teaming with the soft-drink colossus, the studio will share the cost of selling the film.

Innovative marketing campaigns such as these underscore the economic realities of Hollywood in the 1990s. Once, a splashy TV ad campaign and a good preview were all it took to sell a film. These days, that scenario is as much of a fantasy as "Beauty and the Beast."

With production costs averaging $26 million per film -- nearly three times the cost in 1980 -- studios have too much at stake to leave the success of a film to chance.

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