EXCLUSIVE: Ever since Universal announced its $200M budget buster Battleship, this sci-fi action adaptation of the Hasbro naval strategy board game has been a big question mark around Hollywood. Now, with just two months before the movie opens overseas in April and then a month later in the U.S./Canada, I’ve learned that Universal has hedged its bet. The studio has secured promotional partnerships amounting to $50 million for TV, print, and online advertising as well as the value of in-store packaging. And that doesn’t even count the cross-company synergy effort within Comcast whose home-owned inventory won’t be charged against actual cost. What’s even more important is that these promotional partnerships have come in response to the studio’s pitch to Madison Avenue for Battleship, with director Peter Berg screening 20 to 30 minutes of footage for partners and exhibitors across the globe. And the feeling is that, if the ad people like it and the theatre owners like it, then the moviegoers may not be too far behind. That’s certainly what Universal Studios COO Ron Meyer, Universal Pictures Chairman Adam Fogelson, and Universal Pictures Co-Chair Donna Langley are holding their breath for. One moment of relief: I’ve confirmed that Comcast chief Brian Roberts recently saw a rough-cut of the film and emerged “all smiles”. (NBCUniversal bigwig Steve Burke hasn’t screened it in its entirety yet.) Of course this is the fickle movie biz and the film could still flop.
Right now the average Hollywood studio’s marketing spend on a blockbuster is $70+M domestic and at least that for international. Some studios have been known to spend $200+M globally like when Sony Pictures introduced its new Bond, Daniel Craig. So adding another $50M is both a marketing and branding booster. I’ve learned that Battleship‘s promotional partners include Coke Zero which has planned the largest global packaging promotion in its history as well as TV ad campaign. Also Cisco which has made its first-ever film partnership with Battleship. Subway has a large TV campaign and in-store promotion with the movie, and Kraft, Nestle, and Chevron are on board as well. Also both the U.S. Navy (whose actual sailors were used as extras) and the USO are using the movie to promote themselves.
The importance of having promotional partners was underscored this past Christmas when Paramount’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was able to link with BMW. More moviegoers saw those TV ads than saw the pic’s own trailers. By contrast, Warner Bros couldn’t line up auto promotional partners for Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows which was released at the same time. But it’s set in the 19th century when people were still riding in horse-and-carriages. The result was that Sherlock 2 lost valuable marketing attention to Mission: Impossible 4 and took longer to catch up at the box office. That same problem afflicted Universal’s Summer 2011 expensive disappointment Cowboys & Aliens set in the Old West.
Berg in his dog-and-pony show has successfully urged partners to ignore the early press skepticism and compare Battleship more to Transformers which began as a toy, or The Pirates Of The Caribbean which began as a Disneyland ride, because both were able to convert into giant film franchises. Plus, Battleship is a $1+ billion board game franchise on its own. Meanwhile, Universal recently made the decision to release the movie a month early overseas in April before it arrives in the U.S. and Canada in May so as to avoid competing with the international attention diverting to the London Olympics.