Tie-Ins: They're All About the Booty (Arrgh)

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Soccer moms? Maybe. Kid friendly? Sure. But when you think lawless renegade, chances are you don't think Volvo. Surprisingly, a good way to open the viral marketing treasure chest, it turns out, is to pair seeming oddities of pop culture. It struck many observers as a peculiar move for the automaker to partner with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. But the marketing effort--the company devised a treasure hunt, buried a V-8-powered, movie-themed Volvo, and created a detailed treasure map to find it--was a resounding success, drawing more than 52,000 participants in the United States alone, helping both Dead Man's Chest and Volvo score some serious spoils. Still, many were left to wonder: How exactly do safety and swashbuckling mix? The odd couple got together initially as a result of a Disney partnership for the Volvo Ocean Race, which ran from November 2005 to June 2006. The Volvo boat, The Black Pearl (a reference to the first Pirates flick), and the logical pairing of ships and pirates from there extended to the auto promotion. According to Emily Riley, an analyst at Jupiter Research, the campaign worked because the movie and the car company found a common link in family-oriented marketing. The Disney World theme ride "Pirates of the Caribbean" started it all, and despite the fact that pirates may not seem like ideal role models for kids, the movie's PG-13 rating works to appeal to parents. With the treasure hunt, Riley says, "It created a viral campaign through different clues. The family ended up having to bond because it was a difficult thing to do and they were very engaged with the brands as a result." Of course, all things pirate-related soared in popularity over the summer, and tie-ins ensnared much more than the Volvo franchise. Marshmallow Mateys popped up in boxes of Kellogg's Lucky Charms, McDonald's offered plush Jack Sparrows, The History Channel aired "True Caribbean Pirates," and the skull and crossbones became the de facto clothing pattern for the hipster set at teen-targeted retailers like Hot Topic. The idea works for official tie-ins like Kellogg's, as well as for the unofficial, such as Hot Topic or The History Channel. It might seem dangerous for a studio to become associated with any random brand, but, Riley says, "any press is good press." Oren Aviv, the president of marketing for Disney, is widely quoted as having said that as for hangers-on, "it only confirms, at least in my mind, that we have something really amazing here." According to Riley, at a certain point a promoted brand becomes much more than its basic image--this happens most often with films. Riley labels pirates the theme for summer 2006, noting that it's not about the idea of a pirate itself, but the fact that the movie is a blockbuster and creating a lot of buzz. "This helps in the same way as having a mascot helps. It gets people locked in emotionally. To associate with a popular movie is like associating with Santa Claus. It's a mascot, a character, a theme, a subconscious emotion." It meshes with almost any brand, therefore, as it embodies the idea of being fresh and seasonal. For a company to successfully leverage a brand tie-in, the main thing is to stick to something that people want to talk about and that appeals to the company's target audience. Movies are perfect for this, as people speak about them frequently and blockbusters by definition have a broad market. Riley says that a company can generate a similar effect through integrating holiday and seasonal images into its brands. "These are all recurring themes every advertiser can take advantage of, because of their universal appeal."
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