Indiana Jones and the inescapable ads
Mary Ellen Podmolik
May 9, 2008
Indiana Jones could outrun huge boulders, escape being sacrificed and outwit Nazis, but mere mortal consumers can't duck "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." The first movie in the franchise in 19 years is being promoted by one of the largest-ever marketing campaigns for a blockbuster film.
Indy is on television and all over the Internet, including the May 22 calendar position of every Major League Baseball team schedule posted online—the movie's opening date. He's in Burger King and on special packages of M&Ms. And he's on the cover of the most recent issue of Scholastic News and Scholastic Math magazines, distributed in some elementary schools this month.
Movie studios rarely if ever disclose marketing budgets, but new releases typically are accompanied by $70 million to $100 million marketing programs. In size and scope, industry watchers say the push behind the fourth installment of the Indiana Jones series easily outpaces everything else this season.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they're spending $150 million on marketing," said Jehoshua Eliashberg, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. "There aren't too many movies that I would dare to estimate so much."
Before the hype has even reached its zenith, Lucasfilm Ltd. is getting the desired effect. Friday, 13 days before its release, the film was the most viewed coming movie title and the best-selling coming movie on Fandango, an online movie ticket service.
The first Indiana Jones movie was released in 1981, and sequels followed in 1984 and 1989. Despite the apparent pent-up demand, marketers say the wide array of marketing initiatives underscores how the movie landscape has changed over the past two decades.
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" has to market itself to moviegoers who saw the first three films years ago, as well a new generation of younger fans and women who may not be as smitten with Indy, now in his 60s. The movie needs to generate big returns early; it's got plenty of competition as the summer movie theater race heats up this month. "Ironman," which opened last weekend, took in $98.6 million in box office revenues in the Friday-to-Sunday period. "Speed Racer" opened Friday, and "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" hits screens next Friday.
Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers, which tracks box-office numbers, said a $100 million opening weekend for Indiana Jones wouldn't surprise him at all.
"This one has all kinds of tie-ins," he said. "It's everywhere and it's a marketing machine. It's maybe the most anticipated movie of the last decade. It's Spielberg, it's Lucas, it's Harrison Ford."
Unadjusted for inflation, the first three Indiana Jones movies generated box-office revenues of $1.2 billion combined.
"There's a general recognition on the part of marketers that you have to reach people via as many touchpoints as you can because the mass market isn't so mass anymore," said Martin Brochstein, executive editor of Entertainment Marketing Newsletter, a trade publication. "People are split over hundreds of TV channels, they're on the Internet, they're TiVo-ing things. They're accessing things via their BlackBerries and phones. Twenty years ago you knew where people were. They were in front of their TVs and probably watching the networks and going to the movies."
Lucasfilm, which declined to discuss the marketing strategy before the film's release, is employing some novel tactics this time around while others are borrowed from the promotional work behind the May 2005 release of "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith."
During the Indianapolis 500 on May 25, driver Marco Andretti will be behind the wheel of an Indiana Jones-themed car sponsored by Blockbuster and Lucasfilm Ltd. Burger King will begin selling Indy Whoppers on Monday. Other licensing and marketing initiatives are under way from companies ranging from Expedia to Dr Pepper.
To woo younger audiences, the film is being marketed on Kraft Foods' Lunchables line. Saturday, an animated Indiana Jones Lego mini-movie will be broadcast on Cartoon Network and hosted by Ford's young co-star, Shia LaBeouf.
The marketing campaign is inside elementary schools as well, which may concern some parents.
Two of Scholastic's magazines sent to schools this month, Scholastic Math and Scholastic News, featured Ford and LaBeouf in character on the covers and mention the film's opening. Jack Silbert, editor of Scholastic Math, acknowledges the commercial tie-in but said the movie provided the ideal entry point to do a feature about careers in archeology.
"It's certainly a fine line," he said. "There's certainly some parents and some teachers who don't want any of that in their classroom and that's something we deal with. We're definitely not looking at it from a marketing perspective. Indiana Jones was an opportunity to connect with these math concepts."
Late last year, a Florida school district was criticized for a sponsorship deal with McDonald's that put ads for the burger giant on the front of report cards and rewarded children who received good grades with food prizes.
"It is an ongoing debate about commercialism in the schools," Brochstein said. "Look, that's part of the target audience. If you can build a valid lesson [around] a good commercial something, does that make the lesson less valid or more appealing? Some will find nothing wrong with it. Others will say 'Ew, how could they?' "
Wharton's Eliashberg thinks studios overspend on advertising and at some point, there are diminishing returns.
"Economically there is no rationale for spending so much money," he said. "Consumers are not impressed. Also, if the movie is good, word of mouth will fill the movie [theater] and word of mouth doesn't cost anything."