Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Everybody loves Hollywood: the glitz, the glamour, the movie stars. Brands are well aware of America’s obsession with Tinseltown, judging by the steady rise in walk-on roles in movies, TV shows, and music videos being dangled as prizes in promotions.

Johnson & Johnson’s Clean & Clear Cosmetics, New Brunswick, NJ, for example, is currently offering the WB Casting Call 2001, which invites entrants aged 12 to 24 to record themselves and one friend acting out a scene from a WB Network TV show to be judged by one of the net’s casting directors. The grand prize is an all-expense paid trip to Hollywood and a walk-on role in an episode of a series. Los Angeles-based RPMC handles. Meanwhile, the winner of Westport, CT-based Sauza Tequila’s Pure Film Experience contest, which concluded in July, lands a part in a flick to be produced by and aired on the Independent Film Channel.

You get kind of jaded living in L.A. As a marketer and brand person, you have to knock yourself on the head and say, This is still a big deal to everyone [else] in the world, says Kelly Weinberg, senior vp-sales and marketing for RPMC. We’re trying to create promotional programs that are out of this world and are something you can’t buy.

Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. this year revived last summer’s popular Pop the Top instant-win game (June PROMO), this time bestowing, in addition to cash giveaways, such experience prizes as a chance to hang out at a Christina Aguilera video shoot. (Last year’s effort dangled roles in Universal films.) St. Louis-based Momentum handles Pop the Top and New York City-based D.L. Blair assists.

Consumers overwhelmingly have told us that experiences are more meaningful, whether it be spending time with friends or going behind the scenes to see the staging of a new music video, says Michael La Tier, Coke’s manager of national consumer promotions. Obviously, it would be easier to write a check, but offering exciting prizes with engaging personalities and properties is worth the additional work.

You can’t put a price tag on the value of going out to Hollywood, being on a movie set, and getting to meet the movie’s stars, adds Joel Ehrlich, senior vp-advertising & promotions at Warner Bros./DC Comics, New York City, which this summer is working with General Motors’ Troy, MI-based OnStar division to dangle a walk-on part in the next Batman sequel through an online sweeps. But we don’t do this often because a role in a movie is a very special type of prize, and when it is over-done, it gets watered down, he says.

Show Business

While some of these casting calls require winners to have bona fide talent, most simply pick winners randomly through scratch-and-win games or sweepstakes since the roles entail little more acting than standing in the background.

It’s always a non-speaking role, but what kind of part varies from show to show, says Sonia Borris, whose title at Los Angeles-based WB Network is director of participant promotions. You could appear as a villain, or you could be in the background at a school, or you could be sitting in a church pew.

The specific costs for offering a walk-on role can be cheaper than cash or merchandise giveaways, provided the sponsoring brand can leverage existing relationships (à la Coke with endorser Aguilera or OnStar with Warner Bros.). But that doesn’t necessarily reduce the overall expense of the program.

Planning can often take up to a year, says Borris. The lead time isn’t in setting up the prize, but in designing and executing the promotion. And final coordination can get complicated as well, says RPMC’s Weinberg. Many times, it’s secretive and very last minute you have to react in 24 hours and get the winner traveling.

Studio City, CA-based PAX TV approved a large budget for its Family Roads to Adventure Mystery Tour, which this month puts two competing families on the road in RVs (complete with driver) for a two-week scavenger hunt to collect clues from sponsoring retail stores. The victorious family gets a walk-on role in the network’s Mysterious Ways series.

Resources were a little tighter when Coca-Cola’s Houston-based Minute Maid division teamed with Miramax Films last spring for the Hi-C SPY kids Gadget Making Contest. We were looking for something to increase brand awareness on a very small budget, says Ray Crockett, Minute Maid’s director of communications.

Kids 15 and younger were invited on-pack to create their own spy device using Hi-C cartons and household items; the winning gadget will be featured in a planned sequel to the film. The best 20 entries were posted on the film’s Web site, where visitors voted to narrow the pool to five before the film’s director, Robert Rodriguez, chose the winner. He’s the director. It’s his movie, it’s his scene. We wanted to have him decide which one would be in the movie, says Jennifer Stack, p.r. manager with Minneapolis-based Relish Minds, marketing at New York City-based Court TV. Last year, the cable net hosted a sweeps promoting Homicide: Life on the Streets that offered a walk-on role in the series’ final episode.

Levinson and the sweeps winner spent a day on the set posing as Baltimore City officials in a scene that was shot from two different angles; the director ended up choosing the angle that didn’t show them. Nonetheless, the winner had a blast. The issue wasn’t, Did I make the movie or not? He got to meet all the cast members, and work with a SWAT team and the director, Levinson says. We told anyone who entered the contest that it was a role [that] could be cut.

Hershey, PA-based Jolly Rancher ran into trouble with a spring sweeps offering a role next fall in the WB Network’s Popular which was canceled soon after the campaign ran. Chicago-based Marketing Werks, which handled for the Hershey Foods brand, is working with the network to find another series in which to plant the young female winner (who was required to read a 30-second script about her favorite Jolly Rancher flavor in a contest that ran in 1,800 retail stores nationwide).

Obviously, it would be easier to write a check, but offering exciting prizes with engaging personalities and properties is worth the additional work. Michael La Kier, Coca-Cola.

That potential is why some studios such as Los Angeles-based Miramax find it easier and safer to stay vague by simply offering a role in an upcoming feature.

That’s life in Hollywood.


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