CAMPAIGNS: Cingular climbs high on Spider-Man's back

An on-screen appearance is just a tiny part of Cingular's alliance with Spider-Man. Anita Chabria reports on a PR union that extends to cell phones, the web, and even NASCAR

An on-screen appearance is just a tiny part of Cingular's alliance with Spider-Man. Anita Chabria reports on a PR union that extends to cell phones, the web, and even NASCAR

Spider-Man is the year's top-grossing movie to date, bringing in more than $395 million domestically, and beating out some tough competition, including competing heroes like Anakin Skywalker and Scooby-Doo, for top summer honors.

While the Marvel Comics superhero played by Toby McGuire has mesmerized studio executives and audiences with his ability to spin such a successful start to what many hope will be a multi-movie franchise, the sticky-fingered crime stalker had a little help from promotional partner Cingular Wireless.

When the Green Goblin, played by Willem Dafoe, makes his first on-screen appearance, he skims around New York City's Times Square skyline riding a futuristic flying machine at breakneck speed. A careful observer may notice that a Cingular billboard hangs in the frame for a moment as the villain shoots by on his way to meet Spider-Man in the action-packed sequence. That product placement for the growing wireless company was part of a larger relationship between Cingular and Columbia, the studio behind Spidey, that helped both brands ensnare a wide web of consumers.

Strategy

Teaming up with Spider-Man wasn't a random choice for Cingular. The company felt that the webbed hero shared important values with its own carefully spun reputation. Cingular has branded itself as the company that helps consumers with "self-expression, explains director of national promotions Chris Penrose. "Cingular is about enabling people to do things with this cool technology that they wouldn't be able to do on their own, he explains. "Spider-Man is also about a guy doing things that he couldn't normally do."

Penrose and his team wanted to keep that theme, while reaching for specific goals.

First, they wanted to be integrated into the script. But more importantly, they wanted to take the partnership outside of the theaters to "make a brand association between Cingular Wireless and Spider-Man," says Penrose.

Looking to appeal to a younger demographic, the company focused on highlighting some of its cutting-edge technology that is catching on faster with kids than with adults, such as wireless internet access and ring-tone downloads. They also wanted to "leverage the property to drive traffic to Cingular, Penrose explains, making it an awareness campaign with the end goal of increasing sales.

Tactics

The Green Goblin's sweep past Cingular's billboard was only the very beginning. Cingular also invested heavily in "consumer touch point events, says Penrose.

Two Spider-Man-branded Dodge Vipers made an 80-stop road tour of the US, promoting a Cingular sweepstakes to win the sports cars. Promotions were also held at movie theaters and Dodge dealerships.

The company also created Spider-Man faceplates for its Erickson phones, custom downloadable ring tones, and a host of other "expressories for consumers. The Cingular website hosted an area for the Spider-Man promotion, complete with games, screensavers, and other items to help Cingular customers express their "inner superhero."

Cingular's NASCAR team also got in on the act, sporting a Spider-Man-themed car at some California and Virginia races.

"We really attempted to drive traffic, drive profits, and drive the brand with the relationship to Spider-Man,? says Penrose.

Results

"There were lots of success stories, says Penrose of the promotion's outcome.

The sweepstakes generated more than 250,000 participants, and direct-mail promotions received five times their normal response rate. Sell-through on faceplates was "incredible, claims Penrose, and theSpider-Man theme-song ring tone was the "most successful downloadable ring tone we've ever done."

"We knew it was going to be a big movie, enthuses Penrose, "but I don't think any of us knew it would be as big as it was. We clearly felt like the Spider-Man relationship helped break through the clutter."

Future

Penrose says that Cingular plans to continue "along the self-expression path, so expect to see the theme pop up in future promotions. He adds that the company is interested in other entertainment ties as well, and will pursue more Hollywood relationships such as the one with Spider-Man.

And don't think you've seen the last of the webbed wonder, either. Columbia pictures has already signed the cast - including McGuire and Kirsten Dunst - and director Sam Raimi for a sequel, which will begin shooting next year.

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