The divide between film and advertising is remarkably porous, allowing talent and ideas to seep from one side to another. Luminaries such as Sir Alan Parker and Tony Kaye have famously walked on both sides of the line, and many campaigns have doffed their caps in homage to classic moments of the silver screen.
So it's hardly surprising that studios should look to capitalise on this relationship by making their content more easily available to advertisers. According to Warner Bros, which owns the industry's largest film library, there is growing interest in "clip licensing", whereby advertisers use classic movie scenes and other pop cultural references in their campaigns.
For studios, it's a chance to exploit relatively untapped assets and according to Warner Bros Consumer Products, which handles licensing, the business is growing at 15 to 20 per cent annually. Partly, this is due to a more streamlined approach to an area that can be a contractual and logistical minefield. This summer WBCP launched an online archive (www.wbcliplibrary.com) to highlight the wealth of its catalogue and to make it easier for agencies to find what they need.
Dave Hedrick, the senior vice-president, food and promotions at WBCP, says the company is fielding more enquiries about content. "It's harder to get an ad message to break through, so clients are looking for unique material to catch the attention of viewers. By leveraging existing collateral, you get an instant hook if you use it in a unique and creative way."
Hedrick says using clips can also reduce production costs by providing ready-made footage. Gas Safe, the body that replaced CORGI for registered gas engineers, recently used the Blazing Saddles clip of flatulent bean-eaters to highlight the message that "cowboys and gas don't mix" in a TV spot by The Team. EDF has run three montage spots in the past year using "recycled" clips to promote its Eco 20:20 tariff.
For the studio, the back catalogue is a vast underused resource. There are 7,000 features, 50,000 hours of TV and 15,000 animated shorts. "We wanted to find a way to become more of a resource to creatives," Hedrick says.
But, Sarah Buckley, the managing director of Lime Communications, which specialises in tying up promotional deals with film companies, says the onus for most studios is on new release rather than back catalogue. "It can be such a complicated area, with a mixture of rights and contracts. It's not for the faint-hearted or those without deep pockets and a lot of time on their hands."
For Fox, the crucial issue is timing.
"It has to be of benefit to us and fall into a promotional window," Ian Morton, the executive director of European promotions, theatrical and home entertainment, says. "We are looking for exposure for the channels we are not advertising in, so we are led by media deals. We may occasionally look to back catalogue, but it has to drive traffic."
Morton is more interested in creative, integrated promotions that work for both the brand and the movie. This is the basis of deals for Fox's upcoming James Cameron fantasy flick, Avatar. Fox has tied up global campaigns with Coke Zero, LG, Panasonic, Casio and McDonald's to provide substantial pre-publicity ahead of the 18 December release.
LG, for example, is launching its BL40 video phone with the tie-in. Bartle Bogle Hegarty has produced TV ads and posters and there will be content on the phone. "It's more a 360-degree promotion," Morton says.
Creatively, the link provides a mix of visuals for advertisers, including bespoke imagery for some. Buckley, who as Fox's UK agent worked on the deals, says that the 3D CGI graphics used in the film has meant close collaboration between agency creatives and Cameron's company Lightstorm to incorporate the film's look.
Such close co-operation is not always the case. In some instances, collateral can be limited, Buckley points out. With the first Bridget Jones movie, the only shot available to partners was a close-up of the actress Renee Zellweger's face, resulting in many similar-looking campaigns.
For agencies, new-release and archive footage present two different models. For upcoming releases, it's all about creating a pre-release buzz. Brands get an association with the a high-profile film and studios benefit from exposure in areas they wouldn't otherwise reach, such as supermarket aisles. As a result, links tend to be promotionally led and there's not usually a direct fee for the footage. However, with archive material, there is less of an upside for the studio, unless it is re-releasing a property in a new format or anniversary edition, for example.
With the back catalogue, it can be a slog to pull a deal together. "One of the challenges with older movies is that there may not be any agreements in place with the original cast, producers or directors for commercial use, resulting in negotiation with several parties," Alan Harrison, the head of promotions at the licensing company CPLG, says.
It's this that Hedrick is trying to change with the Warner clips library. The new archive does not include all WB content, but focuses on properties that it knows it can use commercially. "We have about 1,000 titles on there following research about which ones are commercially most viable. We've done a lot of the legwork upfront, so it should make the approval process much quicker. We are conscious that agencies need to know within hours sometimes and we can get back quickly with a reality check."
Clients: can search by a number of categories including film title, actor and genre. The site showcases all the info needed to get a deal going: trailers and one-sheets, printable search results, local representative details and a shopping cart enquiries service to facilitate the conversation with a representative. If a clip is not available for any reason, alternatives can be suggested.
One issue that arises with clips is creative control. Harrison says studios exert the same amount of control for clips as for any of their IP, while Hedrick says they have a responsibility to the content creators, but insists the control is not overbearing. "We look at scripts and storyboards and see if they are treating them in a respectful way."
Respect need not equal banal, he insists. A recent campaign for the US ice-cream Breyers Soft & Dreamy saw comedy webisodes featuring the 30 Rock comedian Jane Krakowski interposed in dream sequences from classics such as Gone With The Wind and King Kong. Nothing is off limits, Hedrick insists, and proposals are considered even for "crown jewels" such as Singin' In The Rain. The latter was used memorably by DDB London for Volkswagen's 2005 spot featuring a body-popping Gene Kelly breakdancing on set.
But as studios try to loosen the binds on creativity, the internet has compounded the problem of sign-off. It's now less easy for agencies to slip under the radar with something that may only screen in one obscure territory. "In the past, you might have questioned whether something was appropriate usage but thought nobody would see it," Hedrick admits. "Now it's on YouTube in minutes. You have to live with a global audience for whatever you are licensing. It does come into the pricing decision as well."
The issue of where homage ends and plagiarism begins is another problem. What's to stop an agency shooting its own version of a scene and passing it off? For an Orange campaign in January, Fallon used the character of the Wicked Witch from the Wizard Of Oz. No clip was used, but the character is the protected element.
Chris Willingham, a partner at Fallon, says the Wicked Witch provided creatives with the opportunity to go on a flight of fancy. "I'm not saying we don't ever use straight clips, but this was an opportunity to do something really original with the characters."
Similarly, last year's BT Business "Gremlins" campaign by the Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R offshoot Swarm demonstrated how a licensed idea can have a life of its own. In this case, the agency brought Spielberg's eponymous creatures back to life to wreak havoc in an IT department.
Arguably, these campaigns could not have worked without the endorsement of the studios, but there are always those who will push the boundaries. Buckley worked on the exploitation of the Sex And The City film and was amazed by the number of guerilla treatments that featured four women with the same hair colours as the stars. "Some of it goes dangerously close to the edge without being explicit and it may just have to pass, unless one of the actors has a particular endorsement they need to protect personally," she says.
If policing is so lax, why bother with the real thing? For one thing, you can be sued. The owners of Monty Python considered action against a Republican candidate in the US for the unauthorised use of a sketch on his website. Python properties have been boosted by the success of Spamalot in the US and this year, Gatorade spoofed the knights from Monty Python And The Holy Grail for an ad.
But also, there is the issue of creating something that really flies. When Volkswagen wanted to use Singin' In The Rain, it approached the Kelly estate and received its blessing because it said that he was keen on introducing dance to new audiences and was one of the first people to highlight breakdancing.
Maggie Blundell, the head of TV at DDB London, says that by creating an homage, you are trying to engage viewers and create warmth towards the product you're advertising. "People want to be stimulated, entertained and talked to in an intelligent way. They quickly see through a tawdry version of a scene from a movie they like, and see it for what it is; lazy. Done well, however, it can have huge benefits."
WHAT'S IN THE ARCHIVES?
- Warner Bros
www.wbcliplibrary.com - contains more than 1,000 Warner Bros properties, including assets from the studio, such as Gremlins, along with the units DC Comics, Turner, Castle Rock, New Line Cinema and Hanna-Barbera. Brands WB has worked with include BT, MasterCard, Guitar Hero and Toyota.
www.paramountlicensing.com - covers Paramount, Paramount Vantage, MTV Films, and Nickelodeon Fims. Titles include The Godfather, An Officer And A Gentleman, Dreamgirls and High Noon.
www.universalclips.com - Universal's B2B site covers its film output, with titles such as ET, Back To The Future, Psycho and Jaws, as well as TV hits such as Miami Vice. Users can search by keyword in a number of categories including cast member, release year, synopsis and genre, and can preview clips.
www.mgmstills.com - the site contains 4,000 films and TV titles from Hollywood's golden era such as Ben Hur, and 40 Best Film Academy Award-winners. Currently it does not licence images for websites.
www.sonypicturesfilmclips.com - the collection covers assets produced and distributed by Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Animation, Stage 6 Films, and Revolution Studios. Titles include Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Lawrence Of Arabia, Taxi Driver and Oliver.
BOND IN HD
These days, James Bond is associated as much with a licence to sell as a licence to kill. However, when the latest Bond flick Quantum Of Solace was released last year, it presented parent company Sony with an opportunity to stake its credentials across the board in the emerging HD marketplace.
As well as being the studio behind the 22nd Bond movie, Sony's HD technology platform covers TVs, computers, cameras and mobiles. "The company is quite unique in its position as a digital entertainment brand. It talks about being present from the lens to the living room," Chris Willingham, a partner at Fallon, which was briefed to exploit the link, says: "It was the first time Sony had gone for a cross-platform approach."
Because of Sony's link with the film, Fallon was able to command an early preview of the scripts and the film itself. This proved crucial as the review and sign-off process was complicated by the various parties involved in the decision.
Rather than simply receiving footage from the film, Fallon was able to work with Daniel Craig to film a sequence that mirrored the plot of the film. Bond is beset by various explosions and obstacles in slow motion as the camera gradually focuses on his steely features.
"We were privileged to be granted access to Daniel and produce the campaign some way in advance, so it could be used globally. It was a great piece of corporate co-operation," Willingham says.
As well as Sony Pictures and Sony Electronics, Craig's management and the rights holder, EON, signed off on the script, rough edits and final cut. "Everyone has a vested interest in the Bond brand and the Daniel Craig brand, so it all had to be managed very carefully," Willingham adds. "The briefing was quite tight, which was a good thing as we knew what bounds we had to stay within."
The resulting TV and cinema campaign was released globally, following Quantum's release schedule around the world.
A print campaign was also mounted and a short burst of the campaign accompanied the film's DVD release in March as well.
This article was first published on Campaign