HOLLYWOOD AGENT

Account-specific promotions tied to Hollywood home-video releases allow retailers to cut through the competitive clutter in the marketplace.It makes perfect sense for chains to piggyback off the thousands of dollars spent by both the studios and their co-promotional partners on big releases. Such efforts have been successfully executed by national and regional mass merchandisers. They give retailers

Account-specific promotions tied to Hollywood home-video releases allow retailers to cut through the competitive clutter in the marketplace.

It makes perfect sense for chains to piggyback off the thousands of dollars spent by both the studios and their co-promotional partners on big releases. Such efforts have been successfully executed by national and regional mass merchandisers. They give retailers a unique sales position and create added in-store excitement.

So far, however, retail-specific events staged by supermarket chains have been few and far between. This is partly because it doesn't make sense to studios or national packaged-goods marketers to work on customized promotions for retailers that still only max out at a regional market scale.

However, this may be changing as supermarket management increasingly demands account-specific efforts -- and as the importance of chains as a rental and sell-through venue for videos grows.

Also, accelerating consolidation in food retailing may soon present large supermarket players like Albertson's, Boise, Idaho, which is about to merge with American Stores Co., Salt Lake City, with true national scale.

"More and more studios are hearing from their salespeople that, in order to sell additional volume, they can't be locked into traditional video outlets," said Ken Rich, associate partner of Co-Op Promotions, a Miami-based concern that specializes in tie-ins.

"So more and more grocery stores are taking advantage of the possibility of support with tie-in partners." For example, Rich said, Co-Op is about to unveil a program that involves a major studio, a national video release, a brand marketer and regional promotional partnerships with four different retailers in the Northeast. He declined to provide specifics.

And though Food Lion generally doesn't have video departments in its stores, the Salisbury, N.C., chain is participating in a multipartner promotion surrounding this fall's direct-to-video release of "Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island."

The Warner Bros. release, pegged to Halloween, will involve a raft of consumer brands including MCI, Lego toys and Campbell Soup's Franco-American Spaghetti-Os. Food Lion's link will be through its National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing sponsorship, because Cartoon Network's Wacky Racing team car will bear a "Zombie Island" design. The chain will make promotional offers for the video in its 1,100 stores in 11 states.

Meanwhile, however, many supermarket chains say they aren't concerned about account-specific video promotions. For example, Mickey Clerc, a spokesman for Winn-Dixie Stores, Jacksonville, Fla., said that when it comes to video promotions, the chain basically just responds to ideas brought to it by manufacturers' reps -- but that Winn-Dixie doesn't demand program exclusivity in any way.

"Whatever they present and are able to advertise and create a demand for, we're generally interested in making it available to our customers," said Clerc, who adds the chain favors family-oriented titles. "We look at what is presented to us and make judgments on that, but we don't come with set criteria."

"Retailers increasingly are looking for ways for promotions to add value for them," said Charlie Katz, senior vice president of marketing for Universal Studios Home Entertainment, based in Universal City, Calif., which has formed a new retail-marketing group expressly to concentrate on account-specific promotions. "We want to channel things a lot better and work with our key retailers to build the strongest campaigns we can, so we can actually sell through the product instead of just putting it out there."

Max Goldberg, vice president of promotions for Buena Vista Home Video, Burbank, Calif., agreed that the industry's current effort to make promotions account-specific is vital. "Retail is where consumers make most of their purchasing decisions on videos," he said. "People are harried, so they're going into a store with less and less planning. We try to offer up to retailers some fun ways that they can dress up the store for the consumer and make the shopping experience more exciting, and to manufacturers an opportunity to break through the clutter."

But Goldberg doesn't think the practice has acquired much momentum -- so far.

"There hasn't been a lot of pressure on the entertainment industry to do this," he explained. "Now there is more of a desire -- on the part of all three types of partners -- to do more" account-specific programs.

Buena Vista has been doing its part this year. The Walt Disney Co. unit launched a Wal-Mart-specific promotion surrounding the video release of "Hercules," Disney's big animated release of last year, that included a savings of $5 at the register with the accompanying purchase of a "three-plus-one" bonus pack of Kodak film. In an account-specific promotion with two regions of Kroger Co. stores, Buena Vista teamed up with PepsiCo to offer $3 instantly redeemable coupons with the purchase of "Hercules" and any two 12-packs of Pepsi products.

"Pepsi did a wonderful job of calling consumers' attention to the offer because they were able to get us displayed with their products. Shoppers don't expect to see videos right next to the soda," Goldberg said. "And Kroger ran an in-ad coupon. The promotion was displayed well, communicated well; it was an instant offer; and it had value."

The studio also included selected retailers in its promotion earlier this year of the previously released title "The Little Mermaid," with an instantly redeemable coupon for $3 on the purchase of Energizer batteries.

"Disney is the champion at taking advantage of the power of the package," said Rich of Co-Op Promotions.

Last year, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Beverly Hills, Calif., re-released "My Fair Lady" on video. In an exclusive promotion, Kmart put out displays featuring L'Eggs hosiery and copies of the video together. L'Eggs offered an immediately redeemable coupon on its stockings with the purchase of the video.

"L'Eggs owns that category, so they do most of the merchandising anyway in the stores where their hosiery is displayed," explained Patricia Ganguzza, of AIM Promotions, the New York-based firm that coordinated this promotion. "But it was Kmart that suggested having everything available in one spot, to facilitate that promotion."

Nevertheless, despite avowals of the success of such three-way partnerships by the players involved, not every entertainment company is enamored of them.

"As a national marketer, we typically look at promotions that aren't account-specific but that benefit all our [retail] accounts," said Michael Arkin, senior vice president of marketing for Paramount Home Video, Hollywood.

"We're getting more requests for account-specific promotions, but not ones involving three parties -- just with the retailers."

And even where Paramount's primary relationship is with a brand marketer, in certain promotions with key retailers Paramount "will entertain the thought" of including an account-specific dimension to a video promotion, Arkin said. That will be Paramount's approach with what will be perhaps the most-hyped release ever, when the studio makes "Titanic" available tomorrow. In one promotion tied to the "Titanic" video, Sprint will give consumers who switch to its long-distance service a voucher or coupon for up to $22.

In another "Titanic" two-way promotion, Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble's Max Factor International brand is releasing a new line of colors that were "inspired" by the movie and is offering director James Cameron's "Titanic" book free with the purchase of the video and $10 of the Max Factor colors.

Many other video promotions also rely only on a two-legged partnership.

For example, in August Universal Studios Home Video, Universal City, Calif., plans to re-release its animated "An American Tail" and "An American Tail: Fievel Goes West," assisted by major account-specific collaborations only with mass merchandisers.

With the purchase of the videos at Wal-Mart, the store will hand out stickers based on characters from the films that kids can then apply to books, folders and refrigerators; Target's cafeterias may hand out tray liners depicting "American Tail" characters.

On the brand-marketing side this year, Universal will be calling attention to its 25th-anniversary edition of "American Graffiti" by attaching to copies of the video a sampler of its music that will be produced by Universal's corporate cousin, MCA Records. Universal also has launched videos tied in with the products of another corporate kin, Tropicana beverages, both with the recently released "Jurassic Park" sequel, "Lost World," and with "Apollo 13."