AND FURIOUS MARKETER
Copyright 2001 www.tombraiderchronicles.com
[ November 26th 2001 ]
advertising executive Santiago Pozo remembers
pitching his idea for a Latino film label to Universal
Pictures Vice Chairman Marc Shmuger. Pozo was
on the fourth slide of his presentation when Shmuger
cut him off. "Yes, yes, I got it," said Shmuger,
43, who oversees worldwide marketing and distribution
for Universal. "Let's make it happen."
months later, Universal is teaming up with Pozo's
Arenas Group to launch a film label called Arenas
Entertainment to produce, finance, distribute
and market films tailored to the Latino market
in the U.S. and worldwide. Arenas Entertainment
will distribute up to six pictures a year and
operate out of Universal, which is a minority
investor. Shmuger, aware of the potential tie-ins
with Universal's Latino music label, was instantly
sold on the idea, which hasn't been tried in Hollywood.
"It makes so much sense ... because the Latino
market is underserved," he said.
is the latest example of Shmuger's zeal for finding
ways to expand the marketing reach of Universal
Pictures, now under the aegis of Paris-based Vivendi
negotiating the first promotional tie-in with
the U.S. Postal Service for the movie "Dr. Seuss'
How the Grinch Stole Christmas" to striking multimillion-dollar
marketing deals with Microsoft Corp. and AOL Time
Warner Inc., Shmuger has played a pivotal role
in Universal's turnaround. In the last three years,
the studio shot from fourth to a tie for first
with Warner Bros. for the largest market share,
according to ACNielsen EDI Inc.
industry in which the success or failure of a
movie depends largely on how it fares in the opening
weekend, marketing is more important than ever.
And during Shmuger's first year as vice chairman,
Universal has racked up impressive numbers. Four
films in a row--"The Mummy Returns," "The Fast
and the Furious," "Jurassic Park III" and "American
Pie 2" each grossed more than $40 million in their
opening weekends. Last year, as Universal's president
of marketing, Shmuger oversaw the promotions for
several box-office hits, including "The Grinch"
and "Erin Brockovich."
he completely revitalized our business," Universal
Studios President Ron Meyer said. "When you look
at some of his campaigns--"The Grinch," "Bring
It On," "American Pie" and ["American Pie 2"]
- and how innovative they were, they were exceptional."
Even rivals are quick to offer praise of Shmuger.
"He's formidable," said Oren Aviv, president of
Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Marketing.
started his career in advertising, working several
years in New York before joining Disney and later
Sony Pictures, where as a top marketing executive
he promoted such films as "A League of Their Own,"
"Groundhog Day" and "Bram Stoker's Dracula."
unlike many of his peers, Shmuger had a filmmaker's
background. The St. Louis native studied film
at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he
watched as many as eight movies a day "to satisfy
an insatiable curiosity for movies." Shmuger,
who once owned a production company, wrote and
produced the 1987 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature
"Dead of Winter." "He has an unconditional empathy
with the filmmakers," said Rob Cohen, director
of "The Fast and the Furious."
and low-key, Shmuger spends his free time with
his sons, ages 6 and 9, and playing pickup basketball
in Pacific Palisades, where he and his family
live. Colleagues describe him as passionate and
relentless, often staying up all night to complete
a movie trailer. "Everybody around him gets energized
by his passion," said his boss, Stacey Snider.
hallmark is a willingness to make risky decisions,
such as moving the opening date for "The Fast
and the Furious" from spring to a more competitive
summer slot. The urban drag-racing film had no
big names and a medium-size budget, but Shmuger
was convinced it would be a surprise hit after
strong test screenings. So he moved the opening
date to June, one week after the opening of Paramount
Pictures' hit"Lara Croft: Tomb Raider."
allowed Universal's marketing department to build
awareness of the movie through extensive screenings
for racing fans. "The Fast and the Furious" so
far has grossed $198 million worldwide. Cohen,
the film's director, figures Shmuger's decision
at least doubled the film's ticket sales. Shmuger
has a knack for finding the right message for
a movie and acutely understanding youth culture,
said Brian Grazer, co-producer of "The Grinch"
and the upcoming "A Beautiful Mind." "He's kind
of this lethal blend of the guy who cares more
than anybody and is almost smarter than everybody,"
the appeal of "The Grinch," Shmuger had the movie
trailer depict the Grinch with a scarier, edgier
quality than the original cartoon character. Boosted
by $80 million in support from promotional partners,
plus appearances by Audrey Geisel, widow of Dr.
Seuss creator Theodor Geisel, and merchandise
tie-ins with the Postal Service, "The Grinch"
became the year's most successful movie, racking
up about $260 million at the box office. "There's
no set formula, " Shmuger said. "You have to go
with what the marketplace is telling you [and]
what the competition is throwing at you."
and other Universal executives also credit a new
strategy of promoting more cooperation among other
divisions, including consumer products and overseas
distribution. Universal's distribution arm, UIP,
which it owns with Paramount, also is more active
in marketing campaigns. Shmuger believes that
this more unified approach gave a big boost to
such movies as "Bridget Jones's Diary," which
grossed more than $200 million overseas, nearly
triple domestic sales.
Shmuger has had his share of marketing failures,
including "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and "Josie and
the Pussycats" at Universal, plus the Arnold Schwarzenegger
flop "Last Action Hero," which Columbia Pictures
touted as the big ticket for 1993. "It was a hard
lesson in over-boasting," Shmuger said. And Shmuger's
tendency to experiment hasn't always worked. To
promote the 1999 movie "Man on the Moon," about
the offbeat comic Andy Kaufman, Universal gave
money to die-hard Kaufman fans to run their own
marketing campaign. The studio also ran print
ads that were upside-down and TV ads that were
cut in half. But mainstream viewers failed to
connect with the message.
individual movie promotions, Shmuger also has
stepped up Universal's online marketing by forging
multimillion-dollar deals with AOL Time Warner
and Microsoft. Such deals are critical to Universal,
which lacks the domestic distribution capabilities
of rivals such as Disney and AOL.
deal guarantees that Universal's movies will be
promoted across AOL's Web and TV properties, including
TNT, the WB network and HBO. But to reduce its
dependence on AOL, Universal reached a similar
15-month, multi-picture deal with Microsoft last
month. The agreement includes banners promoting
Universal movies, chat rooms with celebrities,
exclusive clips and games. Though online promotions
are common among studios, Universal was the first
to strike a full-year deal to promote its slate
of films with MSN.
Universal's strong box-office performance in 2001,
Shmuger will have his work cut out for him next
year. "I believe he'll be tested in the next year,"
Disney's Aviv said. "They don't have four big
sequels and they don't have any obvious tent poles
[beyond a re-release of "E.T."]...If anybody can
pull it off, Marc can, but it will be a test.".