Best supporting role

LONDON - Hilton's Andrew Flack talks about making the most of the hotel chain's film part.

As any Bond fan knows, unsubtle product-placement in movies can seriously spoil the viewing experience. However, the relationship between brands and film-makers is changing. Andrew Flack, vice-president of global brand marketing at Hilton, explains how the hotel chain took a light-touch approach to its role in the Oscar-nominated film Up in the Air.

- How did Hilton's participation in Up in the Air come about?

The book (on which it is based) used fictitious brands, but director Jason Reitman was very keen (to get Hilton involved) - he is a member of our loyalty programme. We also have a connection with Paramount (the studio that produced the film).

- How do you choose projects to get involved in?

The appropriateness of the opportunity is the driver - we turn down more things than we end up doing. We need (projects) that are global and project the glamour of travel.

Contrived placement, which does happen, can look crass. This was an authentic backdrop to the story, not someone driving by a poster with 'Hilton' on it.

- Did any money change hands?

There was no cash payment either way - we provided three hotels for the setting and support for the whole production. We put up the crew, put in 100 props and worked with the director to get authenticity into the plotline.

- So there was a cost...

Our marketing budget is segmented into advertising, website and PR. We also have a budget for partnership marketing, because we see that as part of a way of getting the Hilton name out there. We actively look at ways to invest that money.

- What have you got out of your participation in Up in the Air?

The film has gone global and we've been able to activate that - private screenings in all our key markets with customers and staff. That sort of asset is typically part of the package from movie companies. We also took team members to the Hollywood premiere.

We have 8m active Hilton Honors (loyalty scheme) members, so we had a competition for them to enter to win a trip to the premiere. People also used their points to go to the Grammys.

- Did you get sight of the script in advance?

Yes, and we had control over how our brand was represented in the movie - but not over the story itself.

- What advice would you give marketers keen to get involved in film-making?

You have to respect the creative process. We are not there to cramp film-makers' style, but to help them tell their story. However, we still have our duty to our own brand. If you're the marketer, think of what you have to offer (film-makers) - our website has 8m visitors a month, so we promoted the movie on that. Movie releases depend on word-of-mouth and generating buzz.

And don't underestimate the time investment involved. There is a cost in that it is time-consuming. There's a lot of back-and-forth.

- Investing in movies is a risk for brands that haven't done it before. How does Hilton assess that risk?

The partnership is only of value to us if the movie is successful, but a few things were certain. Jason Reitman is a successful writer and George Clooney, of course, is a very successful actor and producer.

You can make informed decisions, but it's not a total science. Looking at the package of this movie, there was a 75% chance it would get a good airing.

- Did you evaluate the ROI for Hilton after the film was released?

There are some highly measurable bits. The promotion we ran - the chance to go to the premiere - generated bookings. It's not all measured in hotel bookings here and now. It's a fairly broad range of measures.

This interview first appeared on www.filmbrandconnections.com, a site created by Film Tree in partnership with the UK Film Council and produced by Brand Republic and Marketing.

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