Q & A with Universal Pictures’ Marketing President Eddie Egan

Universal Pictures’ Marketing President Eddie Egan

Universal Pictures’ Marketing President Eddie Egan

As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing series of conversations with Hollywood marketing executives Martin Grove talks to Universal Pictures’ marketing president Eddie Egan about the studio’s $71 million launch Apr. 3 of “Fast & Furious”, focusing on what went into orchestrating the film’s marketing campaign.

Directed by Justin Lin, who directed the 2006 episode “The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift”, the new film reteams the 2001 original’s four lead stars — Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster.

The Universal Pictures and Relativity Media action thriller got the summer season off to a much earlier start than the first weekend in May that’s evolved over the years as the official start of summer. Clearly, it’s possible to put a big summer movie with a dynamite marketing campaign into an early spring weekend and generate summer-like grosses. With that in mind, I was happy to be able to ask Eddie Egan to focus on what went into getting “Fast” off to such a fast start.

Q: Did you expect to open to anything close to $71 million?
A: It stunned us, actually. Obviously, we had a very good feeling about how a fourth ‘Fast & Furious’ movie would do, but to say that we ever expected this result — well, we never expected this result. It’s just absolutely incredible.
Q: Well, that must be the result of doing everything right.
A: It’s very kind of you to say. I think everyone here worked very hard at lining things up, but finally it’s the audience that decides and there was an enormous number of (moviegoers) who were eager and ready for this movie.

Egan tips his hat, especially, to the work done on behalf of “Fast” by Universal executives Nikki Rocco (President, Distribution), Frank Chiocchi (Executive VP, Creative Advertising), Suzanne Cole (Executive VP, Media), Michael Moses (Executive VP, Publicity), Amanda Scholer (VP, Publicity), Greg Sucherman (Senior VP, Field Marketing) and Doug Neil (Senior VP, Digital Marketing).
Q: How did Apr. 3 get to be the movie’s opening date?
A: That was a tough and lively conversation here. I have to give all credit for that to Adam Fogelson (President, Marketing & Distribution) who advocated that. Originally, we had the movie scheduled in June. We saw the movie and obviously we knew the movie was terrific and Adam just posed the question, “What if we were to open Apr. 3?” There was a lot of head scratching and a lot of reluctance on the part of a lot of people and Adam persevered and explained his point of view and explained it sufficiently to both his colleagues here at the studio and the talent on the movie and, lo and behold, $71 million later he was absolutely right to advocate it.
Q: So you felt confident that you could generate summer-like business a month early?
A: That was the biggest question that people who were iffy about this release date had. You could see the opportunity. The date was good. You had spring break happening to some degree before and after and it was a good open week. But the question was, “Can you open a ’summer movie’ in the spring?” And it turns out, obviously, that you can — as long as you have the movie that people want to see and you present it simply and satisfy their interest.
Q: Now when April 2010 rolls around it seems a safe bet that one or more studios will be launching big summer style movies.
A: I hope so. I think probably every studio hopes so. We all have to scratch and claw at release dates and we end up colliding with each other and losing little bits of opportunity. And, clearly, the audience is ready for any kind of movie at any time. They just have to know it’s out there.

Universal’s opening weekend exit polls, Egan said, showed that “Fast’s” audience skewed male (57 percent) and was ethnically diverse — Hispanic (46 percent), Caucasian (28 percent), African American (16 percent), Asian (8 percent) and other (2 percent). The vast majority of the audience had previously seen “The Fast and the Furious” (96 percent), “2 Fast 2 Furious” (94 percent) and “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (89 percent).
Q: So you had the right picture, the right opening date and the right marketing campaign and a great line for your ads in “New Model. Original parts.”
A: We’ve seen since the first movie, which was a lower budget (film) and very much a surprise hit, a continuing interest in the automobile life style as embodied on the screen by these characters. Now we did very well in the second one (2003’s “Fast 2 Furious”) with Paul Walker’s character carrying the first sequel. That opened to $50.5 million. And then it changed course and went overseas for the third one (which) did very well overseas but sort of topped out here (with a cume of $62.5 million).

We kept hearing all along from people that what really differentiates the “Fast & Furious” films from other movies in which there are racing cars or car chases are the characters who live in that lifestyle. That was why when it was proposed after the third movie that we go back to that core equity and revisit the characters of Dom and Brian and Letty and Mia we all jumped at it. That was the whole game — just saying, “Those people that you loved so much and that you watch endlessly on DVD or on showings on USA and other cable networks are back in the same kind of story and, in fact, a story that answers questions left unanswered at the end of the first movie.”

(Our marketing also had to show) that the movie had the goods. I think people are a little wary of sequels and of companies rightly or wrongly trying to cash in on their intellectual properties. What we decided in the first trailer and in the follow-up trailer was to show a longer than usual sequence. It was the tanker chase and it played out. It’s much longer than a sequence would be in a trailer. It took a while to even show you that Vin was the man driving the car. That was just to demonstrate that this movie had incredibly dynamic direction by Justin Lin, who also did the third one, and was worthy of the return of those characters.

Teaser trailers for “Fast” went into theaters in late August and played into the fall and winter with hits like “Quantum of Solace” and “Yes Man”. The film’s full trailer was in theaters by mid-January and played through with hits like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” and “Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail”. The in-theaters marketing also included teaser and final one-sheets and standees.

In its media campaign Universal designated “Fast” a must-see event, using a 45 second Super Bowl spot plus spots in “American Idol”, “Lost”, “24”, and “Family Guy” as well as NBA games and NCAA March Madness. There also were cable network buys and a major Spanish language campaign targeting Hispanic moviegoers. And there were outdoor buys in New York, L.A. and the top 15 markets and heavy use of radio. The film’s promotional partnerships included those with BP Castrol, General Tires, Puma, Remus Innovation and Subaru.

On the Internet front Universal’s digital marketing team created the film’s official website http://www.fastandfuriousmovie.net and launched it in late last. Since then it’s received over 500,000 unique visitors and over 8 million trailer streams. The movie’s full website was launched in February with a downloadable widget, an Ultimate model contest, video transitions and additional functionality and features. Active fanpages and groups were established on MySpace and Facebook and extensive media buys were made on YouTube, MySpace, AOL, Yahoo, ESPN, Facebook, Xbox, Fandango, Movietickets, MTV and other sites.

There also were national media partnerships, including those with the cable networks Adult Swim, BET, FX, MTV, VH1, Speed, Spike TV and USA. Universal’s publicity operation covered all the usual bases and arranged screenings and press days in Miami, a premiere at Universal CityWalk and a press junket in L.A. with the film’s director and four lead stars.
Q: Why do you think your blockbuster opening was so much bigger than Hollywood was anticipating?
A: I hear anecdotally that the industry was kind of gob-smacked by how this did and I admit to you that there was more of the audience than we imagined, but it just goes to show that the research methods that we all use can never fully gauge something that is this completely white hot. There’s just a limit to how many of those people when an audience is all fired up to see something are going to stop to engage in a research study. And, in fact, some of those research studies may not even be able to effectively track them.
Q: And that opening’s even more impressive coming during this recession when people are cutting back on what they spend for just about everything other than movie tickets.
A: Everything’s expensive these days because there’s less money going around, but (moviegoing) is still a pretty good value for your money because you get to go out. It is a social event. There’s nothing like seeing a movie like “Fast & Furious” in a packed theater on opening weekend. The theater is just on fire with expectations. Obviously, it’s pure escapism. People shouldn’t drive at speeds that they do in the movie, but they like to watch it on screen and they like to watch it with other people. I think when it is this kind of social event and a movie that’s really linked to a lifestyle, it’s just a perfect combination to explode the way this one did this weekend.

(That shared experience is) really part of why moviegoing will always endure even with all the new technologies and delivery systems. I think people really do like going out, especially on a weekend, and being with other people — whether it’s to see an action movie and to hear a collective gasp or a comedy and hear people laughing. That’s not something you can experience in your home.