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Last week, news broke that Beauty and the Beast had crossed the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office, becoming the 29th movie in history to ever do so. It’s the year’s highest-grossing film across the globe — and, according to Disney, the highest-grossing movie musical ever made.
That’s excellent news for Disney, and all but confirms that the studio will be churning out many more live-action remakes of cartoon classics in the coming years — but those Hollywood execs aren’t the only ones cashing in on the family-friendly film’s success. In the months leading up to Beauty’s theatrical release, HSN, L’Oréal Paris, New Balance, Uniqlo, Juicy Couture, Christopher Kane, Judith Leiber, Swarovski, Hot Topic, Torrid, Morgan Taylor, and even Le Creuset (yes, the cast-iron cookware company) all debuted collections in collaboration with the film.
Movie tie-ins are nothing new, of course; who among us didn’t beg his or her parents for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchbox, Power Rangers action figure, or Princess Jasmine doll back in grade school? And it’s not just a kid thing; cross-promotions have long been commonplace in the food, beverage, and auto industries as well. But it wasn’t until the past decade or so that fashion and beauty brands got in on the action.
According to HSN president (and Lifetime and VH1 alum) Bill Brand, who has overseen “at least a dozen” movie tie-in collections for the company since joining it in 2006, it wasn’t easy at first. He remembers taking meetings at Hollywood film studios with HSN CEO Mindy Grossman those first few years, eager to collaborate. “The first time we went, you should have seen the faces on these studio executives,” he says. “They were like, ‘What are you talking about? You’re HSN. You sell stuff.’”
Then, in 2009, Brand and Grossman met with Sony, which was prepping for the release of its film adaptation of Eat Pray Love, and pitched a product line. “Of course, most people were like, ‘So you’re going to sell Eat Pray Love T-shirts?’” Brand laughs. “I told them, ‘No, imagine: 24 hours of Bali, 24 hours of India, 24 of Italy.’”
Brand told the studio that HSN could devote 72 hours of live airtime to the film, selling exclusive fashion, beauty, and lifestyle goods from the three different countries Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) visits in the film. “We had on the designer Naeem Khan and his wife Ranjana, who does jewelry. We had teas from Padma Lakshmi, and beauty brands from Italy. It really opened everyones’ eyes as to [what we could do], and was the beginning of our using a movie property in a way that was engaging and entertaining.”
More importantly, it delivered sales-wise. “After that, the floodgates opened,” Brand says. “Hollywood executives started coming to us!” Collections with Snow White and the Huntsman, Alice in Wonderland, and Trolls (to name a few) followed; HSN’s Beauty and the Beast partnership, which included everything from a Mrs. Potts-shaped cross-body bag ($68) to a bejeweled “Captivating Castle” necklace by Heidi Daus ($299.95), was its most successful to date, according to Brand. And while capitalizing on the buzz surrounding an upcoming movie seems like a no-brainer for any fashion or beauty-oriented business, there’s a reason why studios keep signing on for these partnerships: It benefits them, too. Big time.
“Hollywood wants women to go to the movies,” says Brand simply. “Most of our customers are women 30 and older, and we can help get them into the seats because we’re a marketing channel and we tell stories.” He mentions Eat Pray Love as an example: “Our research and Sony’s research proved that more people became aware of the movie, and went to see it on opening weekend, because they’d seen it on HSN.”
Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, co-founder of OPI, agrees. Her nail polish company has teamed up with films ranging from Muppets Most Wanted to The Amazing Spider-Man — and as a result, she says, manicure fans wound up purchasing more movie tickets. “When we started working on our Skyfall collection, I was talking to [James Bond producer] Barbara Broccoli, and she said, ‘Look, Bond already has the male audience, but I want the female audience.’ That’s something OPI can deliver,” Weiss-Fischmann says.
“I mean, at the end of the day, the woman is the one who makes all the decisions,” she adds. “She controls the pursestrings, and she makes all the decisions for the family — from what drink to buy at the supermarket to what color car to buy to what movie to take the kids to see.”
OPI’s first foray into movie product integration can be seen in 2001’s Legally Blonde; Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) paints her nails with the brand’s polish during the opening scene. For 2003’s Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, OPI upped the ante, rolling out a whole collection inspired by the sequel. Like HSN, OPI had to seek out partnership opportunities at the beginning, but that didn’t last long. “Now, the studios call to tell us what’s coming up and to see if we have interest,” Weiss-Fischmann says. “Or I’ll call up Disney and ask what’s on the calendar, and whether there’s anything OPI might fit into.”
Weiss-Fischmann estimates she’s overseen 15 different OPI movie tie-ins thus far. When asked for sales figures on the collections, she politely demurs. “Let me just put it this way: They have all outperformed our expectations,” she says. She mentions that OPI’s team-up with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, timed to the classic film’s rerelease in late 2016, was a particularly big hit. “It’s amazing how even millennials know Audrey Hepburn!” she laughs. “I remember asking my daughter if she knew who Audrey Hepburn was — she was like, ‘Of course I do, Mom!’ That’s how I knew we had a winner.”
When it comes to creating and executing these tie-ins, both Brand and Weiss-Fischmann say that keeping an open dialogue with the participating movie studio is key. For both HSN and OPI, the process typically begins a full year before a film’s release, to allow time for the brands’ creative teams to visit the set and go behind the scenes.
“We like to have access to the costume designer and the set designer, to capture exclusive interviews or content that we can place on all our platforms,” Brand says. “That way, yes, we’re selling product on TV — but on digital, you can watch trailers and behind-the-scenes content.” From there, HSN’s merchants and marketing teams gather to decide which brands would suit the partnership best. But does the studio have a say when it comes to the products themselves? “Sometimes they want to have input, but we work in sync,” Brand says. “Actually, if you ask anyone in the studio space, most of them have been to St. Petersburg, Florida, to our studios.”
For OPI, on the other hand, trips to the studio and set are more about gathering inspiration than content. “First, I go and see their inspiration boards, which is important because how I’m going to envision the colors that will work with the story, the costumes, and the scenery,” Weiss-Fischmann says. “Then, we come up with ideas for colors, get approval on those from the studio, and then we work on the names, get approval on those, then we work on the point-of-purchase displays. Everything is approved by the studio; it’s a total collaboration.”
But who’s the target audience when it comes to these tie-ins: Movie enthusiasts, or the brand’s own fans? According to both sources, loyal customers come first. Once a film’s hashtag starts trending, however, there’s a huge opportunity to attract new shoppers. “That’s when we leverage these partnerships — on social, on digital — to find fans of these movies,” Brand says. Getting influencers involved helps, too; to celebrate the launch of its Beauty and the Beast collaboration, for instance, HSN invited 200 Disney bloggers to Walt Disney World to preview the line and, of course, share on their social media platforms.
While fashion and beauty movie tie-ins may have hit critical mass with Beauty and the Beast — and occasionally proven controversial, as with HSN's The Help collaboration and CoverGirl's Capitol Couture makeup — don’t expect this trend to slow down anytime soon. They’ve clearly proven successful time and time again for brands with mass appeal like HSN and OPI, but even luxury retailers like Tiffany & Co. (which did a Great Gatsby collection in 2013) and Net-a-Porter (which offered clothing tied to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire that same year) are on board.
And as long as these launches continue to drive women to the movie theater, studios will stay happy — particularly as the costs of traditional movie marketing continue to rise. Plus, all the TV ads and billboards in the world might not be enough to convince your friends to catch the new Pirates of the Caribbean sequel — but say you choose OPI’s Skull & Glossbones the next time you get a manicure. “If someone then asks you what polish you’re wearing,” Weiss-Fischmann says, “that’s an amazing advertisement!”