Send In the 'Clones'

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Soccer star David Beckham — perhaps the world's most recognizable sports celebrity — had some galactic competition for the spotlight at a recent Los Angeles Galaxy game, when he accompanied a clone trooper to the ceremonial coin toss.

The appearance by the white-armor-clad character from the upcoming Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon series was just one of the local affiliate promotional strategies created by Cartoon Network in support of the series, which debuts Oct. 3 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on both the standard and high-definition versions of the channel. (See “Reviews,” page 48.)

“This is by far the largest marketing campaign we've ever done,” said Brenda Freeman, chief marketing officer at Cartoon, a Turner Broadcasting System outlet. The network has designed the promotion to help its affiliates promote local products and bundles, especially high-definition programming, since the series has been rendered in HD.

Cartoon affiliates have welcomed the chance to melt their brands to the Star Wars franchise, said Turner Network Sales vice president of marketing and operations Gary Brockman.

The six live-action Star Wars films have earned an estimated $4.3 billion around the world, making it the third-highest grossing film franchise in history (behind Harry Potter and James Bond). In spite of critical drubbing, the animated Clone Wars feature film, which leads into the Cartoon Network series, has earned $33.9 million in the U.S. as of mid-September, according to the Internet Movie Database.

The series has very strong perceived value and the network is providing operators with ways to both engage current customers with Star Wars related merchandise for their loyalty programs or as a reward for taking new services, according to Brockman.

Cartoon partnered with corporate sibling Warner Bros. to provide previews of the animated movie to energize system employees, and to provide local operators with a benefit for their best customers.

Affiliates are also given Star Wars electronics and DVD packages, which systems can use as gifts-with-purchase, for instance. The network is also providing trips for two to the Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah, for systems to use as sweepstakes prizes or as incentives for local ad sales teams.

A major component of the promotion is a mall tour, with clone troopers appearing at shopping centers in New York; Los Angeles; Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Atlanta; Miami; and Houston. Visitors will receive light saber training, play interactive games and avail themselves of green-screen photo opportunities.

Other local appearances, such as the clone trooper participating in the Major League Soccer coin toss, are scheduled around-the-mall tour visits to expand awareness of the series debut as well as services offered by the local operators.

Brockman said the character was “treated like a rock star” at the Galaxy game as he handed out Yoda masks to young fans.

Freeman said Star Wars creator George Lucas previews advertising materials before they hit the market, but the campaign is very much the creation of Cartoon Network.

The channel has even come up with an on-air promotional stunt during the Oct. 2 World Wrestling Entertainment telecast on MyNetworkTV, she said. And it's not a clone trooper vs. Vince McMahon grudge match (we asked).

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