When is a movie promotion more than a simple link-up?

This week's column comes to you from Seattle - home to Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing and Starbucks - where I am currently installed, surrounded by other laptop owners, sipping lattes and enjoying the jazz.

Next to me on the table (and plastered all over the doors and windows) is a promotional card for Akeelah And The Bee, a movie opening here this week.

It's an experiment for the ubiquitous coffee shop, which has clocked that its 40 million customers a week constitute an audience comparable with conventional mass media here. Unlike most high-volume retailers, it also has a cool and attractive brand image.

So while McDonald's shells out millions to associate itself with the latest Disney movie, Starbucks has negotiated itself a share of the takings from Akeelah, as well as a free top-and-tail at all showings of the movie, as the price of its patronage.

It's a neat deal for client and "media owner" but here's the best bit. The serving staff have all been to screenings of the movie.

My bloke told me: "It's a great movie. I know they want us to say that, but it really is."

So not only is this media owner offering a mass audience in a relaxed and pleasing environment, but also word-of-mouth - the most persuasive ad of all.

The movie is a feel-good yarn about a little girl who overcomes predictable obstacles to reach a national spelling competition (or bee).

Cynics say Starbucks selected this film because its cast is almost entirely African American - a blatant effort to enhance its appeal to this important target audience. Not sure I see the problem here.

If anything, it makes the whole deal all the more satisfactory, doesn't it?

Starbucks has been in discussion with all the major studios and is already planning further movie deals.

Its customers, like the readers of a smart magazine, constitute a highly attractive community, capable of further engagement.

Starbucks plan in-store music downloads and book sales ... and who knows what else?

A clearly defined and clearly addressable community is a powerful media asset, a benefit that is not lost on entrepreneurial retailers closer to home.

Let's keep an eye on Tesco.

- Richard Eyre is a media pluralist, richard.eyre@haynet.com.

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