Coffee and popcorn
Starbucks is heavily promoting the new movie 'Akeelah and the Bee' and hopes it can give the film a caffeine rush at the box office.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Walk into your local Starbucks these days and it's hard to miss all the spelling-bee related stuff.
From the chair that says "Reserved for the local spelling bee champion" to the travel-sized editions of Scrabble being sold alongside your favorite caffeinated beverages, Starbucks (Research) has turned into a shrine for aficionados of $5 words like autochthonous.
Why all the, uh, buzz, about spelling bees? Here's a hint.
Starbucks is promoting the new film "Akeelah and the Bee", due out in theaters on April 28. The movie, starring Angela Basset and Laurence Fishburne, is about an eleven-year old girl from South Central Los Angeles who tries to make it into the National Spelling Bee.
For Starbucks, the "Akeelah" promotion is its first foray into the movie business. It's already made a splash in the media industry by selling music from prominent artists such as Ray Charles and Prince in its stores. But now the coffee retailer is hoping to make its influence known on the silver screen ... while making some cash in the process.
"Movies are a very important part of or entertainment strategy," said Ken Lombard, the president of Starbucks Entertainment. "The thought was to start with music, build some success, establish credibility and then move into films."
Starbucks announced the deal with Lionsgate in January but only in recent weeks has the coffee retailer started to rev up its marketing blitz.
In addition to featuring info about the film on coasters, "java jackets" (those cardboard sleeves that slip over hot cups) and signs throughout its stores, Starbucks also is selling the CD of the movie's soundtrack.
Brewing up ticket sales?
So will the Starbucks promotion help boost the movie's box office?
Gitseh Pandya, editor of movie industry research site BoxOfficeGuru.com, thinks so. After all, movie studios have often partnered with fast-food companies like McDonald's and Burger King to promote blockbuster kids films and action movies. And the brands themselves often wind up being featured in the movies.
Lombard is quick to point out, however, that you won't be seeing characters in the movie sipping Starbucks lattes.
"The important thing to emphasize is that our approach is not the one that traditional fast food companies have taken with films," he said. "This is not about product placement."
But Pandya said that "Akeelah", which is more of a small-budget film, is likely to be one that the average Frappuccino fan would appreciate.
"There will be some benefit because of the Starbucks promotion," he said. "It's a smart film. I think the audience is compatible with the Starbucks audience, which is sort of an upscale crowd."
Thomas Eagan, a media analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. who follows Lionsgate, also thinks that the tie-in with Starbucks will be a plus. He is conservatively estimating that the movie will generate about $30 million in domestic box-office sales during its theatrical run.
Of course, that's not blockbuster status but it's not bad for a relatively low-budget film. And Eagan adds that he would not be surprised if the movie does even better than his projection, largely because of the Starbucks promotion.
So if "Akeelah" is a hit, will other studios seek a Venti-sized marketing tie-in with Starbucks?
Lombard said he has been approached by virtually all the other major movie studios with pitches ranging from scripts that are still being developed to movies that have already been filmed. But he said the company is going to be careful in deciding what movies to tout in its stores.
So don't expect to see a Starbucks promotion, for say, "Mission: Impossible III" anytime soon.
Pandya agrees that the company should be cautious. He adds that Starbucks also needs to not go overboard with movie promotions because it risks alienating its customers if it winds up constantly advertising movies in its stores.
"Starbucks shouldn't become overexposed with movie promotions. They still want customers to see them as a high-end coffee seller and not a place where they are having a new movie shoved down their throats every week," he said.
State Farm is there for Pixar's "Cars.". Click here.
Lionsgate roars in Hollywood and on Wall Street. Click here.
For more about Starbucks' impact on the music biz, click here.