Walt Disney spent $170 million to produce Alice Through the Looking Glass, a sequel to the 2010 film that the media giant hopes will turn into yet another blockbuster. While millions more will be spent to advertise the film, one surprising partnership is giving the film a big publicity push before it hits theaters nationwide this weekend.
That partnership is with HSN (HSNI), commonly known as the Home Shopping Network.
The lifestyle retailer is currently in the middle of an Alice-themed 72-hour marathon marketing bonanza, which kicked off late on May 23 and runs through midnight on May 26. Featuring around 40 designers and brands with collections containing more than 300 products, HSN is selling Alice-inspired beauty products, fashion, home goods and jewelry. The partnership spans all of HSN’s shopping programs, including television, digital and mobile channels. While Disney will get a cut of any merchandise with ties to the film, perhaps just as importantly, the its movie is getting a ton of visibility on HSN’s website and TV channel. (Given that the movie has gotten poor reviews from critics so far, that kind of push is especially helpful to Disney.)
“This film is a merchant’s dream. It is so beautiful and you can be inspired,” said HSN Inc. Chief Executive Mindy Grossman in a recent interview with Fortune.
Grossman, CEO of HSN for the past decade, has spearheaded a move by the brand to embrace Hollywood as a way to sell movie-inspired consumer goods around the time big blockbusters land in theaters. Because HSN makes these movie partnerships an “event,” Grossman argues they are bigger and bolder than a traditional licensing arrangement – a fee that consumer goods makers would pay to make gear tied to a film property.
She said HSN more boldly sees film, as well as music and gaming, as “experiences.” And Grossman believes shoppers are more inclined today to buy products that evoke a story.
“We are always focused on how can we differentiate ourselves,” Grossman said. “In today’s world, where people are gravitating toward experiences, it is even more important.”
The retailer has employed this strategy for the past six years, starting with the Julia Roberts film Eat, Pray Love. After working with Sony on that first project, HSN has since worked many of Hollywood’s biggest studios, including Disney (DIS), Lions Gate Entertainment (LGF), and 21st Century Fox (FOX).
HSN picks one big project each year – this year it is Alice – though it doesn’t shy away from other studio partnerships when those opportunities arise. Earlier this year, HSN sold product tied to DreamWorks Animation’s (DWA) Kung Fu Panda 3.
Interestingly, as HSN has sought to embrace the world of film, it has found itself getting some free plugs in Hollywood movies. The brand was featured in 2016’s Mother’s Day and The Boss. HSN didn’t pay a fee to be featured in any of those films, which were both poorly reviewed but generated box office returns that exceeded their production budgets.
Under Grossman’s leadership, HSN continues to report annual sales gains even as many brick-and-mortar retailers have struggled to generate traffic to their stores and websites. HSN’s sales totaled $3.7 billion last year, up from $3.1 billion four years earlier. The company doesn’t disclose the sales generated from partnerships with Hollywood.
Much of the success can be attributed to women, who make up roughly 87% of the customer base and likely influence many of the purchases made by men. “We know we are reaching women,” Grossman said.
The retailer has made strives to be more relevant to younger shoppers by focusing on digital transactions, which now account for over 40% of the company’s business, as well as building closer ties to celebrities and tinkering with new technologies like selling goods via live streaming. She says more can be done to educate shoppers about what the HSN shopping experience looks like.
“We are a completely transformed business,” Grossman said. “But we can still educate [shoppers] on the change in what our experience is today. We have tremendous opportunities.”