Two studios with proven track records in targeting media-wary adolescents are rolling out a marketing mix that includes game parties, instant messaging and comic books for two of the Halloween-season's bigger teen-movie offerings.
Artisan Entertainment's House of the Dead, based on the popular Sega arcade and home-system game, opens Friday, followed a week later by New Line Cinema's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a remake of Tobe Hooper's 1974 shock hit. Alongside the TV commercials and theatrical trailers that are touting both movies, the campaigns are also counting heavily on alternate ways to stimulate buzz among a target that eschews the hard sell. Key to each marketing plan are online and e-mail efforts.
"It's not just word of mouth, but word of mouse and word of thumb, whether it's text messaging, cell phones or pagers," said Gordon Paddison, svp of worldwide interactive marketing at Los Angeles-based New Line, a leading studio for interactive and alternate marketing, with efforts dating back to Mortal Kombat in 1995. "Instant messaging is absolutely huge among our key demos."
House of the Dead has a built-in advantage, opening with "great brand awareness of the videogame," said Amorette Jones, evp of marketing at Artisan in Santa Monica, Calif. "It is one of the most successful games of all time, so that has informed our strategy for marketing that real estate."
Artisan's efforts for House of the Dead include movie-promotion parties at SegaEnterprises' GameWorks arcades (after 8 p.m. only, due to the movie's "R" rating), as well as trailer kiosks and arcade competitions.
Sega is blasting e-mail newsletters, created in-house, with movie information, trailer links and exclusive photos to more than a million Internet users. The trailers reference the game and 250,000 House of the Dead comic books, which will carry an ad for the film on the inside front cover. The comics have been distributed at theaters, arcades and comic-book conventions.
The movie trailer was added to the "mature audience only" Xbox retail demo disc distributed at 3,000 stores nationwide. House of the Dead has its own Web site—which, since the success of Artisan's Web-driven Blair Witch Project effort in 1999, has been a studio-marketing staple.
Jean Wong, brand manager of Artisan Home Entertainment, said the company is negotiating a deal with Sega for the movie's DVD release, where content and advertising can be part of a second marketing push.
While films such as Blair Witch and The Matrix series have relied heavily on promoting word-of-mouth excitement about movies through nontraditional means, marketers now have to be increasingly savvy about the methods they use to enchant jaded youth.
"The young adult is highly skeptical of traditional advertising and abhors the hard sell," said Carisa Bianchi, chief strategic officer at Omnicom Group's TBWA\Chiat\Day in Playa del Rey, Calif., who has worked on youth-oriented accounts such as Levi's and Sony PlayStation. "The studios will have to find ways that are much more viral. The young adult wants to know more about popular culture than everyone else knows. They trust 'word of relevant mouth.' "
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has tested off the charts, according to New Line, and the studio has decided to pull back on nontraditional media in favor of TV spots and trailers, Paddison said. "Normally, I'd be more aggressive on trying to penetrate different channels, but here we already have very rare buzz that you are normally trying to create," he added.
Paddison's department has been an early user of AOL Instant Messenger and ring- messenger "bots"—so-called "robot agents" that form lists for automatic information delivery to computers and wireless devices—blanketing the banner space. The Lord of the Rings and Austin Powers series harvested as many as 25 million to 30 million instant- messenger interactions with the bots.
"New Line does well at focusing on peer-to-peer communications," said Andrew Leary, chief operating officer at Streetwise.com in Los Angeles, an agency that specializes in youth marketing. "They want to start them talking about the movie early. A combination of traditional advertising and other types of marketing sells this genre.
"But I agree that for this category, the online will have a greater impact than in other categories," added Leary. "That has to do with the consumer: They consider themselves edgier and non-mainstream."
"The last thing the studio wants to do is 'market' the product," said Paddison. "It is about appropriately offering the product so that someone can embrace it on their own— then they market your product."
Studio executives declined to reveal marketing budgets for either movie. Studios traditionally spend 80 percent of marketing dollars before a film opens, with the opening weekend often accounting for 90 percent of the box-office take. The curtain-raising is even more critical for short-shelf-life Halloween films.