UK Ad Watchdog Cites Movie's Message Campaign

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Britain's self-regulatory advertising watchdog agency yesterday criticized a prerecorded message campaign run by 20th Century Fox for the launch of the sci-fi thriller "Minority Report" on DVD and video.

The Advertising Standards Authority upheld consumer complaints about the voice-message campaign in December to British consumers that featured a sound clip from the film. Consumers complained that the clip, which featured heavy breathing and agitated voices, was offensive and caused them "undue fear and distress," the authority said.

In the clip, Tom Cruise's voice is heard stating, "Where's my minority report," followed by heavy breathing and then Cruise screaming, "Do I even have one?" Cruise then is heard breathing heavily and repeating the question, to which a girl's voice answers, "No."

"Don't miss out on your 'Minority Report.' Buy it now on DVD and video," a voiceover concludes.

Consumers further complained that Fox failed to make clear the message was an advertisement and that they had incurred costs retrieving the commercial message from the voice mails in some cases. Fox sent the message to consumer mobile phones with the intention of reaching live callers -- delivering the messages at 11 a.m. Monday in hopes that most people had their mobile phones turned on at that time -- but in some cases reached voice mails, which cost consumers money to access.

In its response to the authority's initial inquiry, Fox responded that the campaign aimed to reflect the futuristic marketing methods featured in the film. In the movie, people are subjected to retina scans by holographic billboards, which deliver personalized ads and offers as consumers walk past.

Fox also held that it sent the prerecorded message only to those who had requested more information on Fox's Web site about film and DVD releases. The entertainment producer also argued that the term "minority report" had no meaning outside the film, that Cruise's voice was widely recognized and that the voiceover at the end of the message further confirmed that it was an ad.

The authority said it disagreed and told Fox "not to use a similar approach again." It also told the company to disclose more clearly in the future that such messages are ads and to alert consumers who register to receive such information that they may incur a cost.

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