'O' Promos Sidestep Teens Despite Film's Youth Theme

Imagine limiting the promotion of a movie set at a high school and featuring teen stars only to adults.

That is the challenge Lion's Gate Entertainment executives faced when considering online ad buys and promotion for the film “O,” a modern adaptation of Shakespeare's “Othello.”

The R-rated film was released Aug. 31.

Because the motion picture industry agreed to stricter self-regulation after the Federal Trade Commission found that many “R” movies were being marketed to people younger than 17, Lion's Gate took extreme measures to ensure that the film's online marketing did not reach that age group.

“We are following FTC guidelines in the marketing and advertising of this movie,” said Tom DeLuca, vice president of new media for Lion's Gate, Los Angeles. “We are marketing this as a thriller for young adults and are not targeting under-17 teens in any way.

“We've put in numerous safety precautions to make sure we are not getting the word out to teens … including putting in the necessary imitative tools not to allow anyone under 18 to register for the contest and promotions,” he said.

Promotions include a sweepstakes awarding the winner a week's stay in London and tickets to a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theater.

This is a difficult task, considering teens flock to movies starring 20-year-old Julia Stiles and her co-star, 23-year-old Josh Hartnett. And the movie's premise is clearly targeted to youth. A description of the movie on the Web site, www.othemovie.com, states: “A contemporary retelling of Othello, Shakespeare's timeless tale of treachery and jealousy, O will introduce a new audience to the genius of William Shakespeare. Set in an elite private school … Mekhi Phifer portrays NBA hopeful Odin James…”

To avoid promoting the film to teens, Lion's Gate executives are working with Los Angeles-based Internet marketing and technology firm L90 to serve banner ads only to entertainment and other sites that have an audience older than 18.

“It's always an issue because everyone has access to these sites, but the best we can do is ensure that less than 20 percent of people would be under 18,” said Robert Brown, account executive for the entertainment industry at L90. “Because it's a movie about a high school, we wanted to get as close to high school [age] as we could, so we picked sections of sites and sites themselves … with a demographic of 18 to 24.”

DeLuca said 18- to 25-year-olds are the primary target audience for “O.”

Sites that typically would market movies to teens, such as Alloy.com, approached Lion's Gate about participating in the sweepstakes and other marketing efforts.

“All the teen sites contacted us,” DeLuca said. “We couldn't do anything with them.”

Through third-party measurement firms such as Jupiter Media Metrix and demographic information from the sites, L90 and Lion's Gate verified the “less than 20 percent” stipulation. Ads are running on sites such as Hollywood.com, sections of DrDrew.com, Upcomingmovies.com, Countingdown.com and Rapmusic.com.

Lion's Gate also is promoting the film on certain areas of Yahoo after the portal assured it that the film would be marketed only on areas visited by adults.

“They know their customers very well,” DeLuca said, “and we wouldn't allow it to be advertised where the median age was under 18.”

Ads are being served to 18- to 34-year-olds visiting Yahoo's movie, sports, men's and chat sites. The banner, skyscraper and eyeblaster ads encourage viewers to click through to the movie's Web site to enter the sweeps.

The entry form for the sweeps, running Aug. 10 to Sept. 14, includes an “age” field that blocks anyone younger than 18 from entering the contest.

Still, 15,000 people had entered the sweeps on the site by the end of August. In addition, DeLuca said the site is garnering so much traffic, 30 requests a second for information on the sweeps, trailer and other features, that it has caused problems with the site's servers.

Though Lion's Gate has conducted extensive e-mail campaigns for other films, the company is participating in only one e-mail marketing campaign for “O.” It was featured prominently in the August issue of CinemaNow.com's HTML e-mail newsletter. The movies-on-demand site sent the e-mail to 190,000 of its opt-in subscribers older than 18.

“They are very specific about their users,” DeLuca said. “With the information that they could provide us with, we felt very comfortable that the marketing message would not be delivered to people under 18.”

In addition to GIFs of the movie poster, the e-mail includes interactive questions that help Lion's Gate gather data on moviegoers' awareness of the film. One question, which first describes the film and its release date, asks users, “Have you heard of this movie?” with an option to click “yes” or “no.” “Will you see this movie in the theater?” is another question. A poll in the e-mail lets users vote on their favorite recent film adaptation of Shakespeare's plays.

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