One of the latest sightings is at Pioneer Electronics. In a new spot from BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles, for the award-winning "Shock Waves" campaign, an extraterrestrial is appalled when a greeting being beamed from Earth is drowned out by rock music from a Pioneer car stereo. The angry alien then aims a death ray at our planet.
And recently, Eastman Kodak Co. and electronics retailer the Good Guys! have also hit the air with alien-theme ads.
NO NEW TREND
BBDO West President-Executive Creative Director David Lubars said his agency wasn't trying to capitalize on a trend, noting extraterrestrials have been visiting TV, movies and ads for years.
But the visits are increasing. In another recent spot, for the Idaho Potato Commission via Young & Rubicam, San Francisco, a spacecraft abducts a field of spuds.
That's typical of the new batch of aliens. These aren't the friendly Steven Spielberg characters of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "E.T." The '90s invasion has aliens with an attitude.
"We've run out of enemies again for us to fight," said Michael Schau, executive editor of The Entertainment Marketing Letter. "We've beaten the communists...The only bad guys left that are safe to pick on are the ultimate `them'-aliens."
FOX LEADS THE WAY
News Corp.'s Fox TV and film empire has been a major spawning ground for the aliens.
The popular, alien-chasing "X-Files" completed its third season last month and this spring spun off three best-selling home videos and a modestly successful sound track.
In movie theaters, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. on July 3 unleashes "Independence Day," the heavily hyped alien invasion flick that promises to set a new standard for special effects.
NBC has tapped into the alien chic with this spring's debut of the sitcom "Third Rock From the Sun." This fall, its Saturday schedule will include "Dark Skies," the first of what promises to be many "X-Files" knockoffs.
Also gaining popularity are "reality"-based specials and tabloid series that deal broadly with the unexplained but often focus on extraterrestrial life.
UPN this season debuted "The Paranormal Borderline," and coming next fall is "Strange Universe Tonight," a strip reality series from Rysher Entertainment.
At the movies, come Thanksgiving, Paramount Pictures Corp. ushers in a new installment drawn from the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TV show, built around an alien invasion. At Christmas, Warner Bros. will offer "Mars Attacks!" a campy take on the genre with Jack Nicholson battling little green men; and "Space Jam," with Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny as Earth's inexplicable last line of defense.
Another impetus to the alien invasion is more-realistic special effects, which infuse the creatures with greater "authenticity."
THE IMPORTANCE OF LICENSING
Licensing is a key factor in the popularity of aliens and science fiction. These genres appeal to merchandise-hungry kids and, increasingly, also to adults. "Star Trek" generates an estimated $1 billion a year for Viacom in licensing revenue.
Warner Bros. Consumer Products is busy putting together an extensive licensing program for "Mars Attacks!" including toys from TrendMaster and video-games from Tiger Electronics.
The "Independence Day" program is getting a lot of buzz, with toys again from TrendMaster and retail support from F.A.O. Schwarz and Target Stores.
Other marketers are also jumping on the alien bandwagon for promo tie-ins. "Independence Day," while rated PG-13, promises to be violent if fun stuff. Still, Ace Hardware, Coors Brewing Co. and Domino's Pizza have bought marketing ties to the movie.
And the aliens aren't ready to go home quite yet.
"We might see knockoffs galore," Mr. Schau said, "but as long as the content is of quality, there will be an audience for it, Hollywood will make it."
Contributing: Kate Fitzgerald and Bradley Johnson.