Marketers angle to catch the rising stars

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When Mischa Barton, Lindsay Lohan and Chad Michael Murray hit the red carpet for Fox's "The 2004 Teen Choice Awards" last week, more than squealing fans were trying to get the young stars' attention. A horde of brand marketers were doing the same, in the form of backstage VIP areas and customized giveaways, proving that Hollywood's up-and-comers are commanding the attention once reserved for Oscar-contending movie icons.

Sprint, Polaroid Corp., Johnson & Johnson's Neutrogena, Sanrio's Hello Kitty, Activision, MGA Entertainment's Bratz, the American Legacy Foundation's "Truth" anti-smoking campaign and others took their places among the autograph hounds, aiming to make an impact with the young stars and those they influence.

"Traditional media doesn't reach this demo like it does people in their 30s and 40s," said Mike Goff, VP-brand management at Sprint, which showcased its combo camcorder/phone in the celeb VIP room. "It's important for us to put the product into the hands of emerging Hollywood because that's who teens look up to."

Young consumers-11-to-24-year-olds-are worth some $21 billion to the telecom industry, Mr. Goff said, showing why Sprint has seeded itself into Hilary Duff music videos, the WB networks' "Everwood," MTV's "TRL" and a slew of teen feature films.

staying power

And there's crossover potential.

"People like Ashton Kutcher, Reese Witherspoon and Alicia Silverstone have their own production companies," said Lash Fary, president of Distinctive Assets, Los Angeles, an event producer and celebrity-outreach firm. "They're moguls with cross-media exposure."

Young stars are still hungry and they may be less likely to have ingrained brand preferences.

"It's nice to engage somebody early on," said Mary Semling, marketing director at Spotlight Marketing, Chicago, who has clients at the Teen Choice Awards VIP room. "If they haven't made it big just yet, they appreciate the gesture more. It makes more sense for a brand to build a relationship with that person than to toss free stuff at some star who's been there, done that."

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