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Lights! Camera! Promotion!

The curtain rises this week on a summer season filled with action adventure films suitable for the whole family-and for marketers looking to reach those families.

The competition and threat of clutter are at an all-time high. Marketers will be pouring more than $200 million into promotions, though studios spend only about $14 million on ads for a major release.

"Studios are recognizing that traditional advertising isn't enough anymore to open a movie," said Steve Ross, senior VP-worldwide promotion at Twentieth Century Fox Film & Video. "The ability to tap outside dollars and marketing allows studios to take their messages further and be more efficient."

Marketers aren't limiting their sights to the youngsters. Take Walt Disney Co.'s $50 million `Pocahontas" promo push. Burger King Corp.'s program includes meal deals with toys for tots and acrylic mugs for older folks. Chrysler Corp. will conduct an in-theater sweepstakes and give minivans to winners.

Among this summer's releases:

"Casper" (debuts May 26 from MCA-Universal).

The skinny: Is the friendly ghost movie material? Will this kid flick get buried in the BatPocaRangers avalanche? Special effects alone said to be worth the ticket price.

The promo push: A $50 million onslaught from Pepsi-Cola Co., Pizza Hut and Choice Hotels hit last week. "Casper" also has its own Web site. And look for "Congo" (June 9; Paramount Pictures Corp.).

The skinny: Studio counting on Michael Crichton name to lure adults and "Jurassic Park"-type marketing to reach kids.

The promo push: PepsiCo owns "Congo" with Pepsi-Cola Co. and Taco Bell spending $65 million on promotion and media. Tiger Electronics' "Congo" videogame will introduce new VRT-X holographic screen technology.

"Batman Forever" (June 16; Warner Bros.).

The skinny: The Dark Knight goes Dark Light with a new cast, new director and a more marketer-friendly tone.

The promo push: Acclaim Entertainment, McDonald's Corp. and Kellogg Co. are helping fuel a $60 million campaign, as is almost every Warner division. Look for a prime-time ABC-TV special June 13.

"Judge Dredd" (June 30; Disney's Hollywood Pictures).

The skinny: "Judge Dredd" is to the U.K. what "Batman" is to the U.S. Sylvester Stallone in the title role broadens appeal beyond comic book fans.

The promo push: $10 million, mostly from Jack-in-the-Box, which is planning a win a trip to Disney World sweepstakes. Acclaim and DC Comics are also on board. Visitors to Buena Vista Multiplex Web site can play a Disney-produced "Dredd" game.

"Pocahontas" (June 23; Walt Disney Co.).

The skinny: Blockbuster but no "Lion King." Many doubt that an animated epic about a legendary Native American maiden will fly with boys fixated on "Batman" and "Power Rangers." "People would be underestimating this movie if they think it's for girls only," said Brett Dicker, senior VP-promotions, Buena Vista Pictures Marketing. When promos and ads hit in late May, he said to look for an emphasis on the film's adventure themes and heroic male lead to woo boys.

The promo push: Beyond Burger King and Chrysler, Nestle will leverage "Pocahontas" across 30 brands. General Mills will put "Pocahontas" on the front of Cheerios boxes in June.

"Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" (June 30; Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.).

The skinny: The TV show replicated for the silver screen. Kids will go ga-ga, but Fox must guard against Mighty Morphin overkill.

The promo push: $40 million in spending so far, and Fox is still working on one last monster deal. Roster already is impressive: McDonald's will morph into "MMPR" HQ in late June, 7UP will put the Rangers on 500 million units of product and Kraft will introduce "MMPR" packaging for Jell-O next month. Choice Hotels and Discovery Zone also on the bandwagon.M

A plethora of marketers are warming up to this summer's movies as promotional opportunities. Among them are DC Comics, tying into "Judge Dredd"; Kellogg Co., featuring "Batman Forever" characters on cereal boxes; and Tiger Electronics, with its new "Congo" videogame.

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