Film ad fracas

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In a new hollywood script making the rounds, newspapers are cast as the losers as studio executives threaten to reallocate the marketing mega-bucks that support feature film releases. If that script becomes a reality, newspaper publishers will have themselves to blame.

The warnings are clear. Studio execs, confronted with steadily mounting marketing costs, seem more willing than ever to challenge existing promotional tactics in search of more bang for (they hope) fewer bucks. This publication and others that follow movie marketing have seen a rush of reports on how studios are turning to the Internet and PR-driven word-of-mouth marketing as a lower-cost complement to the pricey TV ads they have come to rely on for their biggest movie releases.

Against this flurry of experimentation, the $900 million the movie industry spends annually on newspaper advertising looks ripe for scrutiny. Universal Studios Vice Chairman Marc Shmuger has stepped forward to lay down the challenge to what he calls "very expensive" newspaper advertising. "A newspaper ad has rarely come up, in our information, as being able to turn `awareness' into `interest,"' he said.

The Newspaper Association of America knows of Hollywood's grumbling, but can rightly point out that entertainment sections reach readers when many are making their purchase decisions. An NAA official concedes it has evidently not yet convinced Universal's Mr. Shmuger.

If publishers are lucky, Hollywood's pointed questioning about newspapers' place in the marketing mix is more about money (newspaper ad rates have been climbing) than about more serious change. That's a dangerous assumption, however. Newspapers need to demonstrate convincingly the role they play with today's moviegoers or some papers could face an unhappy ending to this tale.

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