‘Trek’ plan: Go young and prosper

Paramount targets young, international audiences

With its new $125 million “Star Trek” relaunch, Paramount Pictures is hoping to boldly go where no recent installment in the venerable franchise has gone before: back to the youth demo.

With its last bigscreen outing seven years ago, the property’s core fanbase has been looking longer in the tooth. But the studio’s final-stage marketing campaign is squarely aimed at the under-25 demo, which is largely unfamiliar with the sci-fi classic.A series of spots hitting the airwaves in the weeks leading up to the May 8 relaunch of the 43-year-old franchise proclaims, “This is not your father’s Star Trek.”

The Melrose studio is pulling out all the stops to ensure the J.J. Abrams-helmed pic appeals to audiences who didn’t grow up with the show’s lore. The most recent spots, which have aired on such adolescent-friendly venues as “American Idol” and Spike TV’s Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, seem to channel a Mountain Dew ad with an extreme vibe showcasing skydiving, car racing and gorge jumping. There is even a hint of “bromance” between Kirk and Spock.

Still, early tracking shows that the film, which is toplined by Chris Pine as Kirk and “Heroes” star Zachary Quinto as Spock, is most vulnerable in the under-25 demo. According to a recent poll conducted by MovieTickets.com, 44% of under-25s intend to see “Star Trek” opening weekend. By contrast, 67% of under-25s intend to see “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” during its opening frame, which falls one week before “Star Trek.”

In response, Paramount has clearly shifted its campaign in the weeks leading up to the tentpole’s bow. Studio execs declined to comment on the record about the campaign, but a marketing exec explained that Par is tapping into parent company Viacom’s myriad youth-oriented platforms such as MTV, Spike, ESPN and Comedy Central.

“If you are 30-year-old male, you know this film is coming,” the Par executive says.

It has been 18 years since Kirk and Spock carried a bigscreen project, with 1991’s “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” With those characters once again commanding the USS Enterprise, the studio faces the marketing challenge of introducing the iconic pair to an under-25 demo, most of whom weren’t alive or were still in diapers when the two — long played by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy — last toplined a film.

In the coming weeks, expect to see “Star Trek” special programming and featurettes across all the Viacom networks, similar to the strategy used for the Abrams-produced “Cloverfield.” The decision to bring Abrams aboard as director of the franchise’s refresher was a calculated choice to draw in the younger set. Studio topper Brad Grey and production prexy Brad Weston pushed hard to get the “Lost” and “Felicity” co-creator, who was originally attached only to produce, to helm as well.

It’s no surprise that the “Trek” campaign will feature a promotional tie-in later this month with ABC’s “Lost” (Paramount rolled out a similar tie-in last month with NBC’s youth-skewing skein “Heroes”).

The push to reach younger auds is also evident in the types of promotional partners Paramount has enlisted for “Star Trek.” Burger King, considered among the edgier of the fast food chains, will go after younger males with “Trek”-themed TV spots, while eSurance — the preferred insurer for recent grads — is also onboard and has altered its ads to mirror the pic’s space setting.

Industryites have been impressed with Paramount’s seamless transition from targeting the older longstanding fans to the under-25 demo.

“With the early teaser trailers, they had to be sensitive to old-school fans; there had to be a credibility check in the beginning of the campaign,” says a marketing exec who has worked on a number of the studio’s releases. “But as Paramount confronts the reality that they have a franchise that they want to build several films off of, they are turning to the mass audience. Now, you’re seeing less spaceships and more of the film’s young stars.”

The studio hasn’t forgotten the fanboy community, which has been firmly behind the pic for some time. Paramount even staged a surprise sneak screening of the pic this month in Austin for Ain’t It Cool News’ Harry Knowles and fans. But it remains to be seen whether the efforts aimed at the under-25 set will pay off with the increasingly fickle group — though newer fans do seem intrigued by the casting and impressive special effects, as well as by Abrams.

Either way, the overtures to the under-25 set seem to be essential given the uphill battle Paramount marketing execs also face selling the film abroad. The “Star Trek” film franchise has never translated as well overseas as other tentpoles, grossing far less internationally than domestically. Paramount is hoping to turn this around, the way that Warner Bros. has done with its reboot of the “Batman” franchise.

“Star Trek: Nemesis, the last film in the franchise, earned $24.1 million internationally when released in 2002, compared to $43.3 million domestically. “Star Trek: Insurrection,” released in 1998, grossed $42.4 million overseas and $70.2 million domestically.

Like its youth-centric efforts, Paramount has also worked feverishly in recent weeks to drum up interest in the film worldwide. “Star Trek” recently screened or premiered in a number of high-profile venues around the globe including the Sydney Opera House and a military base in Kuwait (Abrams came up with the idea to surprise U.S. forces with a sneak peek of the pic). Red-carpet galas have also already been thrown in Berlin and Paris, well before the April 30 Los Angeles premiere.

Ultimately, rival studios say if the movie is good, Paramount will likely succeed in introducing a new and perhaps globe-spanning generation to the classic franchise. The pic has been screened for exhibs, who expect the movie to be a strong earner.

Pamela McClintock and Marc Graser contributed to this report.

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