‘Axe’ goes on campus to generate early buzz

Hogan Communications is unspooling sneak previews of TriStar Pictures’ “So I Married an Axe Murderer” on 50 university campuses nationwide in an aggressive marketing campaign targeting the key 18- to 24-year-old market.

The company will also randomly hand out T-shirts and “Axe Murderer” soundtracks at the previews, which continue through July 29, the day before the film opens.

“The 18-24-year-old college audience is one of the most important groups for the movie industry, because there are 13 million of them in the U.S.,” said prexy Michael Hogan, whose marketing outfit specializes in targeting students with word-of-mouth campaigns. “It’s one of the only groups whose spending habits have not been changed that much by the economy.”

Such “word-of-mouth” campus screenings are typical of Hogan’s strategy to target a group that represents about $ 30 billion in spending power annually. Admission to the sneaks is free.

“We will pack the house — guaranteed,” Hogan said. “At UCLA, for instance, the lineup starts at 6:30 for an 8 o’clock screening.”

Ed Russell, TriStar Pictures’ senior VP publicity, promotion and field operations, uses Hogan’s services regularly for pix like “Cliffhanger” and “Sleepless in Seattle” that need the youth audience.

“I think the college market is an important one, certainly for TriStar Pictures,” Russell said. “If we think we can get word-of-mouth — be it an extensive screening program or spring break — I think it’s important to reach that market.”

Hogan’s service, Russell added, has proved over the years “to be very effective for us, especially for spring break.”

Hogan, a 10-year veteran of extensive spring break campaigns, said summer campaigns are equally important.

“There are less people on campus during the summer, but at the same time our campaigns on campus during the summer often turn out to provide exposure because there’s no competition from basketball games or other events,” he said. “We turn away more people at our summer screenings than we do during the year.”

The company also has done sneaks for New Line Cinema (“National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1”), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (“Benny & Joon”) and Columbia Pictures (“Boyz N the Hood”).

“They blanket the campus so you can’t miss it,” said Mark Gill, Columbia senior VP of publicity and promotion. “They use posters, radio station promos, tie-ins at bookstores, and they hand out passes as well. … The 18- to 24 -year-olds purchase half the movie tickets, so it’s an important audience for most movies.”

Hogan’s corporate tie-ins with the likes of Eastman Kodak or AT&T are indicative of the market’s growing importance, Gill said.

Next up will be sneak campaigns for TriStar’s “Rudy” (about a Notre Dame football player), skedded for a September release, and Savoy’s first pic, “A Bronx Tale,” skedded for an October release. Sneaks typically unspool several weeks before the film’s opening.

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