Divorce-lawyer ad is a movie gimmick

But some readers take it seriously

April 29, 2004|By Mark K. Matthews | Mark K. Matthews,ORLANDO SENTINEL

The ads began surfacing in newspapers across the country last week. Nestled among commercial pitches for sofas or restaurants were photos of divorce attorney Audrey Woods beneath the words "I'm Not a Shark."

"Let's work together and show that [expletive] that you are not weak and fragile," one reads, before emphasizing Woods', um, softer side. "Even though my line of business forces me to be aggressive and cruel to men, I am a human being with caring and professional morals."

Clearly, this isn't some holding-hands, touchy-feely, tree-hugging "For the People" attorney. This is in-your-face law! This is raw! This is real!

Actually strike that last line from the record. The ads aren't real.

Neither is "Audrey Woods, attorney at law." She is a character, played by Julianne Moore, in Laws of Attraction, the new comedy opening in movie theaters tomorrow. The faux attorney ads, which have appeared in The Sun, are movie plugs, cleverly disguised under fictional law firms.

Too cleverly disguised for some.

"We have received complaints about it," says Elizabeth Tarbert, an ethics counsel with the Florida Bar. Nothing too crazy, she adds. Just a few e-mails and faxes from huffy readers questioning whether Woods' more colorful language is allowed under the group's strict advertising protocol.

"To the extent that it may have offended members of the public, we would rather they hadn't done it," Tarbert says. But "we don't have any real position. It is, after all, a movie ad."

"It was a little controversial, perhaps," Russell Schwartz, president of domestic theatrical marketing for New Line, says of the campaign. "But if you read the fine print, you'll see that it's a movie ad - one that struck a chord with the public."

And Laws of Attraction isn't the only movie in recent months to use the guise of a fake business to promote a film. At the start of a trailer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a medical worker markets a new memory-erasure technique as if it's a real procedure.

Same goes for another film opening this week, Godsend, which developed a near-independent persona called the "Godsend Institute" to help sell the cloning-centered film. At the institute's Web site there are links to "real cases," testimonials from happy families who now have a cloned child and even a section for "institute news."

"All's fair in love and marketing," says Nick Hamm, director of Godsend.

The strategy, say many studio executives, is nothing more than a pragmatic reaction to the heightened competition when the volume of films flooding the cineplex is at an all-time high. And there are usually clues embedded in the ads to alert consumers to the gag.

In the case of the Audrey Woods ads, the Web site listed on the ad for the attorney's firm, katzcohenphelps.com, reveals her true corporate affiliation - with New Line Cinema.

Orlando, Fla., attorney Richard West compared the phenomenon to the 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, in which the program's fake newscast prompted some listeners to believe the Earth was under attack from aliens.

For while the advertisements for Laws of Attraction paint "divorce lawyers in an unfair and unreal light," says the chairman of the family law section of the Florida Bar, "anyone who takes this seriously either doesn't have a sense of humor or any smarts."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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