Driving into indie theaters

Ford makes deal to sponsor films

September 06, 2005|By Elaine Dutka | Elaine Dutka,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Advertising in movie theaters: As a sore point among filmgoers, it's up there with high-priced concessions and formulaic fare. Yet Landmark Theatres, a leading art-house circuit, is braving the critics by signing a deal with a carmaker for a series of projects it bills as "sponsored entertainment."

Landmark has contracted with the Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury division to sponsor a series of projects and events related to independent film over a two-year period. Starting in October, the theaters will present pre-show "making of" featurettes and interviews with directors, and the carmaker might even arrange to admit patrons for free.

Whether it's a much-needed infusion of cash into the art-house world or an intrusion into the movie-going experience remains to be seen. The issue is, unquestionably, a hot one. Some patrons are already up in arms over the proliferation of ads.

The Web site didntialreadypayforthismovie.com is calling for boycotts of products advertised, while Captive Motion Picture Audience of America and BadAds.org provide links with major media outlets, theater chains and the "offending" advertisers.

A class-action suit was filed against Loews Cineplex Entertainment Group, which subsequently announced it would publish the actual times movies begin in addition to the start time of pre-show material. Legislators in Connecticut, Illinois and New York have introduced bills to make the information mandatory.

Representatives of Ford acknowledged the deal is a "balancing act." Still, the payoff is worth it, they say. Some people associate the brand with their grandfather's Mercury Marquis, says Lincoln Mercury marketing executive Linda Perry-Lube. But the company is seeking a younger, more sophisticated demographic.

"We're re-launching the Mercury brand for the quirkier customer who's seeking something different - the sensibility reflected in independent film," Perry-Lube said. "And Landmark is in our strongest markets, the Northeast and West." (Landmark operates theaters in Washington and Bethesda.)

Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner whose 2929 Entertainment bought Landmark in 2003, makes no apologies for the arrangement. "In our eyes, it's `sponsored entertainment' - not advertising spots sold on a cost-per-thousand basis to a mall theater playing The Fabulous Four," he said.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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