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Echoes of Success

Popular Movies Such as 'Titantic' Are Favorites for Advertiser Spoofs

April 23, 1998|DIANE SEO

Night has cast a bluish hue on the frigid waters, and a young woman on a raft gazes longingly at her beau, his lips quivering as he struggles to stay afloat.

"Titanic" star Leonardo DiCaprio, you presume.

Nope, it's deejay Rick Dees in the latest commercial for KIIS-FM.

With more than $1 billion in box office receipts and 11 Academy Awards, "Titanic" has become a worldwide icon, making it good fodder for advertising parodies.

Along with KIIS-FM, SkyTel paging and TBS Superstation are among those that have seized on "Titanimania" and spun their latest commercials or promotional spots around the blockbuster movie.

Advertisers have long latched on to fads, films or current events to catch consumers' attention, so it is natural that "Titanic" would find itself the latest target of parody.

"The best advertising makes a human connection, and the way to make a human connection is to deliver messages people can relate to," said Bruce Miller, president of Suissa Miller Advertising in Los Angeles. " 'Titanic' has raised such a strong awareness that ads can capitalize on that."

But advertisers have to beware of treading on copyright laws that could result in costly litigation. For instance, Mattel last year sued Nissan over a TV ad featuring dolls resembling Barbie, her boyfriend Ken and other of the toy maker's products. MGM also filed a lawsuit against Honda in 1995 over TV commercials that the movie studio claims were lifted from its James Bond films.

"Titanic" spin-offs might have a bit more leeway since the sinking of the Titanic was a historical event, said Len Orkin, a New York attorney who specializes in advertising law.

And in the case of "Titanic," Paramount Pictures has been so delighted with the response to its film that the advertising parodies have not caused any offense, a Paramount spokesperson said.

In the KIIS-FM ad, taped over two days at Dees' swimming pool, Dees mimics DiCaprio's earnest character in his chilliest moment.

"Promise me you'll always listen to 102.7 KIIS-FM," Dees says in the spot.

"I can't promise that, Rick," says the woman, a dead ringer for actress Kate Winslet. "I can't promise that."

Von Freeman, the station's marketing director, said the station opted for the "Titanic" parody because it wanted to do something lighthearted to fit with the tone of the station's programming.

"Parody is always a good way to promote a radio station," Freeman said. "And when a movie makes a billion dollars and everyone has seen it, it can be a really good thing."

Suissa Miller Advertising in Los Angeles also went with a "Titanic"-inspired national spot to promote SkyTel paging. The ad will run through April.

Two sailors are standing at the bow of a ship named--what else?--Titanic.

"Freezing tonight, mate," one man says.

"Clear and cold," the other responds.

A narrator cuts in, saying: "There are times when you can't afford to miss a message."

The narrator's comments are followed by a close-up shot of a pager with the message, "Captain-Water icy. How about Caribbean cruise instead?"

Miller said the 15-second commercial arose during a creative session.

"We were sitting around when someone began singing a tune from 'Titanic,' the musical," Miller said. "He began crooning, 'No moon, no wind, no SkyTel pager.' Everyone cracked up, and we thought maybe there was something to it.

"I think the fact that anyone who isn't institutionalized has seen the movie did add to the premise."

Miller said the commercial was not intended just to make people laugh.

"It was strategic-based humor, which means humor that ties very directly to the benefit of the product," he said. "Imagine if they had a pager on the Titanic. Life would have turned out differently."

TBS Superstation, Turner Broadcasting System's main cable network, also used a "Titanic" parody to promote itself and its programming. The spot was among 48 comedy shorts the station produced as part of its "Monkey-ed Movies" series.

The series features cleverly costumed chimpanzees and orangutans acting out scenes from some of Hollywood's most popular movies. In the "Titanic" spot, chimpanzees play Rose, both as a young woman and as a grandmother figure, and her love, Jack.

"I feel as if I could fly," the Rose monkey says.

"Cool, go for it," the Jack primate responds, booting her off the ship.

Jim Head, vice president of original programming at TBS Superstation, said of all the Monkey-ed Movies, the "Titanic" short was among viewers' favorites.

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