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Mini's marketing machine maximizes buzz. (Lions Gate at 5).

HOLLYWOOD "We're never going to spend our way into people's consciousness," admits Tim Palen, Lions Gate VP of marketing. And of course, with a slate that tends toward low budgets and films aimed at niche markets, this mini-major can't saturate the public with ads and tie-ins.

No "Monster's Ball" ice cream stocks your supermarket freezer, no "0" onion rings sizzle at McDonald's. Nor do Lions Gate films feature bankable openers, whose faces on a poster can anchor a marketing campaign.

"In a period of like four weeks," Palen tells Variety, "we have to create a brand identity for a product nobody's ever heard of with very little money."

For Palen and Lions Gate, that means developing a unique marketing profile for each film and embracing challenging content that other studios might downplay.

"We're drawn to movies that notoriously have an edge to them," says Palen. "A common marketing strategy is to sort of flatten everything out and make it apply to the broadest audience possible. We actually sharpen the edges."

As an example, he points to "Monster's Ball," which he calls a perfect Lions Gate movie. "It was really easy to market by not avoiding the things that some people might find frightening."

Knowing that the interracial love story was still a controversial subject, Lions Gate decided to sell it, hard -- including running TV spots in the south showing Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in bed.

"It created a little bit of controversy," says Palen, "But nobody rejected anything we did."

Also on tap for the marketing team is Steven Shainberg's Sundance eyebrow-raiser "Secretary." Based on a steamy Mary Gaitskill story, the film stars James Spader as a demanding boss who woos his secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal) by chastising and spanking her.

"`Secretary' is a love story but also an S&M story, so that's the line we have to walk. We're working on materials now and we're really pushing the envelope to the extreme. The movie does that so the advertising has a responsibility to do that as well."

Lions Gate doesn't rely heavily on research, says Palen, a former art director who worked at Sony and Destination Films before coming to Lions Gate. Instead, many of his decisions are guided by the notion that the movie industry promotion models are moving toward that of the fashion world.

"Fashion and film are so intricately tied that I think it's made movie marketing different. Stars, rock 'n' roll and fashion are more tied than ever. You have Britney Spears in the No. 1 movie, on top of the charts, and on the cover of Rolling Stone. It's blurring."

With such limited resources, Lions Gate has to live by its wits. "We have to be more clever than your average bear," says Palen, "because the problems we have to solve are completely unique and different. Every movie's different, every budget is different and is treated independently."

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Title Annotation:film marketing techniques of Lions Gate Entertainment
Author:Cohen, David (Dutch activist)
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 13, 2002
Words:485
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