RealTime IT News

AOL Revs Up "Rings" Web Marketing Machine

For the release of the first film in its "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, AOL Time Warner is launching an audacious online and offline marketing promotion, reprising its momentous earlier effort for "Harry Potter."

In addition to running ads throughout its Web sites, AOL Time Warner devised an interactive sweepstakes intended to boost interest in the films, which are being produced by its New Line Cinema studio.

Through the effort, visitors to AOL-owned Web properties -- including Netscape, CompuServe, Moviefone, MapQuest, AOL.COM, Winamp/Spinner, AOL Instant Messenger, and digitalcity.com -- will be invited to join a search for the Nine Rings of Power, each of which will be hidden somewhere within the sites.

Every week through Jan. 29, a ring graphic will be hidden on a new site. Each time users find a ring, they receive a chance to enter a sweepstakes for "Lord of the Rings" memorabilia.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," the highly anticipated first film in New Line Cinema's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, opens in theaters everywhere on December 19, 2001.

The sweepstakes also draws heavily on an online instant messaging chatbot, RingMessenger, which inhabits the company's AOL Instant Messenger system. RingMessenger, developed by New York-based ActiveBuddy, will dole out clues to the rings' whereabouts as well as information about the film, "Rings"-related games, and links to video clips and cast interviews.

In addition to the contest, Netscape.com and Compuserve will feature downloadable "Rings" desktop images and screensavers, trailers, a themed "skin" for AOL's ICQ chat client, and music soundtrack clips (including Enya's "May It Be," which was released by AOL-owned Warner Bros. Records).

Mapquest.com, meanwhile, will link to an interactive map of Middle-earth, the world of the "Rings." The map will allow visitors to find out more about the different regions of Middle-earth and the cultures and creatures that inhabit them.

"This sweepstakes offers consumers a fun and unique way to enter the realm of Middle-earth and to enjoy the exclusive Lord of the Rings content we're offering across AOL's network of Web properties," said Jim Bankoff, president of the AOL Web Properties Group. "This contest and the supporting programming featured across AOL's Web brands will give die-hard Tolkien fans, as well as the uninitiated, a new way to get closer to the characters and adventure of the Lord of the Rings trilogy."

"America Online has been a great promotional partner for The Lord of the Rings," said Gordon Paddison, senior vice president of worldwide interactive marketing at New Line Cinema. "The 'Search for the Ring Sweepstakes' currently featured across AOL's Web properties exemplifies New Line and AOL's collaborative efforts to provide one-of-a-kind Lord of the Rings content to the broadest online audience possible."

AOL Time Warner's America Online service also is offering a special "Lord of the Rings" area that includes film information, previews, behind-the-scenes footage, games, screensavers, fan clubs, and message boards.

At the same time, AOL Moviefone began selling tickets to the trilogy's first film, "The Fellowship of the Ring," more than two weeks before its Dec. 19 national opening.

Through an agreement with The New York Times Co., both the Times and NYTimes.com will also promote the films -- making it the first time that the company has debuted a national, integrated advertising package for a movie.

On NYTimes.com, a special area dedicated to "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien feature archived New York Times book reviews and feature articles on the writer's books and their impact over the past 60 years. New content will be added weekly.

In addition to the archived content, the NYTimes.com site also will link to the official "Rings" site and provide video clips from the movie trailer and behind the scenes. Readers also will be offered a chance to enter a sweepstakes to win a copy of "The Official Lord of the Rings Movie Guide" signed by cast and crew members.

"We are proud to have the opportunity to present a unique, integrated marketing experience to print and online readers of the New York Times," said Martin Nisenholtz, chief executive officer of New York Times Digital. "The Tolkien Archives creates a rich, multidimensional promotion that represents the life and work of J.R.R. Tolkien."

Added Russell Schwartz, president of domestic marketing at New Line, "The Times has a wealth of assets from its print and online archives that speaks to the tremendous reach of Tolkien's work and together is a compelling package for both Tolkien fans and those discovering the books and film for the first time."

The entire effort recalls AOL Time Warner's marketing efforts behind "Harry Potter," which debuted last month after similar promotions on AOL sites and the America Online service. That marketing push also saw AOL strike a major promotional agreement with the Coca-Cola Co.