If Samuel L. Jackson Called, Would You See His Movie?


Aug. 15, 2006 — -- The other day I got a call from Samuel L. Jackson.

He asked me to see his new movie, "Snakes on a Plane," due out in theaters on Friday.

Well, ordered is more like it. He told me to "forget about your regular job working in the media. … Stop wasting all your free time puffing on those cigarettes" -- I'm quitting, I swear -- and "hop on the subway" to go see the film.

I may have expressed indignation at his demand, but I was too concerned as to why Jackson had intimate knowledge of my life.

The call was part of an ad campaign launched by New Line, the studio releasing the film, and VariTalk, a company using cell phone viral marketing to appeal to disparate demographics that are becoming harder to reach through traditional forms of advertising.

"This is for a whole new generation. Kids don't know what life was like without cell phones," said Jerry Della Femina, chairman and CEO of Della Femina, Rothschild, Jeary Partners advertising agency in New York. "My kid can text me faster than we can talk."

VariTalk has worked on several campaigns since its inception, including a holiday promotion featuring Richard Branson, in which the mogul sent personalized greetings and plugged Virgin Airlines along the way.

The "Snakes on a Plane" campaign, however, has proved the most successful to date.

"This is what we have done throughout the entire 'Snakes' campaign -- allow people to take ownership of the film and its marketing messages," New Line marketing chief Russell Schwartz said. "However, the fact that there have been over 1.5 million calls placed within the first week is astounding to us."

To receive a call from Jackson, a friend of yours logs onto the "Snakes on a Plane" Web site. He or she then enters your cell phone number, and their own along with your name and a few details about your life.

A Mad Libs-like program then strings a cohesive promotion together and places the call.

The program -- patented by VariTalk -- can be used for more than entertainment marketing.

The company is also pitching it for political campaigns.

"A popular politician- or celebrity-backer can give you a personalized call that touches on the issues you care about most and make his points to you," VariTalk's creative director and manager Derek Goldberg said. "The best part is that the ad is coming from a friend, someone you trust."

No political groups have signed up, yet.

Personalization in advertising is certainly not a new trend, as niche markets force advertisers to more targeted pitches, but combining broad celebrity campaigns with personalized viral marketing may prove profitable.

"My day is spent hiding from people. But now with cell phones -- Samuel L. Jackson calls us and we say, 'Yes, sir. … How fast can we do it?'" Della Femina said.

"Sooner or later, though, it's gotta wear off. The day will come when we say 'D-- it, if Samuel L. Jackson calls me one more time.' Then they'll send virtual celebrities to your door."

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