One-Stop Marketing Machine Trudges on With AOL 7.0

Aiming to tap into the hordes of J.R.R. Tolkien fans eagerly awaiting The Fellowship of the Ring — the first film in New Line Cinema’s cinematic version of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy — to market AOL 7.0, America Online Inc. launched a sweepstakes contest featuring trips to New Zealand to catch the December premiere.

The AOL Time Warner subsidiaries unveiled the contest two weeks ago, and said Tuesday that AOL had already received more than 800,000 entries, making it the most successful two-week response to an AOL sweepstakes in history.

“This sweepstakes is an innovative way to celebrate the arrival of AOL 7.0 and deliver exciting benefits to our members, while building anticipation for The Lord of the Rings,” said Jay Rappaport, senior vice president and group general manager for AOL’s Entertainment and Sports divisions. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the response so far.”

AOL is offering seven trips for two to the New Zealand premiere on Dec. 19, including round trip airfare, hotel accommodations, tickets to the premiere and customized sightseeing tours. The movie was filmed in New Zealand.

Tolkien fans become eligible for the contest by upgrading an existing AOL account to AOL 7.0, or setting up a new AOL 7.0 account. Once on AOL 7.0, members are prompted automatically to enter the contest. They can also enter at AOL Keyword: One Ring.

The contest is another example of the synergies AOL is creating across its various media properties. Its New Line Cinema subsidiary has already made heavy use of the Web to promote the film with Web-exclusive trailers, downloads, and stills from the movie. It also worked closely with fans online to develop community sites which are able to offer interviews with stars and film-makers and even spoilers. In January, when the studio re-launched its www.lordoftherings.net Web site, the site averaged more than 1 million hits an hour for the first few hours it went live. As of April 10, the company said it had recorded more than 357.4 million hits.

“The success of this re-launch is truly staggering,” New Line President of Distribution and Marketing Rolf Mittweg said in April. “Those who are discovering this project online are being treated to an extraordinary Internet experience, and we are very proud of the site and the team that developed it. lordoftherings.net serves as an information clearing house on our film and the Internet remains a key component in our overall strategy of launching this epic adventure trilogy worldwide.”

The Web site was launched in 10 languages to build international support for the film. The studio also showed a 30-minute segment of the film to much acclaim at the Cannes International Film Festival.

Meanwhile, America Online has been aggressively marketing the film on its own network of sites and services. The service has launched a fan destination featuring information about the movie and the trilogy, screensavers, contests and games, video clips and behind-the-scenes interviews at AOL Keyword: Lord of the Rings. Additionally, the Netscape, CompuServe, ICQ, MapQuest, Moviefone and AOL Instant Messenger Service Web properties have been offering an array of information, feature stories, previews and interactive features to drum up interest in the film, including The Lord of the Rings Message Board on Netscape.com and custom The Lord of the Rings community features on ICQ.

“In addition to the sweepstakes, we’re also delighted to provide our members and users of our Web properties a very special glimpse into the world of The Lord of the Rings, which will allow them to feel a part of the magic and wonder of the films even before they arrive in theaters,” Rappaport said. “This is a great example of the powerful role the online medium can play in marketing movies.”

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