Sony ringing teens only for 'Messengers'

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To promote the upcoming supernatural thriller "The Messengers," Sony Pictures has included in its dossier of digital-marketing tools a ringtone only young consumers can hear.

Ultrasonic ringtones -- ringtones that are audible to teenagers but not adults -- are a featured aspect of the film's promotional campaign, which is geared toward a teen audience and inspired by the movie's story line about a young female protagonist insisting she hears voices that her parents cannot hear.

"The fact that only kids can hear it winds up being a thematic fit with the notion in the film that her parents don't believe her," said Joe Epstein, executive director, worldwide digital marketing strategy, Columbia TriStar Marketing Group. "We wanted it to be really relatable to teens conveying to this target audience that this is a character a lot like them along with this sense that kids and young adults are better conduits to the paranormal."

In the film, 16-year old Jess, played by Kristen Stewart, encounters ominous spirits in her new home, which only she and her 3-year-old brother can see and hear.

True to real life in the digital age, the movie's Jess also engages in text messaging, AIM instant messaging and social networking sites -- digital aspects that Epstein said will be deployed and promoted through the film's Web site in the next few days and were created to make young movie consumers feel as though they're actually interacting with the film's fictional character.

The ringtone itself, which can be purchased for $2.49 at sony.com/TheMessengers, was created specifically for the film and is a combination of several ultrasonic frequencies tied together to mimic a musical sound recognizable from the film resembling a high-pitched chord.

The theory behind the original creation of such ringtones is that as people get older, their hearing normally worsens. Ultrasonic ringtones are thought to be inaudible to people over the age of 25.

Adult-proof ringtones first got attention in the form of "Teen Buzz," a popular ring tone adapted from a sonar-based security system used in Europe to keep teenagers from loitering at retail outlets.

According to Epstein, who also cited the early use of such high-pitched intonations as a security deterrent by shop owners in Britain against hoodlum teens, it's the first time they have been tied promotionally to a film's theatrical release.

Along with the thematically-integrated ringtones and online interactivity, Epstein also noted a blog on the Weblog community Xanga and an eventual 1-800 number as other communicative features tied to the film's marketing efforts.

"The hope is that it feels like one continuous conversation with Jess -- you see her profile on a social networking site, you call her and IM her -- as she draws you into her current situation," said Epstein, noting the intent of the campaign is to have users transcend a couple of digital mediums.

The film, which opens in theaters Feb. 2, also stars Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller and John Corbett.
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