Online Distribution Of Red Band Trailers Draws Controversy

Is the red-band trailer the new Joe Camel? The cartoon character allegedly used for years as a means to lure kids to cigarettes was retired in 1997 after a suit was brought against R.J. Reynolds claiming that sales of Camels to underage kids had skyrocketed since the US introduction of the ad character in 1988.

Now some are saying that red band trailers effectively target underage audiences for R-rated films in much the same way that Joe Camel was used by R.J. Reynolds. Cigarettes and R-rated movies: same dangers, right?

The New York Times reports that, starting with a Federal Trade Commission report in December, there is increasing concern over the audience that red band trailers is really reaching. That report criticized "explicit and pervasive targeting of young children," and lax age-gate policies. Red-band trailers were originally cut to be shown in front of some R-rated, NC-17 and unrated movies, but as the NYT reports, many such showings were removed from theater chains in 2000 based on the findings of a similar FTC report. (Regal Cinemas started showing red band trailers again in 2008.)

The red-band trailer for Kick-Ass, which promotes the young Hit Girl and her penchant for serious profanity, has also been a sticking point for those who claim that red-band trailers are selling adult content to kids. The NYT reported on concerns over that trailer not long ago.

Granted, some of the anti-red-band concern is voiced by John Phillips, who runs Aristotle, a company that provides age-gate software. Uh-huh. If his software was only used to protect the children, things might be fine.

I do understand and respect the concern over certain material being released in a way that really courts underage audiences. Running a red-band trailer on MySpace definitely seems like a kid-friendly approach, especially when the age gate is nothing more than 'please enter your birthday.' What kid that uses the internet doesn't know how to enter a birthday that will access stuff they're not meant to see? Keeping certain materials out of the hands of kids is a good thing, and while the breadth of the internet means that certain genies are simply out of the bottle (a trailer will always end up on YouTube or DailyMotion, or somewhere) there's no reason not to make a concerted effort to keep red-band material aimed at the proper audience.

One of the lines in the NYT article is that Lionsgate claims that red-band trailers are essential for educating people about the content of films. I take issue with that. There are far more creative ways to communicate what a film has to offer; they simply take a lot more effort. It's simply easier to cut a trailer that has a dildo, a couple 'fucks' and a dick joke or two. It draws attention, and the work is done.