Summer might be barely a memory, but that's not stopping Universal Studios Inc. from running a series of television and billboard promotions for its upcoming "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" feature film.

If that seems a little premature, consider the tie-in: The summer Olympic Games. The advertising campaign, launched the week of Sept. 11, presents the Grinch in a series of less-than-sportsmanlike activities i.e., running off with the Olympic torch.

So what's the rationale behind tying a summer sporting event to a film that has "Christmas" in its title?

Mark Shmuger, president of Universal's marketing office, says that "Grinch" is not a Yuletide movie in the purest sense of the word, because it's being released Nov. 17.

"We're doing it to have a strong presence in the marketplace and dominate Thanksgiving, while trying to stay strong through Christmas," he explains.

The early release, Shmuger says, is not quite as extraordinary as it might appear given that "Grinch" is being released well before Christmas and the just-completed "summer" games actually ended during the first week of fall.

"We viewed the launch (of the ad campaign) as September-moving-into-October, and for that reason we don't think it has a summer tone to it," Shuger says.

The tone, he points out, is rather more "irreverent" with the Grinch character "kind of inappropriately showing up in Olympic settings where he doesn't belong."

The tie-in is all about traffic on the commercial airwaves, says Shmuger. "We decided the best way to create awareness in the broad media was with a multimedia buy-in, and around the games," because it's a way of attaching the film to the major event of the season.

There is a large number of Thanksgiving films to contend with, says Shmuger, pointing to upcoming releases such as "102 Dalmatians," "The Rugrats," "The Sixth Day," "Charlie's Angels" and "Unbreakable." Getting out a little early also helps beat them to the punch.

"We wanted to get out of the blocks aggressively on what is, for us, an event-sized motion picture," Shmuger says.

Given the Grinch character's inherent unattractiveness, it stretches things to call his early appearance a "tease," but that's what it is. "There's a risk that the audience grows numb," notes Shmuger, "so the ads will stop for a while and then come back later. We're just looking for a burst of awareness."

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