For college students, spring break is a dizzy celebration of beaches, beers, and bikinis. For the entertainment industry, it's an investment in disposable income. ''College students represent about 30 percent of box office revenue,'' says Michael Hogan, a Burbank, Calif., businessman whose job it is to help Hollywood establish a presence at spring break. ''That's an important market for the studios.'' So, with hundreds of thousands of undergrads converging on the sunny shores of Florida and Texas between March 6 and April 1, Hogan and company are armed with a multimillion-dollar campaign to reel them in.
TriStar and Paramount are leading the beach-blanket bonanza by promoting their Generation X fare on Hogan's Preview Theater Springbreak Special, an hour-long feast of trailers running on hotel cable channels in hot spots like Daytona Beach, Fla., and South Padre Island, Tex. Outside the hotel, breakers will discover a world of free T-shirts, club ''theme parties,'' and clever often bizarre promotional gimmicks.
''For Cliffhanger I had rock-climbing walls,'' says Hogan, who says this year's stunts are still under wraps, but expects such films as Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult and Beverly Hills Cop III to get into the act.
On the musical front, Virgin Records will regale the throng with fliers, stickers, and about 10,000 sampler cassettes dubbed Virgin Records' Shameless Promotional Tool, Vol. 2 featuring such acts as Cracker, Shonen Knife, and Sam Phillips. The label is also pushing the soundtrack to Backbeat, in which alternative rockers Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Dave Grohl (Nirvana), and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) grunge their way through chestnuts from the Beatles' early bar-band days.
The desired effect? Good buzz. ''The samplers turn people on to new music,'' says Virgin exec Bob Frymire, who points to two artists Lenny Kravitz and Neneh Cherry who benefited from exposure on MTV's spring break broadcast. A ratings-rich parade of rock, talk, and skimpy swimwear, this year's MTV telecast relocated from Daytona Beach to San Diego will include plenty of airtime for Jon Stewart, the network's answer to Conan O'Brien. ''Our job is to torment (those who can't be there),'' says Joel Stillerman, MTV's vice president of production. ''We make it look like it's the place to be.'' If only for the free T-shirt.