If you're over the age of 12, it's possible that you've never heard of "Fred," the fictional six-year-old played by 15-year-old Lucas Cruickshank. He's wildly popular with Internet-surfing kids, however––enough so that two movie studios have recruited the YouTube celebrity to market a new movie targeted towards kids.
To adult ears, Fred's modulated high-pitched voice may make one pine for the early onset of hearing loss, but kids can't get enough of his manic silly babbling (think Alvin and the Chipmunks on a crystal meth binge.) Cruickshank, the 9th grader who plays Fred, is a homemade low-resolution celebrity. The teenager's short films are the most popular thing on YouTube and his "Fred" channel has the third-highest number of subscribers in the history of the video-sharing site. His 500,000-plus subscribers is much more than even teen stars The Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus (Hannah Montana) possess.
Hoping to tap into that grassroots popularity, 20th Century Fox and Walden Media have employed Cruickshank to market the film "City of Ember," which is based on Jeanne Prau's 2003 novel of the same name. The plot of "Ember" involves two teenagers who travel underground to rescue a declining civilization that is running out of electricity.
In a video posted online last week, "Fred" makes a passing reference alluding to the plot of the movie, and the movie studios hope the veiled plug will intrigue "Fred" fans who are of an age resistant to more direct traditional marketing. The Wall Street Journal (which is owned by News Corp., the corporate parent of 20th Century Fox) reports that executives at the studios declined to reveal how much they're paying Cruickshank for his work. Marketing personnel at the studios are hoping that the organic nature and subtlety of the campaign will prove "cool" to moviegoers.