”Danger, Will Robinson! Your fried clams are getting cold!” You won’t hear this exact line in TV ads next April, but you may hear something close. That’s because New Line Cinema is launching its big-screen version of ”Lost in Space” (starring William Hurt, Gary Oldman, and Matt LeBlanc). And the film has an unlikely merchandising partner: Long John Silver’s, a relatively small chain of fast-food fish restaurants.
Usually movies with blockbuster aspirations buy their way onto collectors’ cups of a larger chain like McDonald’s, which raked in $32 billion in total sales last year and has more than 12,000 outlets nationwide. But ”Lost In Space,” with a reported $75 million budget, forged an alliance instead with Silver’s, which earned $930 million last year from 1,400 outlets.
As it happens, super-size wasn’t the key factor in this deal; time was. Last July, New Line developed a $20 million merchandising arrangement with Little Caesar’s, but the pizza chain backed out in September, leaving just seven months for the studio to find a new partner.
As New Line was searching, the 28-year-old Long John Silver’s chain, under new management, was looking to move aggressively into the movie game. The chain’s last movie tie-in was with 1994’s ”Little Rascals.” ”We’re trying to contemporize our brand and get younger customers,” says Joe Kendra, Silver’s VP of Brand Marketing and a former exec at 20th Century Fox Home Video. ”This opportunity with the movie came up pretty quickly, and we jumped on it.” Neither side would specify the amount of the deal, though a Silver’s spokesman termed it a ”multimillion dollar expenditure.”
The chain’s relative lack of restaurants isn’t an issue, according to Mary Gross Robino, New Line’s VP of National Promotions. As long as the company runs TV and print ads in the 37 states in which it does business, Long John Silver’s is building awareness for the film. Though the chain plans such promotions as giveaway action figures based on the movie’s characters, Robino asserts that ”what’s more important is the advertising.”
Long John Silver’s considers itself a big winner in this deal. ”Lost in Space” may lure young sci-fi fans and convert them to the futuristic world of seafood. As a bonus, the movie conveniently opens on April 3, during the fish chain’s peak season: the 40 days of Lent. ”Lent is one of our busiest times,” says Kendra, ”and the promotion for the film’s opening should help bring in even more customers.”