At least there wasn’t a Saving Private Ryan Happy Meal or — yikes! — a There’s Something About Mary hair-gel line. Actually, Hollywood showed remarkable restraint this summer when it came to movie merchandise, partly because many of the big films, such as Ryan, Mary, and The Truman Show, were unsuited for massive tie-in campaigns. But even many of the more kid-friendly flicks — Dr. Dolittle, Quest for Camelot, and Madeline — opted to go low-profile this year with merchandising. Why? ”Retailers have taken a step back,” says Marty Brochstein, executive editor of The Licensing Letter. ”They’re a little frightened of putting all their efforts behind [summer] films because of some notable weaknesses in the past.” For instance, last year’s Hercules was a disappointment for Disney, pulling in a reported $100 million in merchandising sales — a huge dip from the $1 billion racked up by The Lion King products.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it was a toyless summer. Sony, DreamWorks, and Disney all pegged full-scale merchandising assaults to their three biggest sure (or so they thought) things. Below, a look at how this summer’s stock stacked up:
GODZILLA Oh, how the mighty have…survived. Much has already been made of the big scaly one’s failure to live up to its lofty box office expectations (though the movie’s $136 million domestic gross would hardly classify it as a flop). But surprisingly, Godzilla toys raked in the green. ”It has outsold our expectations,” says Tom Alfonsi, senior vice president of K-B Toys, who notes that Godzilla was its biggest summer property. Alfonsi declines to reveal specific figures, but points out that the chain has sold ”hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pieces,” and that all 1,400 K-Bs nationwide will continue to stock numerous lizard toys until Christmas.
By most accounts, Sony lucked out, especially given its risky secrecy campaign, a plan that backfired by keeping Godzilla products off shelves until after the film’s release. That strategy ”hurt sales,” says Alfonsi. ”Anytime you don’t give the customer a chance to buy [early], you don’t give him a chance to come back.” Still, four different Godzilla products ranked among the country’s top 15 best-selling new toys for June, according to market research firm NPD Group. And Jim Silver, executive editor of the trade journal The Toy Book, predicts Godzilla products will bring in an estimated $80 million to $90 million between now and Christmas. Fast-food partner Taco Bell, which spent about $20 million marketing its Godzilla promotion, also fared well, thanks largely to an imaginative ad campaign featuring a small mammal (”Here, leezard, leezard, leezard”). Sums up Brochstein: ”The movie hit its target audience of kids, so nobody is jumping out any windows.” Grade: B
SMALL SOLDIERS DreamWorks deployed a take-no-prisoners merchandising campaign for its other summer war flick. And no wonder: Toy maker Hasbro helped develop the film’s characters. Weeks before its July opening, about 60 licensees launched an arsenal of products — videogames, T-shirts, slippers, even high-end collectible action figures priced at $15,000 apiece. The heavy push worked — at first. ”For a three-week period,” says Silver, ”Small Soldiers was hotter than Godzilla ever was.”