Children of the '70s, '80s and '90s (sorry older generations, but you fall just outside of my 23-year-old radar) will remember the joy that was opening up a grease-lined paper bag from a certain fast food “restaurant” to find a special toy sitting right between a box of breaded and processed chicken feet and strips of thrice-fried potatoes. To the youngest of the young kids, the toy was a way for the establishment to say, “Thanks for ingesting the food you didn’t make or pay for yourself.” The toy was a kind gesture that solidified the second grade lesson of, “If someone does something nice for you, you have to do something nice for them.” The adults, however, knew better. Its significance was greater than an informal lesson on reciprocity. The toy was a marketing tactic, meant to get their kid hooked on the idea it’d be in their best interest to throw a tantrum so their parents would take them to see the new movie the happy meal toy was promoting.
The kiddie meal marketing has always been successful, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find the same tactic is applicable to adults. Even in a decade where cars can park themselves and we can tell our iPhones to call us with a fake emergency when we’re on a bad date, adults are still susceptible to incredibly simplistic marketing.
With the release of Sex and the City 2, instead of getting character-inspired dolls similar to say, a four-year-old’s Shrek action figure, we bought martini glasses, panties, t-shirts, slippers, and even an iPhone app that allowed us to tag ourselves in our clothes and send our potential outfits to our friends. With Avatar, we got black Coca-Cola cans with "AVTR" written on the side. When The Dark Knight came out, we got pizzas “cloaked” with pepperoni and a heavy-duty looking black cardboard box, instead of the regular red-and-white one. Also, in order to access film clips, wallpapers, cast interviews and daily prizes in anticipation of the pic, you had to order a pizza and type in the code printed on the box.
The most recent evidence of bringing kiddie meal marketing to adults can be found with this week’s reveal of Eat Pray Love. Sony Pictures Entertainment partnered with Cost Plus World Market and unleashed a variety of toys for adults to celebrate the film’s opening, which is this Friday. From July 17 to August 28, enthusiasts can visit www.worldmarket.com for a chance to win a prize for two to Italy, India or Bali, a $1000 World Market gift card, and a private screening of the movie. Further prizes include a $500 World Market gift card and an Eat Pray Love gift basket worth $200. Also, each World Market location will have a variety of Eat Pray Love inspired items like incense, mats, lanterns, tea blends, jewelry from India and a few items of furniture.
So why is something designed for kids working for adults as well? The reasoning behind all this merchandise is to form a bond between consumer and product and generate excitement, and absolutely anyone can feel stoked about going to the movies. Obviously. But there’s more to it: by forming an attachment to the themed clothes and shoes and other adult toys we’d received, our subconscious feels compelled to return the favor of our “gift” from the studios (even if we bought them ourselves) by helping them out and spending some money to see their movies. So not only does this prove that we want to optimize our experience by getting our hands on everything related to the film when we’re fired up for its release, it also proves there’s a part of our subconscious that’s still four years old, college degree in marketing or not. Also, we’re not above collecting all of a movie’s “special edition toys” if we tell ourselves they could be the reason we’re able to buy the world’s first flying car or the world’s first English-speaking cat.
What have we learned? Well, lots. First, studios are smart little bitches. They know that after all the rain’s fallen, adults aren’t too different from kids. This means the specific techniques that go into advertising a movie, regardless of the demographic, can be pretty much the same. All producers have to do is change the goodies that come with the french fries and the size of the spirit necklaces according to neck girth. And there are even some cases, like almost all superhero movies, where they don’t even have to change a thing.