Buy Movie Tickets or Psychopathic Action Figures

Jan 24

You’ve got to feel a little sorry for Hollywood these days.¬† Recession times, such as they are, have hurt them as much as any other business out there.¬† Did you see the Golden Globes?¬† Clearly, they’re on a budget – why else would they have hired a Brit to host?¬† Cheap overseas labour is something every business needs to consider when tough times hit.

The moviemakers have not exerted much effort into improving the quality of their product – that would just be wasteful spending.¬† But rather they’ve brilliantly concentrated on marketing to an expanded audience for each movie produced.¬† Understandably, this is to make up for cheap consumers who’d prefer to buy a week’s worth of groceries than spend a night at the movies.¬† The cinema’s failed poster campaign featuring George Clooney in a three-piece suit (the bubble above his head saying “Aren’t I worth $15 to you?”) gave me pause, but ultimately was not persuasive enough to entice throngs of patrons, such as myself, to the theatres.¬† You are worth fifteen dollars, I said to George’s dapper image, but who was I kidding?¬† As a youngish 37-year old woman, I was still a decade too old to even fantasize about fantasizing about being his main squeeze – we’ve all seen his cocktail waitresses, er, girlfriends.¬† And if it’s fantasy that Hollywood is trying to sell – I’d rather see Twilight.¬†

In fact, it was during New Moon’s opening night, sitting among angst-ridden teenage girls that I realized I’d been manipulated by the latest of Hollywood’s marketing strategies – make a movie that appeals to a “broad”er audience, that is, offer a little something to everyone. ¬†The Twilight movies attract both teenagers and women who want to still look like teenagers.¬† Pure genius.¬†

These efforts have also worked fabulously with children.¬† Walk into any grade one class at Halloween and what do you see?¬† Girls dressed as princesses and boys dressed as superheroes.¬† That must have been the big wigs’ inspiration to jump on the superhero blockbuster wagon.¬† The Hulk, Batman, Superman, X-Men… I can almost hear the chorus of little boys begging Mom and Dad to take them to the movies.¬† But those Hollywood executives aren’t suckers.¬† Sure, movies like Kung Fu Panda do all right, but why not think bigger?¬† And George Clooney needs another pay raise.¬† The PR folks, between plastic surgery appointments, concocted a fail-proof plan to pack the theatres.¬† Draw in the kids with the superhero title, yet pack the flick with violence (plus a small sex scene without the nudity) to attract the older guys.¬† It’s a win-win.¬† The kids get to see Batman save the world and the grown ups get to see a thriller featuring a psychopathic killer.¬†

Of course, Tinseltown had enough foresight to consider hardened parents who aren’t so easily swayed by the incessant begging of their children.¬† They realized such parents are either too cheap to shell out the hundred dollars for a pleasant family night out or are too paranoid to allow their kids to be exposed by some wholesome “violence.”¬† That’s why they created movie merchandise to stock every toy store’s shelves.¬† The Gotham Knight pickings were especially tantalizing.¬† With every purchase of a Batman figure, kids received a free figurine pack of blood-covered corpses.¬† Christmas was very special that year.¬†

Apparently there’s some parent-led movement across North America trying to put a stop to this Hollywood practice.¬† Of course, Hollywood is fighting this madness.¬† America is, after all, the land of the free. ¬†Free – not as in free movie tickets, but as in free to make and sell movies as we please.¬† They quickly silenced the ever growing demands of BAM ¬†(Babysitters Against Movies) whose complaints of job loss were assuaged with free tickets to – you guessed it – New Moon.¬†

Hollywood is just trying to keep itself afloat in uncertain economic times.¬† Yet some people are unconvinced, saying they’re putting profits ahead of child safety and welfare.¬† To these naysayers, the big studios are offering a free showing of the popular movie The Hangover during which they will slash the price of popcorn by half.¬† Should that fail, they will be forced to consider giving George Clooney a pay cut.

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Marketing Apples to Children? Don’t Hold Your Breath

Aug 21

Too many Canadian kids are fat.  This is a fact.  Over the past few years, newspapers and health advocates have decried the rising obesity rates, but it’s not headline news today.  As Canadians have come to accept this weighty truth and various organizations and governments scramble to find solutions, it’s hardly surprising that finger pointing has begun.  Who is to blame for this epidemic of chunkiness?  The list of culprits is exhausting and their culpability impossible to define – from the nutritionists in Michael Pollan’s bestseller In Defense of Food (Fat bad!  Carbohydrates good!) to parenting experts that bemoan Mommy’s use of the word “no” – the blame game will very likely find few winners.  A recent report by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, however, shows both the food and media industries are strong contenders.

 

According to the report, $1.6 billion was spent in 2006 by 44 major food and beverage marketers to promote their goodies to kids aged 2 to 17 years old.  For children aged 2 to 11 years, a total of $229 million was invested in breakfast cereals alone – while the amount spent on fruits and vegetables was $8.4 million.  Is it any wonder then, that kids are especially vocal about their preferences in the cereal aisle of the grocery store?  Take a teen to the local Loblaws, and it’s more likely to be the soda shelves that invigorate his taste buds.  That’s because the marketing strategy shifts toward carbonated beverages for 12 to 17 year olds where $472.2 million was invested in making sure your kid begs for Red Bull rather than V-8.  In that same age category, fruits and vegetables received a measly $6.2 million to promote their not so hip qualities.

 

The report also chastises the media for bombarding children and teens with messages and images that promote unhealthy eating habits through television advertising, the internet, and movie tie-ins.  In the reported year, food and beverage products were tied to about 80 movies, television shows, and animated characters that appeal to children.  It specifically cites the use of characters from Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean to sell fatty food products.  According to a , Dr. Martin Schiff, weight-loss expert and best-selling author of The Thin Connection, goes a step further in blaming Hollywood for North America’s gluttonous habits.  He is now part of a health campaign that urges the movie industry to add a new rating – “O” for Obesity.  According to Schiff, shows such as Sex in the City where skinny, beautiful women constantly eat yet never gain weight are setting an unhealthy example for thousands of children (as opposed to the promiscuous sex and shallow lifestyles?)  While this proposal is a noble effort to curb the overeating that has gripped our youngest generation, it’s not likely that an industry that profits from gratuitous violence and lurid sex scenes is going to omit all-you-can-eat buffet scenes from their movies.  Furthermore, parents busy censoring their children from lewd language, nudity and blood spilling are not about to whisper “cover your eyes” when some chubby kid eats a twinkie on the silver screen. 

 

A battle against America’s corporations to focus their energies less on junk food and more on healthy eating is, quite frankly, fruitless.  Although the report concedes that some of the largest food and beverage companies have taken “important steps to encourage better nutrition and fitness among the nation’s children” by limiting their advertising to foods that meet certain nutritional standards, if the “standards” are met by injecting a few vitamins into a sugar-laden gummy, children and parents are not much better off.   Maybe advertisers will bear some of the responsibility for North America’s unhealthy eating habits, and maybe they won’t.  Only time will tell.  But one thing is certain, all this finger wagging and strongly worded criticisms will do little to shrink the enlarged girth of a ten-year-old.  Regular trips to the farmer’s market, less time in front of the television, and a firm and well-practiced “No” will shed pounds and transform bad eating habits long before anyone sees an ad touting the funky pink treat that dances in your mouth and spreads cool antioxidants to your finger tips called … Watermelon!

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