Originally created 05/20/05

Movie tie-ins can be bad for business



Grocery shopping is not, as a rule, one of my favorite activities. For me, it's a moderately unpleasant, but obviously necessary, errand that requires focus, fortitude and, above all, constant forward motion.

There are no unscheduled stops at the supermarket. No pauses to browse among the exotic oils or sweet-smelling spices. It's all about the in-and-out and nothing, save perhaps free summer sausage, can keep this shopper from his appointed rounds.

That is, until this week, when I discovered something that stopped me cold.

Old Yeller dog food.

In the history of movie tie-ins, has there ever been an idea as bad as linking Old Yeller to a brand of pet food? At the risk of ruining the film for the few who have never seen it, let's recap the major plot points of this Disney gem. Boy gets dog. Boy loves dog. Boy shoots dog right between the eyes.

Have the marketing masterminds behind this stunner ever seen this movie? At what point does a rabid dog that dies seem like the appropriate spokesmodel for pet food? What sort of slogan do you attach to a product like that? - Old Yeller, When They've Lived Long Enough.

Of course, we shouldn't be surprised. History is rife with similar marketing misfires. For instance, in 1985 Coleco released a line of toys based on the violent R-rated action movie Rambo. That's right, for a short time the weapons of war featured in the film were available for hours of playtime fun. Brawny action figures and toy machine guns, just like the one Sly Stallone wielded in the movie, made post-war Vietnam available to kids across America. It makes the current campaign of selling toys based on the PG-13 rated Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith seem responsible in comparison.

Equally ill-advised was Reebok's campaign built around the 1986 release of Aliens. The sneaker company designed a futuristic kick for the film and then, believing that what the American public really wanted was a bulky space boot, released a consumer version. Not smart - it didn't go with the Miami Vice blazers we were all sporting.

More recently, Jeep attempted to market a special edition Rubicon, using video-game heroine Lara Croft as a spokeswoman. Evidently there weren't many pistol-packing treasure hunters looking for a new ride, because I haven't seen too many around. Likewise, the Norelco James Bond razor, which, despite a hefty price tag (around $250), only shaved faces. No laser beams for defeating malevolent masterminds, no secret walkie-talkie for communicating with a secret spy base. Nothing but smooth skin.

Still, James Bond always survives to the final credits, as did Rambo and Ripley and even Lara Croft, even if her movies did not.

I wish the same could be for Old Yeller. Here's hoping his dog food fares a little better than he.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.