To some, turning Mickey Mouse's 60th birthday into a merchandising spree might seem a little cheesy. But as the celebration culminates with Christmas cash registers ringing, Mickey can titter all the way to the bank.
"Mickey's 60th promotion helped add another 20% to 30% to our business this year," Disney marketing veep Paul Pressler told us.
Hundreds of items from 150 manufacturers are glutting shelves and mail order pages ("Between 50 and 100 items in the commemorative category alone," Pressler estimated).
Items range from $4 key chains to $200-plus music boxes and figurines to $500-plus commemorative electric trains. There are kiddy socks bearing the "60 Years With You" logo ($6); 60th birthday gumball machines ($89, or $115 with stand and gumballs); a Mickey's 60th electronic keyboard ($43); a 14-karat gold Mickey-through-the-years necklace ($300). And a $95 Mickey's birthday sterling silver money clip.
Seiko introduced a line of three commemorative Mickey Mouse watches (price range: $59.95-$215) and a 60th birthday alarm clock with a recorded Mickey Mouse Club song ($89.50). Sales, said Seiko executive veep Hal Wilensky, "are exceeding our most optimistic projections."
Neither Wilensky nor Pressler would discuss revenues. But Wall Street analysts consider Mickey's birthday one of several factors accounting for an $80-million jump in Disney's consumer products division earnings, from $167 million in 1987 to $247 million so far this year.
(The others: Disney's purchase of the Childcraft company, the opening of several Disney Stores and a merchandising partnership with Mattel Toys.)
Mickeymania was backed not only with nostalgic Mickey-through-the-years gifts, but baby boomer-pleasing Mickey-in-the-'50s retro.
"We recognized that the '50s is kind of a hot look in the marketplace," said Pressler. "And we took Mickey as kind of a fashion statement and used the '50s bop-til-you-drop kind of thing to help celebrate the 60th birthday.
"There are over 100 different items in this vein that have been produced. We've got a ton of artwork--Mickeys in diners, Mickeys in pink Cadillacs. . . ."
Disney's also cashing in with its kiddie picture, "Oliver & Company": We counted more than 30 distinct instances of company logos and brand names shown in the movie (some are repeats).
This was no mean feat, considering that "Oliver" is animated .
Our kitty hero, for instance, takes refuge atop a Ryder truck tire. His little pal Jennifer plays a Yamaha piano. His gang of doggy friends congregate in a shipboard hideaway where at least one Diet Coke can can be seen. Billboards hyping Kodak, Dr. Scholls, Sony, Tab, McDonald's, U.S.A. Today and its parent Gannett litter the background.
Disney wouldn't talk to us about the seemingly heavy commercializing of "Oliver & Company." But industry sources say that promotional tie-in deals and product placement fees usually cost companies a few thousand dollars to the mid-six figures for major films these days.