Fred Flintstone has a lion on his tail.
For months, the world’s most famous caveman has been prepackaged as the summer’s movie and merchandising hit in the upcoming Universal Pictures film, “The Flintstones.” But there are rumblings from the licensing world that “The Lion King,” an animated Disney film about a lion cub that becomes king, could give “Flintstones” a rumble in the merchandising jungle.
It all comes down to this: Will kids be more enamored by a product like the Fred Flintstone doll that--when squeezed--shouts a raucous “Yabba dabba do!” Or will they be more enchanted with a plush lion cub from “Lion King” that--when petted--utters a regal roar.
“Consumers only have so much money to buy licensed merchandise,” said Karen Raugust, editor of the Licensing Letter. She expects merchandise sales from one of the films to “rise to the top at the expense of the other.” Because much of the Flintstone merchandise is linked to the live-action film instead of the animated cartoon show, the Flintstone merchandise is “a little bit riskier,” she said. At stake are millions--and perhaps billions--of dollars in merchandise sales. Executives at MCA/Universal Merchandising say their goal is for Flintstone merchandise--from key chains to satin jackets--to surpass the $1 billion in product sales already registered by their recent merchandising hit “Jurassic Park.” Disney executives declined to comment about “Lion King” product sales, but experts say sales could match--or surpass--the estimated $1 billion that Disney has taken in for such films as “Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
While “Flintstones” has more than 100 licensees compared to fewer than 50 for “Lion King,” Raugust said “Lion King” has one important thing in its favor: Disney’s track record in merchandising its animated films. Of course, Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, which is producing “Flintstones,” also has a long line of merchandising successes.
But most kids love cartoons, so products attached to animated films, such as “Lion King” often outsell those linked to live-action films, say licensing executives. Sure, there are notable exceptions--"E.T.” and “Batman,” for instance--but live-action films such as “Dick Tracy” and “Popeye” failed to move much product.
And while “The Flintstones” is generally expected to be a box office smash, some question whether that will automatically translate into massive merchandise sales.
“I’m very concerned about Flintstone merchandise,” said Lee Weinblatt, president of the marketing research firm Pretesting Co. “People who favor the Flintstones are mostly older. But do Mom and Dad really want a set of Flintstone place mats?”
Most of the merchandise from the Flintstone film will look like the characters from the movie--and not the cartoon series. Some marketing experts say kids in particular would probably rather have the real Fred Flintstone’s face on their T-shirt than that of John Goodman--co-star of the TV show “Roseanne"--who plays Fred Flintstone in the upcoming film.
“My gut feeling is, John Goodman’s picture should not be on the merchandise,” said Harry Clark Noyes, president of the marketing research firm Psychological Motivation. “The movie is soon gone, but the character Fred Flintstone will be around long after that. Besides, not many people are going to the film to see John Goodman. They are going to see Fred Flintstone.”
But executives at MCA insist Goodman’s face will make the Flintstone merchandise especially popular.
“This is the role John Goodman was born to play,” said Linda Berkeley, senior vice president of MCA/Universal Merchandising.
“People will see the movie and want to take some of the fun home with them” in the form of merchandise, she said.
If “The Flintstones” has one thing in its favor, it’s timing. The film opens nationwide May 27, several weeks before the June 15 premiere of Disney’s “Lion King.”
Two of Southern California’s largest makers of plush toys and plastic figurines have very different opinions about which film will sell the most merchandise.
“I guarantee you, at the retail level this will be the biggest Disney feature of them all,” said Melvin Grossman, chairman of Aurora Hills-based Applause Inc., which is making merchandise tied to “Lion King.” “Based on orders from retailers, we recently doubled production,” said Grossman.
But Bob Solomon, chairman of Woodland Hills-based Dakin Inc., said he thinks the appeal of “Lion King” is limited to “a very young audience.” So his firm will instead make Flintstone products, which he says will appeal to people of all ages.
Fast-food giants McDonald’s and Burger King have picked their favorites too.
McDonald’s is betting on Flintstones with its first-ever worldwide promotion, including Flintstone “Happy Meals” for kids and collector glasses for grown-ups.
Burger King is putting its money on “Lion King,” with promotions from “Lion King” kids’ meals to “King-sized” meals targeting adults.
Instead of picking sides, some major merchandisers are convinced both will win big. Mattel, for example, is making toy lines tied to both films.
“It’s not like you can point to one film and say, that’s the one that will come out on top,” said Jill Barad, president of Mattel Inc. Mattel expects to post combined toy sales exceeding $100 million from the two movies, she said.
Likewise, Gibson Greetings, a Cincinnati maker of greeting cards and party goods, will make products--including cards, wrapping paper and paper napkins--linked to both films.
Which will sell better? “That all depends on which movie does better at the box office,” said Steve Kosmalski, senior vice president at Gibson. “But longer life spans go with animated films. They have a longer-lasting sentimentality. Just ask Mickey Mouse.”
Briefly . . .
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