Fans of such fictitious film characters as Yoda, the “Jaws” shark and Luke Skywalker will meet a new cinematic person when Universal launches Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” at 800 theatres June 18.
MCA’s merchandising division has firmed 11 separate licensing deals on the creature, whose likeness is being kept so secret that even many of its licensees have been in the dark until recently.
Nevertheless, by mid-June there should be enough E.T. paraphernalia to open a small novelty shop. The public will be confronted with E.T. bicycles, E.T. pajamas, E.T. candy and E.T. electronic toys aisde from the usual slew of posters, action figures, bubble gum and iron-on transfers.
Exploiting the licensing potential of films is done all the time, particularly on a picture with big youth appeal or, in aftermath, on a boxoffice hit.
Probably the most successful merchandising of film was George Lucas’ “Star Wars” and “Empire Strikes Back.” Representatives at Lucasfilm estimate gross retail sales generated from items put out by the 50-60 licensees on both pictures is in the area of $1,800,000,000.
Of course, few pictures ever approach that figure. And even on a respectable success, the companies that make the film receive only a fraction of the gross retail sales on items tied in with their picture.
MCA merchandising veepee Steve Adler, who works on 12-15 Universal films each year, admits that a “very good campaign” will bring revenues “in the high seven figures” to a film company, depending on the deal.
There are exceptions on blockbusters like “Jaws,” which had only one license before it went into release and another 55 deals two weeks after it opened across the country.
Naturally, Universal hopes that “E.T.” will fall into the latter category, particularly since Spielberg has directed two of the highest grossing films of all time. But marketing-distribution president Bob Rehme maintains that he considers merchandising a means to create public awareness.
“The promotional potential is most important,” Rehme said, “what these items can do for our overall effort. You have to remember, every time there is a piece of merchandise, a story display, there is free advertising for the film.”
Although Rehme considers it a broad-audience picture, fact is that “E.T.’s ” appeal to youngsters gives it special value in the merchandising field. Plot concerns an alien, described as “afraid, alone and 3,000,000 light years from home” and his association with some children.
That opens the door for almost any kind of toy-store item. In fact, several companies involved in the “E.T.” campaign have never before done a film tie-in.
Bikes And Chocolate
Japanese-based Everything Bicycles will be selling a $500-plus E.T. bicycle, the first such film merchandising product. Hershey’s, which has shied away from tie-ins for a long time, will use their Reese’s Pieces candy as a promotional device, particularly because the chocolates will be featured in the film.
The Hershey deal raises the question of how far a film can comfortably go with product tie-ins before becoming a cinematic advertisement. In this case, the script called for plates full of small chocolates in various scenes quite similar to the Reese’s candy.
There is also an electronic learning device (which will be marketed through Texas Instruments) that was included in the original script, Rehme said.
MCA’s thinking was to take advantage of the innate marketability of “E.T.” rather than to avoid it, the exec explained.
“There were other foods in the film, tv sets, all kinds of things where we have no tie-ins,” Rehme noted. “It has to be part of the story. We’re not going to be crassly commercial.”
Spielberg had approval over each licensing arrangement and showed some rough sketches from the picture to potential buyers as early as last summer. Lack of more concrete material discouraged some customers, but overall It was more Spielberg’s track record on such pix as “Jaws,” “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” and “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” they were buying.
Universal, remaining fairly uninvolved when Spielberg was shooting last summer, is at a minimal financial risk considering Spielberg’s name value. Budget came in at $10,000,000 and about $8,000,000 more will be spent on ad-pub-promo.
Part of the promotional effort includes a storybook from Putnam and hardcover and softcover tomes from Berkeley Books.
Under negotiation is a planned “E.T.” section at Bloomingdale’s department store keyed to window and display ads. That, of course, would make the alien not only more popular but chic.