Lizard toy sale limp

'Teletubbies' thumping 'Godzilla' at stores

“Godzilla” appears to be having as much trouble moving merchandise as it does filling seats.

Early reports from a retailer source, who cited dollar sales by stock-keeping units (or SKUs), suggest that the “Teletubbies,” though many times tinier, are winning the retail race by a 3-to-1 margin.

This doesn’t bode well for the big guy for two reasons: 1) Sony sacrificed the 25% to 33% of merchandising sales that normally precede a movie’s release for the sake of suspense; and 2) Sony prevailed upon “Teletubbies” license-holder Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Co. to change its launch date, originally scheduled for May 20, so that it wouldn’t coincide with “Monster Midnight,” which kicked off the same day.

That’s not to say Sony’s merchandising efforts have been completely unappreciated. Spokeswoman Kelly Disque said FAO Schwarz’s first-time-ever “midnight” promotion, which opened the New York store from midnight to 2 a.m. on the day of the movie’s release, resulted in a “line of several hundred” waiting outside the building.

$22,300 sold in 2 hours

Although Disque wouldn’t provide actual sales numbers for the promotion, employees who worked FAO Schwarz’ second-floor “Godzilla shop” said they moved $22,300 worth of monster merchandise during the two nocturnal hours and $30,000 the entire next day.

Sony also provided quotes from such concerned parties as toymaker Trendmasters (“A monster success is not out of the question.”) and retailer Toy Biz (“One week later, we remain very encouraged.”).

Still, after a week of sales, Disque told Daily Variety it was still “too early to tell” where “Godzilla” will rank among all-time merchandising campaigns. Toys R Us spokeswoman Rebecca Caruso weighed with in an equally tepid “so far so good” response.

Meanwhile, the dolls based on Public Broadcasting System’s “Teletubbies” have won accolades from both toy temples. FAO Schwarz CEO John Eyler called the response “very enthusiastic” — even though the program’s hastily changed debut arrived four days earlier than planned, while Toys R Us chairman Michael Goldstein designated “Teletubbies” the most successful launch “since the introduction of the Cabbage Patch dolls — and it will probably surpass that.”

Direct comparisons between the two merchandising programs aren’t altogether fair, however, in that each has its own target audience. As Itsy Bitsy Entertainment founder and CEO Kenn Viselman summarized: “My audience is 6 and down; Godzilla’s is 6 and up.”

There’s also a gender distinction that, when combined with the age difference, seems to be favoring “Teletubbies.” Explained one movie-merchandising veteran: “When you go after an 8-year-old boy, you’ve got to get him to tell his parents, ‘I won’t love you anymore if you don’t buy me that.’ But if you’ve got a doll for an 18-month-old baby, she doesn’t even have to ask if Grandma hears about it and thinks it’s cute.”

‘Lost World’ comparisons

Then again, Godzilla may actually represent the tail end — though what a tail it is — of over-the-top juvenile interest in dinosaurs. In so-called generic categories (as opposed to brand characters such as “Batman”), this is always a tough call; made tougher in this instance by the success of last year’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.”

“Lost World” was also a dinosaur movie, and the similarity of its merchandise to “Godzilla’s” was all too apparent at FAO Schwarz, which features the two in side-by-side showcases. The plan, surely, was to rekindle some of last year’s demand for this year’s monster. But it could just as easily have backfired, casting “Godzilla” as last year’s model even before its time.

Anecdotal evidence certainly suggests as much. Six-year-old FAO Schwarz shopper Luke Mandese, said “yeah” when asked if he liked Godzilla. But when asked to pick between the lone reptile and “Lost World,” it was the “Jurassic Park” sequel that held sway.

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