Ad men face a formidable challenge in ensuring that the flavor du jour in both food and entertainment gains acceptance from the consumer.
Welcome to Vanilla Time.
According to new surveys, vanilla is suddenly the most popular flavor in food and beverages — even entertainment. Anyone analyzing the new TV programming lineups or release schedules of summer movies would conclude that vanilla rules the day.
So now it’s up to the marketing foot soldiers to enforce the code of vanilla. The pressure’s on to hammer dissidents into submission.
I feel a special empathy toward the marketing troops at Disney. Their mandate is to promote the hell out of the new ABC TV schedule across every nook and cranny of the vast Disney landscape.
No one will be able to tread across a Disney cruise ship or themepark without massive awareness of the new ABC Happy Hour, not to mention “Dinotopia” (please don’t ask about “Spin City” or “Dharma & Greg”). It’ll be the most momentous push since Disney acquired ABC in 1996.
But that’s not all. Disney’s crash program to create movies based on Disneyland rides also will be heavily promoted.
This means it will be impossible to look in on Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion or the Country Bears Jamboree without being reminded to rush to your multiplex to see a movie of the same name.
Will kids find this overkill? Not at all, say the Disney sages. For years the themeparks have based rides on Disney movies like “Snow White.” Since ideas for new movies appear to be in short supply, why not reverse the process?
So if you’re spending the night at a Disneyland hotel, you’re going to see trailers for “Country Bears” on your TV. If you’re enjoying “happy hour” on a Disney cruise ship, you’ll be reminded of the ABC Happy Hour. And then there are the themepark buses and trams — they all reflect a veritable orgy of cross-promotion.
If all this doesn’t work, it’ll be the fault of the marketing men. We’ve seen this happen often enough.
Meanwhile Disney’s competitors will be watching with fascination. Sony has the hottest slate of summer movies, but has no themeparks in which to promote them.
NBC has the most formidable programming slate, but no movie studio with which to cross-pollinate. Otherwise there already would be a movie called “The Weakest Link” or a “Fear Factor” themepark ride (now that would provide some variety for those Disneyland tots).
Jeff Zucker, NBC’s high-octane network chief, says he feels a lot of pressure to find a new “Friends.” To that end, he’s promoting a new show called “Good Morning, Miami” about a young TV producer who’s struggling to revive the nation’s lowest-ranking morning TV show. Some think this is an odd offering from the man who rose to power producing “Today.”
CBS is not quite as smug as NBC but believes it’s got some momentum in attracting younger viewers, and plans a heavy “sell” aimed at the 18-49 demo.
Fox wants to regain its edgy image, which is hard to do without offending those viewers newly addicted to vanilla.
As marketing adventures go on the movie side, we have the ongoing saga of Lucasfilm. Hidden away in their Northern California bastion, George Lucas’ pathologically secretive marketers seemed a tad unnerved last week over the stratospheric performance of “Spider-Man.” Would their next “Star Wars” sequel be upstaged by Spidey’s numbers?
In times past, the Lucas people have made it clear that they don’t really care what anyone thinks about their strategies, an attitude that has stirred antagonism among exhibitors and merchandisers.
Now, confronted with a soaring Spidey, Lucasfilm decided to put out a curious press release that basically said, “We know what we’re doing, so bugger off.”
Sure, “Attack of the Clones” would open on a mere 6,000 screens, compared with 7,500 for “Spider-Man,” and 8,000 for “Harry Potter.” This more limited rollout would include only 59 digitally projected screens — something of a comedown after all the rhetoric about the new Digital Age.
Further, the buzz was that Lucasfilm would spend perhaps a mere 50% to 60% of the ad money mobilized for other high-profile summer tentpoles.
The intended message: Even if the opening numbers weren’t as spectacular as Spidey’s, the film would be firmly on course and would stay that way, at least in the eyes of the seers of Lucasfilm.
And as for the critics? Many of them, it seems, found “Clones” rather vanilla, which perhaps is all for the best. It’s Vanilla Time, isn’t it?