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By Caroline E. Mayer - November 20, 2003

Product Tie-Ins Add Millions to Movie's Take.

"The Cat in the Hat" opens this week. And corporate sponsors are at a peak. Hershey, Rayovac, MasterCard too. Lots of firms want to hawk products to you.
Cookies, mops -- even mail. The movie's become one great big sale.

With Mike Myers playing the title Dr. Seuss character, dozens of companies are betting that the film, which opens tomorrow, will be one of the holiday season's biggest hits.
Kellogg Co. is producing what it calls a "breakthrough in culinary technology" -- a limited-edition cereal with distinct red and white stripes in each piece. Kraft Foods Inc. is filling some Oreos with red and white stripes. The U.S. Postal Service is hand-stamping its mail with holiday greetings from the Cat himself.

Corporate tie-ins make "The Cat in the Hat" one of the largest business-backed films in Hollywood history.

Twelve companies, promoting more than 40 different brands, are the official corporate "Cat sponsors," creating new products, running contests for toys, shopping sprees, trips and, of course, tickets to the movie. Thirty other retailers signed on to offer special Cat activities in thousands of stores. And 75 more companies are making hundreds of "Cat in the Hat" products.
The licensed goods include the standard T-shirts and plush animals, and more unusual things, such as flossing toothpicks and cat toys. (There are limits: Since the cat in the movie eats cupcakes, there's no approved cat food.)

"It's definitely one of the most well-supported films in the promotional world," said Mitch Litvak, president of the L.A. Office, a marketing firm that specializes in partnerships between companies and movies, television shows and musicians. Litvak said there are no precise numbers on which movie has the most corporate tie-ins, but "it's definitely up there when you're talking about this number of different brands involved. I would gamble it's the top."

That troubles some advocates for children. "A few years ago children's movies didn't have corporate sponsors at all," said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and co-founder of the coalition Stop Commercial Exploitation of Children. "There's been such an escalation that now going to the movies is simply an opportunity for corporations to manipulate kids. It's going to get to where every minute of children's entertainment will be sponsored by somebody and you can no longer go to a movie that's just a movie."

As for "The Cat in the Hat," she said, "There's something sad about a beloved icon for children becoming a shill for corporate products."

Allen D. Kanner, a California psychologist and co-editor of "Psychology and Consumer Culture: The Struggle for a Good Life in a Materialistic World," urges parents not to take their kids to the movie, to send a message "they are tired of kids being sold as audience share to corporate sponsors."

Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP, which owns the rights to the author's works and approved corporate sponsors for the film version of "The Grinch that Stole Christmas," makes no apology.
"This is one of the largest promotional programs put into place because it's such a wonderful piece of Americana, and companies want to be associated in these times with something very American and very beloved," said Susan Brandt, vice president of licensing and marketing at Dr. Seuss Enterprises. The company is headed by Audrey Geisel, the widow of Dr. Seuss (whose real name was Theodor Geisel).

Brandt said her organization scrutinized the ties with companies that make cookies, candy and other snacks. "It's always a concern but if we're going to do a blockbuster film and it's going to be a success, the consumer expects a certain level of commercial support." Such ties are limited to several weeks before and after the film's release, she said.
Audrey Geisel is sensitive to the food partnerships, Brandt said. For example, while it's okay for food to be shaped in the form of the red and white striped hat, "she doesn't want people eating the cat."

Many marketing experts predict more corporate sponsorship of entertainment. Litvak, whose firm sponsors an annual conference at which film studios, television companies and music distributors pitch upcoming releases to corporations, said each side hopes to cash in on the other's strengths: "Entertainment brings an extra cachet to a brand's marketing campaign. It's part of pop culture and makes your brand more relevant in the consumers' eyes. So if you're Kellogg's, and the big thing is 'Cat in the Hat,' the existing consumer feels part of pop culture because they're eating the cool food; and if you're not already eating Kellogg's, something says maybe you should give it a try."

For the entertainment industry, the constant promotion of its products "is a reminder to consumers that if you haven't seen the movie, you better hurry up and see it," Litvak said.
There's an added plus for movie studios, said Martin Lindstrom, a brand marketing expert. The partnerships and licensing deals are "a safe way for a studio to generate revenues even if the movie may not be a success," he said.

"The Cat in the Hat" cost $109 million to make. Universal Studios and the sponsors declined to say how much was being paid for the partnerships. "Sometimes no money changes hands," sometimes companies pay $5,000 to well over $1 million, Litvak said.

The companies also promise to spend millions more in advertising their promotions -- and hence the movie. Procter & Gamble Co.'s advertising support for "The Cat in the Hat" has been estimated at $25 to $30 million. MasterCard International Inc. declined to say how much it is spending to advertise its "Trip-A-Day Giveaway" promotion, but said it was 20 percent of its entire advertising budget for the year.

"It's our largest promotion ever and the very first movie tie-in we've ever done," said Cheryl Guerin, vice president of promotions for the credit card company.

Unlike many other films these days, "The Cat in the Hat" does not include product placements, where specific brands are placed in movies for a fee. This film, after all, is a fantasy.
For the latest James Bond film, "Die Another Day," Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. received millions of dollars in placement fees to feature Finlandia vodka, Sony electronics, British Airways and Ford cars, including an Aston Martin, Jaguar and Thunderbird. In "Minority Report," 22 products were prominently placed and in surveys after the movie, kids remembered about 18 of them, Lindstrom said. "It was a shocking number."

Up to now, "Cat in the Hat" products have been limited, available only at book and specialty stores, said Amy Taylor, Universal's vice president of marketing. But after tomorrow, "Cat in the Hat" clothes, jewelry, boots, backpacks, clocks, lamps, bandages, tattoos, skateboards -- even personal checks -- will be available.

"When people see a film, they want to bring a little bit of that magic home," Taylor said. "They're going to go to the store and look for it and if they can't find it, they'll be disappointed."
Some links to the film are clear, such as Procter & Gamble's "Good Clean Fun" promotion, under which you can buy five different cleaning products (Cascade, Mr. Clean, Febreze, Dawn and Swiffer) and get a toy and activity calendar. You can also enter a sweepstakes to win $50,000. The story's emphasis on cleaning up seemed like a natural, company spokeswoman Erin Lanuti said. "We're bringing fun to the cleaning category via this movie, and that's definitely new to this category."

Rayovac Corp. is hoping to capitalize on the energy of the main character to sell its batteries. "It's a way to differentiate yourself from the clutter that's out there" in the battery aisle, said company spokesman John Daggett. Rayovac is sponsoring a "Win This or That" contest. (This wins batteries, sweatshirts or hats and has much better odds than That, which wins $1 million and a Ford Thunderbird.)

"No one stays awake at night thinking about" what kind of batteries to buy, Daggett said. But "if you look at a display and see something attached to it -- a promotion or sweepstakes -- you may be tempted to buy that product."

Postal Service spokeswoman Monica Suraci said the Thing 1, Thing 2 posters in post offices as well as the "Cat in the Hat" postmark should "appeal to a younger mailing and stamp collecting audience . . . sparking interest in children more than a war memorial stamp."