Executives are a superstitious, cowardly lot. They're always worrying about their "next big thing" gaining lots and lots of fans. And so when it comes to marketing and tie-in merchandise, they'll try to cast as wide a net as possible to attract a wide variety of people.
This often results in Misaimed Marketing. It's when a work of fiction is promoted in a way that seems... odd to people who are already familiar with it. This most often takes the form of extremely deceptive advertising or bizarre tie-in products.
Toys based on R-rated films are common, though these are usually aimed at adults. However, such action figures are also often found sold in mainstream toy stores. Some companies go even further, creating products directed at kids for those same movies. It's a tad creepy when either toys or Saturday Morning Cartoons of movies that had visible sexual content are sold to kids. (Why, yes, your kids would love a Starship Troopers action figure...). It may also be because executives know that Periphery Demographic exists among kids who watch shows meant for older audiences.
Fortunately, retailers are starting to get wise to this and such items are often found only in specialty stores now. And keep in mind, just about every apparently misaimed retailer action will end up being justified if it makes money. There are no exceptions to this.
Contrast Merchandise-Driven, where marketing may have been the point all along. Tends to happen when you've got yourself a Cash Cow Franchise. Very often leads to What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids? See also Never Trust a Trailer and Contemptible Cover. Sometimes runs headlong into My Little Panzer...
The Star WarsTransformers line. Had both Star Wars and Transformers toys been made by the same company in the '80s, they could have bankrupted their competition because of the sheer awesomeness of the combination. Seeing as how both have been around for nearly the same amount of time, it seems a bit forced.
Another example of misaimed marketing in Transformers is the IDW comics original character Drift. While more a canonized fan-character, the company has been playing him up, as they believe his Japan-centered drift racer car mode, red and white rising sun deco and dual samurai swords will appeal to the fans, who've ended up finding his Creator's PetGary Stu Japan-shilling slightly insulting. That said, Drift's toy is pretty much agreed to be So Cool It's Awesome by the fans, even those who detest the character. On the other hand, the toy has been redecoed as Blurr, so Drift-haters can still experience the figure without actually owning a "Drift".
The latest case of Transformers-related misaimed marketing: action figures for Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. For those keeping score, Fall Of Cybertron and its predecessor, Transformers: War for Cybertron tell of the utter brutality of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons; and depict the robots actively killing each other, something that's usually glossed over in most Transformers adaptations, but is becoming increasingly common in works following Beast Machines. The real kicker, however, is that people complain about the toys for the live action movies; but have yet to say anything about Fall of Cybertron Optimus Prime and Jazz figures being sold in conjunction with one of the darkest Transformers adaptations yet.
Studio Gainax have a reputation for being absolute marketing whores and will sell pretty much any merchandise and sex up their characters as much as necessary. Including a Rei Ayanami soap dish.
They still haven't made a Kaworu PEZ dispenser, which would be cool in a completely tasteless sort of way.
There are gashapon figures of naked, angel-winged Kaworu and Rei◊, though.
Just to give you an idea of the horrors Gainax has unleashed here's a review of two catgirl figurines of Rei and Asuka which have generic anime faces, tiny underwear, and lovingly sculpted camel toes.
There's a really nice Ryuk handpuppet sold in shops. A Death God with a short attention span and worrying lack of morals... in puppet form. How cute.
Think that's bad? Tokyo Mew Mew has a few odd things. The panties are understandable, since it is a kids' show. Plastic beauty set? Nothing to do with the actual show, but some little girls probably liked it. When you get to the large inflatable Ichigo, however, you really do have to wonder.
Part of the reason Hamtaro had such a strong Periphery Hatedom in the day was that it was targeted at well, kids. As in, younger than pre-teen kids. Just about all the merchandise for it was placed in the kids section away from the normal "preteen" toys like legos and with the stuffed animals made for ages three and up. Yet Cartoon Network thought it'd be a great idea to run it on Toonami next to shows like YuYu Hakusho and Cyborg 009, same with running the commercials for it at that time. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea?
Some have argued that they're not really going for kids, but as a nerd Guilty Pleasure that's cheaper and easier to pose than action figures.
So Mattel sees what Hasbro is doing and wonders "Why should Hasbro have all the fun?". So they approach their comic partner- DC. Their answer to Hasbro's Marvel kiddie toys? Little People DC Characters. Let me reiterate this. Chunky Fun SizedSuper-Deformed DC Characters toysnote Super Deformed may be an Understatement, given that the Wonder Womanfigure looks like a complete porker. For toddlers. They even have a figure of The Joker, and he is genuinely smiling—as in, a happy smile, not the usual Slasher Smile. What?
There is apparently a large market for licensed military toys. We have Batman Tanks, Hulk Humvees, Iron Man fighter jets and, of course, Spideystealth bombers. Basically, they are just cheaply made Hot Wheels or a similar toy painted in the color of the hero with the hero's logo, or in some cases, a decal of the hero, placed on it. Because nothing says stealth as much as having Spider-Man painted on your hull.
That's not all that's wrong with the Princess line, though, oh no. Dig how "Princess" Belle is never seen in the blue dress she wears throughout the movie or with a book in hand. Marvel at how Aurora wears pink (look closely. They also give her purple eyes). Rejoice that all your favorite heroines spend their days in toy stores posing and staring vaguely into the distance, swishing their sparkly gowns in the same exactly poses over and over again, in recycled, off-model clipart slapped onto every pink backpack they can find. Their coloring books and Direct-to-Video features are filled with stories about spring cleaning, going to the market, and setting up parties for their friends.
Mulan was more popular than Pocahontas, so in the line-up she went.
One Mulan doll is not only sculpted with Barbie feet (i.e. can only wear heels) but this is the product description on the back of the box.
Dressed in her beautiful sparkling gown, this Disney Sparkling Princess Mulan doll is ready for the ball and ready to meet her prince.note Just in case you haven't seen the movie, she implicitly marries a general... whom she fought alongside. D'oh.
Merida from Brave is the latest victim of this. Nowhere we can see her iconic bow and arrow and instead she's outfitted in a royal dress... the same tight dress that she rips in the movie because it won't let her aim her bow correctly. There was a toy bow and arrow released with the movie, but it's sky blue and lavender, bearing no resemblance to the much more normal-looking one she actually used.
Fortunately, Disney and Mattel had the foresight to realize they might just need to have a "movie accurate" version, and eventually released one. It came with her bow and regular dress, and a sparkly cape with Velcro gems. Wait... oh.
Some Disney stores these days are selling stuffed Cruella de Vils (we guess kids need punching bags), stuffed Oogie Boogie dolls, and stuffed Aslans, which is probably a sin of some sort (at least if you're Orthodox).
There were stuffed Oogie Boogie dolls made before the Disney Store models. They were manufactured by Applause (a name you don't hear very much of these days), and featured a velcro front that, when pulled apart, revealed some black fabric with glow-in-the-dark "bugs" silkscreened on.
A stuffed Jafar from Aladdin. Good luck finding one now.
The adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame had Frollo action figures rotting away on store shelves. Guess kids just don't get a kick out of elderly lust-crazed priests these days. There were also Barbie-sized dolls of the good guys. Yes, including Quasimodo, which also bombed in sales; one K-Mart employee recalled a tale where, a full year after Hunchback debuted in theaters, many of the figures were gathering dust on the store shelves, even though they had been marked down to clearance price!
There are Ursula Barbie dolls in the Disney Store. Just what the kids want!
Hands up: who wants an Aladar action figure who spouts the cheesiest lines from the film and whose skeleton randomly glows in the dark?
It's not like the Toy Story franchise isn't suited for merchandising (understatement of the year, in fact) but one particular toy, of the telephone character in the third movie, has a speech function... and it sounds a bit odd to have a toy designed for 3-year olds say lines like "I've been here for years, they'll never break me!" in a Film Noir style accent. If one is familiar with the toy, the lines "I've been here for years!" (I had that toy 40+ years ago) and "They'll never break me!" (it was made out of wood and sturdy plastic, and was virtually unbreakable) are a lot funnier.
There's two. One's a LEGO set. In fairness, both put more emphasis on depicting the conveyor belt leading to the incinerator, which was a fairly action-y sequence before the Tear Jerker final part set in.
The line of Disney Store tie-in toys for Frozen includes fashion dolls of Princess Anna, Queen Elsa, Prince Hans, and Kristoff for romantic royal fun. The problem with this is that Hans is actually a would-be murderer...
The Disney Store also has dolls of characters such as Mother Gothel, Maleficent and Gaston, so a would be murderer isn't without precedent.
One of the biggest inspirations for this trope: the stuffed animals and PEZ dispensers (!?!) of nearly all the major nonhuman characters in His Dark Materials. And that's not to mention the plastic toy Alethiometers given away at Burger King. These were all meant to promote The Golden Compass movie.
Half this, half Villain Decay. You know you're not going to be seeing Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees do anything really horrible after they've been deemed okay for child-sized Halloween costumes. Freddy is an especially disturbing example, since he's canonically a child murderer, and in some versions a molester as well.
Though this is probably more a case of wild age-inappropriateness, considering that child-sized pimp costumes have been made.
Halloween costumes in general, especially those for preteen girls, have become rather horrifyingly inappropriate.
Speed Racer had a tie-in toy line, video game, and all sorts of other merchandise. This is despite the fact that the film itself attacked consumerism and the cold greed of capitalism.
This bit Warner Brothers in the butt something fierce when Batman Returns was released and turned out to be a significantly darker and more violent film than its predecessor. Complaints about kid-oriented tie-ins like McDonald's Happy Meals made it to at least one talk show, and Nickelodeon apparently canceled a contest where the winning kid would attend the London premiere. This outcry was one reason the Joel Schumacher-helmed films that followed wound up significantly Lighter and Softer.
What made this even more bizarre is that Hasbro deliberately misled gullible consumers into thinking Batman Returns was a different kind of movie entirely by releasing some In Name Only "deluxe" Batman figures that had him wearing costumes that weren't even in the movie, such as "Jungle Attack Batman." (Remember seeing any jungles in Batman Returns? We sure didn't.)
There was also a Batman Returns coloring book that offered kids all the big scenes from the film to color but bowdlerized all the gore and violence. And removed Selina Kyle's glasses.
The Dark Knight had toys being released for a movie that some critics are surprised didn't score an R rating.
The kid-sized Batsuit that ties into The Dark Knight comes with a gun. Let's repeat that: A Batman toy comes with a gun. It's got pretty big fanfare in the commercial too. Whether it's just a case of not knowing anything about what the toy was promoting, or whether they knew Batman's a legendary Gun Hater but just want to make more money is an unsolved question...
Long before that, there was a toy called the "Batman Blaster"(?), which was basically a nerf gun that straps on like a harness and has wings that pop out of the back of it.
In Argentina, The Dark Knight was promoted with coloring books, Burger King toys, action figures, juices and candy.
Australian fast food chain Hungry Jack's did run TDK-themed toys in their kids' meals, and in America a cereal brand packaged tiny Batman and Joker figures. They sold out very fast, by the way.
Speaking of Hungry Jack's, they regularly produce variants of their Whopper hamburgers branded as a burger based on/inspired by whatever hot new film is currently doing the rounds (the aforementioned The Dark Knight was one of the first examples). You have to wonder because really, they barely alter the burgers at all and most of the films don't even have the slightest connection with the things.
While mild compared to the examples of the Batman movies, Man of Steel received an "I Can Read" children's book adaptation, which has this gem; "Clark's new foes have superpowers just like he does. The battle is fierce, but Clark wins. General Zod and his helpers retreat back to outer space.", as well as Zod saying "Ouch". Anyone who has seen the movie will not only know that it is certainly not very kid friendly, but that Zod and his crew do not make it out of the final battle alive, and Zod's death is quite dark, done via a Neck Snap courtesy of Supes.
And it too has a tie-in toyline, containing action figures and costumes meant for children as young as 4. In addition, it gained a lot of Product Placement from places such as IHOP and Sears, locations of which are prominently displayed-and nearly destroyed in Superman's battle with Zod and his followers in Smallville.
Somewhere in byzantine tax codes (Toy Biz v. United States), dolls representing humans end up getting taxed heavier than toys not representing people (such as dollhouse tables or kitty cats or whatever). To capitalize on this during the release of the X-Men movie, attorneys for Marvel successfully argued that mutants are not people. They got the favorable tax rate — and the X-Men's main message got completely broken. This sets a worrying legal precedent...
Back in the early 1990s, there were Alien and Predator toys geared for kids. Yes, you heard right. A toy franchise based on two R-rated movie franchises. This included a face hugger that slipped over the human action figure's head and a baby Xenomorph.
ALIEN! ACTION FIGURE! Apparently they are pretty expensive these days, for collectors who want to get their hands on one.
It gets better...or worse, there are even Alien plush toys. No, really. They look like this.◊
The Alien plush toys are adorable, but it's difficult to picture a child playing with it.
And let's not forget Rambo - because kids definitely need a figure representing a near psychotic Vietnam vet who destroyed most of the town in First Blood. (Not to mention the original ending had him committing suicide.) One of the most infamous? Bubble gum. Designed to look like shrapnel.
An acquaintance who worked in marketing in the 1980s reported that Hasbro had at least considered licensing Rambo for the GI Joe line - at least to the point of working up full design and marketing literature.
There have been toys and a cartoon series made of RoboCop (1987), an already R rated feature that almost got slapped with an X rating just for how violent it is, and openly features nudity, heavy swearing and Black Comedy and a lot of satire on such subjects like capitalism, corrupt corporations, and public apathy that would fly right over the heads of any kid.
Coloring and puzzle books for the David Lynch film Dune, which features graphic violence and murders, lots of folks in latex and tubes up their noses, a pus-faced psychopath who kills his male sex slaves by uncorking their hearts, and of course a gigantic fish mutant with a vagina mouth. The coloring book made sure to provide lines on Baron Harkonnen's face so children could choose different colors for his facial pustules. The movie was rated PG-13, but this was just months after the rating was introduced in 1984; it's possible Universal expected a PG when they inked the licensing deals, anticipating a Star Wars-esque hit.
The first Star Wars prequel was merchandised to hell and back. At the time, big box stores would have aisles where everything had a Star Wars character somewhere on the label;
Learn Letter Sounds With Sebulba coloring book; nothing like having a murderous bully who is willing to cheat in a podrace and kill anyone who gets in his way, including a child racer to win, teach your kids how to learn letter sounds, especially when you consider that he doesn't or can't even speak basic!
There was actually an Austin Powers talking doll that was sold to children. And yes, it did say "Do I make you horny, baby?" And yes, the media made a predictable uproar about it. Someone lost their job over that marketing decision, you better believe. Whether or not it was someone who had even met the actual decision-maker is another story. There were actually two intended releases: one meant for sale at Toys R Us that said "Yeah, baby, yeah!" and one meant for Spencer's Gifts and collector shops with the above line. However, some of the Spencer's Austins got mixed in with the Toys R Us shipments, causing a big stir.
The Terminator 2 line of action figures, released to tie in with a very violent R-rated movie.
And now, the Terminator 2Minimates, finding their way into Toys R Us stores across the nation. Cute, 2 inch tall versions of the T2 characters. While Terminator 2 is quite toned down from the first (for one thing the terminator is no longer a killer, but a kid friendly bodyguard that does what you say) it was still an R rated movie that no kid has any business seeing.
A toyline tied in with the Alec Baldwin version of The Shadow. Yes, that film received a PG-13 (many feel doing so undermined the film), but the film still kept the Shadow as an outlaw who worked without police approval (Commissioner Wainright Barth mentions early in the film that he will order his subordinates to stop the Shadow from interfering in police business). The film also depicted the Shadow as a reformed opium warlord who had a rival slain even though doing so also slew one of his own loyal men.
There were McDonald's Happy Meals for James Cameron's Avatar. Translation: kids' meals tie-in toys for a PG-13 movie.
The idea of kids' meal toys for PG-13 movies isn't new, but Avatar has too many adult themes and would be too unknown to kids IMO to deserve a Happy Meal line. They also have a reusable sticker book. Next thing we know, they're going to have coloring and activity books for the sequel. Oh wait, they HAVE those.
There was some feminist outrage over the marketing of an action figure based on Quentin Tarantino's character in Planet Terror, who is credited simply as "Rapist". Some of it was possibly-justified disgust at seeing action figures labeled "Rapist" in stores, but some people who weren't aware of the adult geek market for action figures assumed that they must have been being marketed to children.
And then the same thing happened again with Django Unchained, where action figures were pulled after only a couple of days on sale after protests from African-Americans that the toys were making light of slavery. (Inevitably, those that did get sold are now going for stupid prices on auction sites.)
Jurassic Park toys are still made long after the films. Subverted as they have parents notes on the back.
Also, dinosaurs are just awesome to kids in general; plenty of people had them in one form or another before the JP movies were released. The connection to JP is probably just because its easier to brand something as "Movie-related dinosaur with flesh-eating action!!!" rather than "Generic T-Rex #3"
Kick-Ass action figures, of Kick-Ass himself and Hit-Girl. The best part is that the word "ass" is obscured on the packaging both times it appears, first by graphics of the characters, and then by a spray-paint smudge effect, so the figure can be sold at more mainstream retailers like Toys 'R' Us.
There are also Halloween costumes.
Inception has both official and unofficial replicas of the top used as a dream totem by Cobb and Mal. The top which is for the explicit purpose of being one of a kind and handmade by only one living user so that nobody else could possibly know the feel of it. There is even an official set of every totem from the movie (the top, a loaded die, and a metal chess "bishop").
As far as Barbie dolls go, there are two kinds - the kid toy "Pink Box" Barbies, and the ones marketed to collectors, which tend to be more for adults. But to a lot of people, a Barbie is a Barbie, whether it's meant for kids or not.
The release of The Hunger Games in theaters brought out bushels of merchandise. Some of the things include a magnetic story book (recommended for ages 5 and up), tribute bracelets, figurines of the tributes, costume replicas, and socks. Nothing says family friendly like children being forced to brutally murder each other for entertainment!
Like the RoboCop example above, a Starship Trooperstoyline was released by Galoob in 1997. Yes, a toyline based on an R-rated film that has lots of blood, gore, political satire, and nudity.
Judge Dredd had a range of action figures. The movie was toned down significantly from the ultra-violent and cynical comic, but was still hardly for kids. More bewildering was the fact that in order to bulk the range out, it included several decidedly kid-unfriendly characters from the comic who didn't appear in the film, including Judge Death, an Omnicidal Maniac whose favourite modus operandi consists of ripping people's beating hearts out of their chests.
Burger King had kids' meal toys which were tie-ins with the movie Twilight: Eclipse — a PG-13 film. Creating tie-in toys was apparently a real strain: the "boy" item was a wallet.
There was also the "slime chamber" playset released around the time of the second film. What this has to do with Harry Potter is anyone's guess as there is nothing resembling a slime chamber in any of the books or films. Oh, and the Harry Potter action figures you're supposed to pour the slime on, Nickelodeon style, aren't even included in the set! Really, the closest tie to Harry Potter is the fact that the slime chamber rather vaguely resembles the Chamber of Secrets.
Cute Scabbers plushies were made in conjunction with the first two movies, when anyone who'd read the third book, released two years before the first film, already knew Scabbers would turn out to be a creepy little man who betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort.
They had Twilight toys at Burger King. No, really. Not only that, but half of the toys were for girls and half were (purportedly) for boys. Predictably, the toys stayed in bargain bins months after the promotion ended.
...Not to mention the Twilight Barbie dolls. Apparently the Edward doll has glitter skin. There's also a Jacob doll which comes wearing only its pants.
A relatively mild example, but there are Taylor Swift dolls out there, aimed at much the same demographic as Barbie. Granted, Swift is more than a little popular with prepubescent girls, but with such lovely revenge fics as "Picture to Burn" and "Better Than Revenge", some mild swearing in the debut album and "Sparks Fly", which is as close as Swift can get to Intercourse with You without inciting the wrath of the Moral Guardians, she's not exactly suited to the preschool set.
Hasbro's Rocktivity toys may sound reasonable, until you get to the fine print: the microphone plays Born This Way by Lady Gaga and the guitar plays Rock and Roll all Night by KISS and What I Like About You by The Romantics. Keep in mind that these toys are meant for toddlers. Whoever thought it was a good idea to introduce these songs to toddlers should have their brain checked.
Pro wrestling figures, a sport not meant for kids in the slightest, though even during the Attitude Era kids still watched! When WWE went TV-PG the Periphery Demographic of children was even more aggressively marketed towards, and even though the programming is now Lighter and Softer, it's still a bunch of sweaty musclemen beating each other up, hardly something a young kid ought to be watching. However, this is to be expected when every other adult-oriented movie/show/what have you under the sun gets merchandise like this.
Wendy's Japan did a movie tie-in for, of all things, Titus. Yes, Julie Taymor's R-rated adaptation of Shakespeare's bloodiest play, which culminates in two characters being cooked into a pie, and fed to their mother. Enjoy your burger.
Cirque du Soleil, of late, has made little collectible figures and/or cuddly plushies of prominent characters from several of their shows. The Green Bird from La Nouba, the Ladybug from OVO, and a Zebra girl from "O" are all natural choices for such treatment. Tarantula, the sinister spider Woman in Black from Zarkana...not so much.
NASCAR Barbie. Really. On the plus side, it's milder than most of the examples shown here.
Halo Warstoy sets by Mega Bloks. It seems reasonable, until you remember that that Halo series in general is rated M. Mega Bloks in general does have a tendency toward going for licences that fall under this trope.
Another Burger King gem, this time with The Simpsons toys. Y'know, the show that deals with subjects like animal abuse, child abuse, political corruption, drug abuse, alcoholism, marital strife, sex, murder, organized crime, torture, and war (or it did, before it became a Lighter and SofterFamily Guy clone with little to no substance).
Other Marketing Oddities
For a strange time period in the late '80s/early '90s, everything and its mom and its dog had a tie-in breakfast cereal. (As one kids' magazine snarked: "You've seen the movie. Now eat the cereal.") Back in '91 you may have seen this irritatingly Ear Worm-y commercial for this example:
A variety of movies, TV shows, board games, etc. have become the basis for themed casino slot machines since the Turn of the Millennium. Kids can't legally gamble, so most of the material being adapted was created for adults to begin with (though oftentimes it has a large Periphery Demographic of kids) or is old enough that kids who grew up with it and remain in its fanbase as adults will enjoy such a game in the present. But with the source material still being marketed to kids, this reasoning doesn't make it any less strange to see slot machines based on such properties as The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Gourmet tea company The Republic of Tea has produced movie tie-in teas — limited edition blends with flavors "inspired by" the story — via their catalog and website. Films (and a book series) that have received this treatment include:
Then there's this poster to raise awareness of training guide dogs featuring Kyoko Sakura. Even putting aside that they used a character that has absolutely nothing to do with service dogs (Sayaka would've been a better choice), the poster is to be displayed in elementary and middle schools. While it's a for a good cause, they probably be shouldn't be tying it into a series that is not kid-friendly.
It's Japan. Convenience stores like Seven-Eleven and Lawson's regularly run cross-promotions with such series as Detective Conan, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and, yes, Evangelion. "Family friendly" has a very different, but more entertaining, meaning there than it does in the West. In this case Madoka is a Seinen series, meaning it's aimed at adults even in Japan. And it's easy to see why - how many Magical Girl series can you think of that feature decapitations?
Speaking of decapitations, there was a reversable plush of Charlotte that transforms from the cute form to the evil form that ate Mami, just like the Popples!
They have Madoka Magica inner tubes. Including one shaped like Charlotte's mouth. Even if it didn't have the Charlotte one, it would still be strange because why would Madoka's target audience need an inner tube?
There are also soul gem bath bombs. They come in a random assortment like capsule toys.
You can buy a life-sized wearable replica of the Crimson Behilit from Berserk, just like Griffith's. Because who wouldn't want their very own Artifact of Doom that causes its bearer to inevitably make a Deal with the Devil and damn all of their friends and loved ones to a horrific death (or worse), followed by eternal torture in Hell, for personal gain?
Hello KittyVibrator. It's supposed to be just a Massager; Sanrio reportedly discontinued the item when they found out about people discovering the Perversion Potential. That doesn't stop the weirdness, though. Other oddities include Hello Kitty lingerie; and one of Japan's more famous Love Hotels, which has a room with a Hello Kitty BDSM theme, hardcore enough to give the plush Kitty Dominatrix in it barbed wire garter belts.
However, this is more a case of Values Dissonance and an effect similar to the Animation Age Ghetto; as the target market for Sanrio products is dramatically different between Japan and the rest of the world. In the US and Europe, Sanrio is marketed almost exclusively to children and early teens. By contrast, in Japan, the target market includes older teens and twentysomething adults (particularly the "office lady" demographic), and is a major expression of Japanese "Kawaii Culture".
There's this list of weird anime marketing campaigns, ranging from Lucky Star scented motor oil to Hello Kitty tarot cards to "LCL-filled" strawberry jam cakes (the latter is as disturbing as the orange juice example above).
Flowers of Evil apparently sells a t-shirt that looks just like Saeki's gym uniform, which starts off the events of the series. Other than making a good cosplay prop . . .
Hamtaro, a cute anime about the adventures of talking hamsters that was aimed at a younger demographic, once aired on Cartoon Network's Toonami in the United States, a block that was (or "is" now that said block has been revived) dedicated to action-oriented anime (YuYu Hakusho, Outlaw Star, Tenchi Muyo!) and western animation (ReBoot, Batman: The Animated Series) that were aimed more at preteens and teenagers. It's strange inclusion can apparently be blamed on Executive Meddling, and this was lampshaded by TOM himself during bumpers. It later moved off of Toonami and became a part of Cartoon Network's regular programming schedule, and enjoyed a sizeable Periphery Demographic from regular Toonami watchers of the day, but what the top brass at CN were hoping to achieve with it's inclusion on Toonami is still unknown.
An Incredible Hulk children's book series has Hulk going around making friends and helping people. He's never angry and always huge and green. A sweet, silent guy.
See above regarding the "Hulky Pokey" doll and other Marvel madness.
The Character Greetings at Disney Theme Parks have gotten some pretty strange additions. Meeting regular villains is pretty justifiable, since Evil Is Cool, but they've had greeting for villains like Frollo and Toy Story 3's Lotso. That's right kids, come meet the genocidal yandere!
On the subject of Lotso, Disney went all the way and generated deliberate Misaimed Marketing for the character before the release of Toy Story 3 so that The Reveal of his utterly depraved nature in the movie would be made even more shocking (Of course, no one would know that it is Misaimed Marketing before then.). After the release of the movie, the usage of this trope with him firmly becomes straight though.
For Christmas 1986, McDonald's released An American TailChristmas stockings, which featured Fievel on them. This may sound all well and good until you realize that Fievel is a Jewish character. A lot of Jewish groups were not happy.
Yeah, there's around 70 companies that have marketing tie-ins with a film that preaches against consumerism. The movie version of another Dr. Seuss book, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, had the exact same problem!
But the point of the Mazda CX-5 is that it's supposed to be more fuel-efficient than most other gas-powered cars thanks to it's "Sky Activ technology". Besides, hybrid cars still use gas and electric cars have to get their electricity from somewhere, and it's not always an environmentally-friendly source either. I'm not defending the Mazda/Lorax co-branding because not matter how you cut it, it's still pretty fucking stupid.
Doubly ironic in that one ad had "Lorax Approved" on it- just like one of the billboards the Once-Ler put up in his Villain Song. "And the P.R. people are lying" indeed...
Similarly, Pocahontas was used extensively in Burger King promotions. Nothing out of the ordinary, but seeing wrappers, cups, and bags printed with this Green Aesop character littering streets was pretty head-tilting.
There was a toyline for Hellboy II. Which never had the word "hell" anywhere on its packaging (the franchise was labeled "HB II", and the character was "Big Red"). If you can't say the guy's name in front of kids, you shouldn't be marketing to them.
The Disney On Ice shows often devote segments to the company's newest animated films and/or characters. A rare case of a live-action film getting represented came in the early Eighties when one edition featured a TRON-inspired segment...
Bartleby was marketed as a zany comedy. It resembles one at the beginning, but it soon becomes apparent just how messed up the title character really is, and things take a downwards turn.
Fight Club deals with modern society's repression of the masculine instinct, with pain, adrenaline, and physical reality replaced by vapid consumerism and technology, with Tyler's whole philosophy revolving around rejecting the artificial, emasculating pleasures of modern living and embracing the harsh but fulfilling existence of our ancestors. In light of all that, one can only imagine the sort of rant Tyler Durden would give upon finding out that there's a video game based on Fight Club.
When queried about this, author Chuck Palahniuk said, "They can do whatever they want with my book as long as the fucking check clears." He and David Fincher have talked about turning the movie into a musical, and were only about 50% joking when they did.
There was a Lord of the Rings HO train sold (Picture◊), which is only odd if you think about how the side with technology was the bad guys, and how long the heroes journey on foot was.
The adverts for About Time made it look like a generic Rom Com, but it's every bit as much about familial love than romantic. The Tag Line is cleverly misleading about this: "A Funny Film About Love with a little bit of time travel".
With the second film in The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, coming out in November 2013, Covergirl released a Capitol-inspired line of makeup. For those not in the know, the Capitol fashions are repeatedly described as incredibly gaudy, if not nightmarish. And nothing says shooting yourself in the foot like tying your brand to a city full of corrupt hedonists who force children to murder each other for entertainment!
A lot of the advertisements also focused heavily on the love triangle, down-playing the whole "people forced to fight to the death" and "rebellion of the repressed people angle"...just like the in-universe advertising.
Night Watch is often marketed as "J. K. Rowling, Russian style". This is a book series that includes at least one very descriptive sex scene, an incredible amount of alcohol consumption, quite a bit of swearing and craploads of violence, as well as numerous very intricate and intelligent Plans. In short, it is not a kids' book. But then again, it depends on what they mean by "Russian style".
Unfortunately, since practically every fantasy novel today gets compared to Harry Potter, no matter how different they are (Across The Nightingale Floor? Thursday Next?) this could also just be a case of lazy marketers/reviewers who think all fantasy is basically the same.
Plush dolls of Cthulhu are an interesting example; both the makers and buyers play it for deliberate post-modernish irony. H. P. Lovecraft is rolling in his grave nonetheless.
A report of a kid who loved to take naps with her Cthulhu plush toy: "Me and Cthulhu are gonna go to sleep now, but when we wake up, we're gonna rise out of the ocean and EAT YOU!"
Harry Potter and the vibrating Nimbus 2000 Broomstick made by Mattel. Shortly after it was released during the 2001 holiday season, girls apparently began discovering that toy had "other" functions as evidenced by some of the reviews by parents on Amazon talking about how even their older daughters loved playing with that toy. Mattel caught on to this after a while and permanently discontinued the item.
Twilight. If something exists, you can probably find a Twilight version of it. Clothing? Posters? Bags? Candy? Bed sets? Band-aids? Jewelry boxes? Valentine cards? Barbie dolls? Board games? Temporary tattoos? You can find Twilight versions of all those things and more. Even vibrators. (Yes, they're sparkly.)
Burger King had a tie-in "pull off the Twilight sticker on the package to win" campaign, and aired commercials where overzealous fans harassed customers to pick "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob" by crowding around them and trying to explain why the characters were so great (to blank stares and incredulous reactions from the diners). It therefore ensured that anyone outside of the target demographic would stay far, far away from the restaurant.
A tie-in commercial for Volvo had the car company trying to market their vehicles to preteen girls by equating the danger one can face (shown via Bella unsuccessfully trying to ride a motorcycle) with the safety and security of a luxury car. Don't forget your financing options and down payments, girls.
The jewelry-chain Rogers and Holland sold a Twilight-themed engagement ring as a tie-in with Breaking Dawn (Part One) .
Even more despair-inducing than the engagement ring was one of those "insert-your-child's-name-here" books. This deliberate Twilight knockoff was marketed as a good birthday gift for one's preteen/teenage daughter.
The candy for Fear Factor was completely insane. Stuff like mango flavored gummy candy shaped like sheep eyeballs and cola-flavored gummy cockroaches coated with icing so they would crunch when you ate them.
Among HBO's line of season one Game of Thrones merch an odd choice of T-Shirt was unveiled just for the ladies; a House Frey shirt. Lord Frey being both untrustworthy and a Dirty Old Man with a teenage bride. Hardly the faction a lot of fans, new or old, would really want to get behind.
They also have a Hand of the King pin, which becomes unfortunate considering what tends to happen to people who wear it in the show, considering the show opens with the death of one of them and bad things continue to happen to subsequent wearers.
Star Trek: Romulan Ale-flavored energy drinks are available. For those unfamiliar with Star Trek, Romulan Ale is an illegal beverage with effects somewhere between Fantastic Drug and Gargle Blaster. As such, it is generally only served for special occasions (notable examples being Kirk's birthday in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the dinner with the Klingon diplomats in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country ; with Bones mentioning in the latter case that he needs to put on a pot of black coffee after consuming it). The idea of putting it in the same line as Red Bull would be akin to making District 9 cat food.
For the remastered edition of The Best of Both Worlds, there is a Facebook app that lets you make a profile picture of yourself as one of the Borg. There is something both cool and terrifying of the fact that you can willingly make yourself look like a person from a race of half-man, half-machine people that assimilate others towards their cause, bring entire races and ships to their knees, and operate on a collective consciousness.
WCW Nitro cologne. Smelling like "large sweaty muscleman" ranks pretty low on the list...
Live theater souvenir merchandise usually consists of souvenir programs, mugs, T-shirts, etc. Cirque du Soleil goes further (especially online) with jewelry, accessories, stationery, and fine art pieces, few of which relate to one show in particular, but rather the company in general. It's not unlike Disney's adult-targeted merchandise, but it does result in oddities such as Cirque-decorated salt and pepper shakers and lip balm in decorated tins.
Dear God, Barbie and imitations! Some of the following are "black label" Barbies, which are marketed to collectors both of dolls and merchandise. But that doesn't stop the "3+" label on some of them (especially the Elektra one) from being funny...:
The entire marketing campaign for Dead Space 2 was seemingly aimed at pre-teen boys. Yes, EA decided that the best way to market the sequel to their acclaimed, mature-rated horror game was to let everybody know how much their mom wouldn't like them playing it.
There was a strange attempt in the mid-90s to make the Mortal Kombat franchise more kid-friendly (without changing the content of the games). This included the movies, the cartoon show, and even a series of live performances, all which focused more on the martial arts aspect rather than the killing aspect. It didn't work out so well and after the second movie bombed they went back to promoting the Rated M for Manly. Quite ironic in retrospect what with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.
Mortal Kombat has a Saturday Morning Cartoon. Let us repeat that. The game that is almost single-handedly responsible for rating systems and the need to keep adult games away from kids. Has a Saturday Morning Cartoon. Granted, the content was heavily Bowdlerized, but still.
The cartoon was often played in a block with the Street Fighter cartoon, which was itself a somewhat lighter version of the trope. True, the animated styling and lack of horrible mutilations made the games less family-unfriendly, but there was no "world tournament" any more and they were rather inconsistent about any backstory involving murder, revenge, terrorism, good guys fighting good guys over clashing ideals or the like, typically diluting it down to "The good guys all work for one group, the bad guys all work for Bison." So basically, G.I. Joe only with the Street Fighter characters, and a bit less of a stranglehold on Never Say "Die"... And they still had trouble making THAT concept work. At least, not until the second season, but by then it was too late.
Game Boy shower gel. In a black, brick-like container modeled after the original Game Boy. A and B buttons work for a mini-pinball game in the 'screen'.
The marketing on this this one is actually pretty specifically aimed. Kids aren't likely to buy DLC, and slightly older kids who might buy some of it probably wouldn't spend their money on something extra if they don't recognize it. The game'sPeriphery Demographic is the DLC's intended demographic.
The Pokémon bop bag. Perfect for those who hate Pokemon.
It gets even stranger. this article The DS and Umbrella make sense, with the popularity of the games and anime, but the toilet paper roll? The surgical mask? The maxi pads and condoms?
It is a casual game, so it's not entirely implausible.
At one point, the US Air Force sponsored a free, downloadable version of Area51.
NieR's marketing made the game look like a cheap western action game meant to appeal to fans of franchises like God of War. In reality it is a melancholic action-JRPG meant for an older audience, made by the same people responsible for Drakengard. Yoko Taro himself, the game's director, even admits that the people playing his games would most likely be fans of games like Tales and Dangan Ronpa. This attempt to capture a broader western audience instead of appealing to the JRPG fanbase may have been a contributing factor to the game's poor sales.
Popeye The Sailor has occasionally run into marketing oddities; one such thing that has gained infamy is these twoQuaker Oats ads starring him. Why? Because the premise involves Popeye casually ditching his Spinach, in favor of eating a batch of Quaker Oatmeal to get a power boost and mop the floor with Bluto. It didn't help that because Popeye uses brute force to deal with Bluto, it drew objections from the pacifist Quakers, which caused the ad to be pulled.
The mid to late 30's Popeye radio show actually predates the Quaker Oats fiasco, minus the bad PR but still glossing over Popeye's most well known trademark; specifically, the show regularly shills Wheatena cereal over Popeye's spinach, even incorporating the cereal into Popeye's theme song for the show.
A tinfoil poster exists of Popeye with the words "No Smoking" on it; while it has noble intentions, it blatantly overlooks that one of Popeye's character trademarks is that he smokes a corn-cob pipe (which is predictably absent from the poster).
While Popeye promoting foods like canned spinach is a no-brainer, one must note the oddity of combining Popeye's love of spinach with a harmless, but still bizarre, curiosity; Popeye brand spinach gum—shredded bubble gum that looks like spinach.
This minute maid ad has also gained infamy among fans, largely for the unintentional humor of it portraying Popeye and Bluto as downright affectionate towards each other.
This bizarre comic◊ of Popeye promoting jobs in communication fields, of all things; the subject matter scarcely relates to Popeye in the first place, and it would probably fly over the heads or interest of kids—although its probably just a standard educational comic with Popeye tossed in to catch their attention.
Burger King promoted the SpongeBob SquarePants kids' meals with a commercial featuring... a "Baby Got Back" parody music video: girls in hot pants with square appliances on their backsides shaking their booties to "I like square butts and I cannot lie!" to hock fast food and cheap toys to 6-year olds, with The Burger King standing around them. Who thought this was a good idea?!
More a case of misconceived marketing, the Schnookums and Meat canned pasta had this remarkable disclaimer on the label: "Meat is a character developed by Buena Vista Television. THERE IS NO MEAT IN THIS PRODUCT." Shouldn't they have been more concerned with assuring the customer that the product doesn't contain any "Schnookums"?
The use of Carnage in Ultimate Spider-Man. The series' producer stated Carnage was included because he and Venom are popular to kids, which is true, but horrifying when you remember what his comic counterpart does. The animated series and Ultimate universes in general tend to tone down the Symbiotes.
A book of American Dad! Mad Libs. Mind you, the audience for Mad Libs is MUCH younger than the audience for American Dad.
The classic Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Christmas, in its original broadcast, included copious Product Placement for Coca-Cola. As anyone who's ever seen the special (and that's a lot of people) would know, A Charlie Brown Christmas is very much anti-commercialisation.
And these days the special itself gets merchandise every holiday season as part of the larger merchandising of the characters — including the officialCharlie Brown Christmas Tree!
Back in the late 1990s-early 2000s, Disney sold a lighter with the main six from Recess on it. Granted, the show has a HUGE Periphery Demographic, but it's still a piece of merchandise you wouldn't buy for the target audience.
The now-infamous attempt to widen Las Vegas' appeal beyond gamblers in the early 1990s was all about this. After the tropical-themed Mirage casino-hotel revived the conceit of a Vegas trip as a classy proposition, there was a push by the convention authority to appeal to the family market — even though those under 21 can't gamble and can't hang around with their elders if they're gambling. So themed hotels like the Excalibur (King Arthur), Luxor (ancient Egypt), MGM Grand (Wizard of Oz), and Treasure Island (pirates) arrived with colorful architecture and family-oriented attractions in addition to the usual casinos, restaurants, and stage shows. But most of those attractions (including the biggest, the MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park) were duds and adults-only groups and casino-hotel management didn't enjoy dealing with kids. Parents left kids to fend for themselves, causing further problems. Once it was clear Vegas-for-families wasn't workable, most of the hotels moved on, remodeling and becoming more "adult" (for instance, the live pirate battle outside Treasure Island is still there...but it's between skanky "sirens" and buff buccaneers instead of an old-fashioned pirates-vs.-Navy bout — a shame, because general consensus is that the pirates vs. Navy show was much better).
At the Museum of Science and Industry's U-505 exhibit, you can buy a full range of "Rosie the Riveter" projects — oven mitts, spatulas, and dish-towels. Seems a little counter-intuitive.
Well, Rosie is popular, and even women who don't spend all their time in the kitchen still have one. It's still weapons-grade irony, but understandable.
Older Than Radio, if you consider military-inspired toys (soldiers, tanks, and so forth). Granted, warfare wasn't quite as grisly as it is today until around the early twentieth century, but going to war in any era is certainly no picnic.
For several years, Harlequin published a successful line of Extruded Book Product romance novels set in the oh-so-romantic world of...NASCAR.
There is in existence a World War II sticker book. There is no reason anyone would get it for their kid.
Parodies of This Phenomenon
Anime and Manga
Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt has in-universe examples, with everything from dolls to panties featuring the titular girls' likenesses. Panty Really Gets Around on the show and jumped at the chance to get her name on a product, and Stocking has a Sugar and Ice Personality and questions all the baubles that get made of her. Knowing Gainax's casual attitude towards licensing, it might be a big in-joke.
One of the Ambush Bug mini-series had a brief appearance from a "Stephanie Brown Lil' Dickens Power Tool Playkit," meant as a nod to the heroine's brutal torture and death at the hands of Black Mask. The box even has an image of Stephanie recoiling in terror.
In Watchmen, Ozymandias has an action figure line planned using the main characters, all of whom are deconstructed superheroes, at best antiheroes and at worst mass-murdering psychopaths. However, official ones are being released as a movie tie in—it's not clear whether this is tongue-in-cheek or whether they're just milking all they can out of it.
Also, this fan video claiming to be an unaired 80s ad for an Ozymandias action figure.
Some of the other real life tie-in movie products include Nite Owl themed coffee, lunchboxes and blue condoms with the tagline: "We're society's only protection!". No joke.
The Simpsons has done this several times, but the best is Milhouse asking Alan Moore to autograph his Watchmen Babies in: V for Vacation DVD.
A 3-part Denser And Wackier story from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic features Raphael getting abducted by two aliens. After learning his status as a hero, the two excitedly name off all the potential TMNT merchandising they could profit off, such as T-shirts, video games... and condoms.
Spaceballs milked this trope for every joke it could get, including Spaceballs the Bedsheets, Spaceballs the Toilet Paper, and, of course, SpaceballsdaFlametrowah! ("The kids love that one...") The gag even extended to home video releases with the VHS case being branded "Spaceballs the Home Video" and the DVD menu opening with, well, guess.
Thing is, though, Mel Brooks actually agreed for there to be very limited merchandising of the film, as per a request by George Lucas. So, this may have been an intentional Take That.
Though milder than the Spaceballs example above, Rocky III has Rocky do all sorts of endorsements and product placement while he was reigning heavyweight champ, from the logical (Wheaties, Rocky-brand boxing gloves) to the more absurd (Rocky-brand dinner plates). Paulie doesn't like it one bit and destroys a Rocky-themed pinball machine.
The strange thing is, an actual Rockypinball machine was made for the movie, making the message a little warped.
The MockumentaryThe Compleat Al has a scene where "Weird Al" Yankovic is presented with such ridiculous licensed merchandise as dress up kits and (to his horror) edible underwear.
A deleted scene from Best in Show has Gerry Fleck, who has a birth defect of two left feet, endorsing a shoe line made entirely of left shoes. They end with an expert in the field who says "Take it from a professional: these shoes are really different."
Another Christopher Guest film, Waiting for Guffman, has a scene where Corky St. Clair shows off his collection of odd movie merchandise, including a Remains of the Day lunchbox and My Dinner with Andre action figures.
When asked by a reporter if there will be action figures based on The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone replied that there will be figures that don't move, just float face down in the water, and that kids will love it. Hot Toys are actually going to do action figures based on the film, but as with most Hot Toys collectibles, they will most likely be high-end, expensive products that kids won't find fun.
The Relic ends with various attempts to exploit the stories of the Museum Beast with things like cartoons and action figures ending in failure. Considering that the Museum Beast was a monster which ate people's brains and (in the novel) brutally killed children, this is not surprising.
Live Action TV
An episode of The Golden Girls mentions Dorothy's previous less than amazing Christmases. She mentions one year, she received soap in the shape of the Seven Dwarfs. When Blanche asked her about it, Dorothy says, "What kid wants to play with soap? And after a couple of baths, they looked like Seven Suppositories."
In another episode, Sophia mentions her son Phil would frequently send her a nativity scene every Christmas... made out of cheddar cheese. She then says that her Catholic guilt means she can't spread a Wise Man on a Ritz cracker.
In the Babylon 5 episode "There All the Honor Lies," Earthforce opens a gift shop in the station with Babylon 5 merchandise: clothing, model ships, space alien masks, human masks (for space aliens!), Londo Mollari dolls, John Sheridan "Bear-B-Lon 5" teddy bears; the works. Neither Ivanova, nor Sheridan, nor Londo like it at all.
The Chaser's War on Everything did a stunt where they tried to sell Shrek-branded beer and sex toys to kids, just to see what people would be willing to buy for their children if it had the Shrek logo on it. They managed to sell Shrek-brand heroin (of course the heroin wasn't actually heroin, but no-one needed to know that) — "You might want your mum to carry it for you."
In the Jessie episode "Say Yes to the Messy Dress", Zuri cranks out a bunch of absolutely ridiculous Kitty Couture merchandise, including kitty litter, a board game, a burger griller, a backscratcher, & a trophy. Emma/Kitty Couture herself is not pleased.
MADtv did a sketch about an incredibly violent Grand Theft Auto board game marketed to a nuclear family, and they all enjoyed themselves playing murderous criminals shooting each other up in gang wars, snorting fake cocaine, and getting makeshift prison tattoos. They also had Grand Theft Auto as a Price Is Right-meets-Wheel Of Fortune type game show.
MADtv also parodied this with movies such as Titantic and The Dark Knight having tie-in kids' meal toys.
The old FPS game Blood had a secret level set in a small shopping mall. One of the stores had a nice display of Blood action figures, including little shotgun-wielding crazed cultists and scythe-wielding ghosts. Take in mind this game came out before the whole "Pandering to the Base by selling accurate-likeness toys/posters/Feelies in direct market shops" thing was all the rage in the marketing world.
College Humor's Original video "The Hunger Games" parodies this by turning The Hunger Games into a board game targeted towards love-obsessed teenage girls, whereas the story itself is about a literal duel to the death set in a dystopian North America.
Don't forget the amazing array of Krusty-Brand products ranging from home pregnancy tests ("May cause birth defects") to contracts ("Hey hey! They're binding!") to facial hair removers (which are "probably" supposed to make your upper lip bleed, according to Johnny Unitas).
In "The Last Temptation of Krust" Krusty realizes he's lost touch with what audiences find funny and ultimately becomes a stand-up comedian who launches several tirades against his former sponsors. And then he's back to endorsing a two-lane gas-guzzling SUV, having realized that selling out, not comedy, is his true calling in life.