by Karl J. Paloucek
Last weekend, one of our dinner guests hinted at the power of branding on the American psyche. The topic at hand was a famous German chain of grocery stores that had to concede to carrying brands it had never previously considered so as to guarantee success in the U.S. market. The story underscored the brand loyalties that are so much a part of the American-consumer mentality. We’ve all heard that studies show that those loyalties start early and can last a lifetime, but why make a study when you can make a movie to prove your point?
Toy manufacturers Hasbro got into the game a while ago, coupling with Paramount to create film franchises based on its Transformers products and the imminent G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (debuting Aug. 7), starring Dennis Quaid. Last year, they announced a six-year partnership to bring several of their properties to the big screen, including Stretch Armstrong, Candyland, Ouija, Battleship, Monopoly and a new movie based on the game Clue.
The talent with which they’re stacking the deck is pretty formidable so far: Ridley Scott is set to direct Monopoly; Ethan Coen will pen the script for Candyland; Michael Bay will helm Ouija (though somehow that doesn’t surprise too much); and Gore Verbinski will produce and direct the Clue update. That’s a lot of weight for a bunch of board games, don’t you think?
But such is the business of movies in America. Few pop phenomenon explode in the culture with the force magnitude of a high-profile major motion picture, so it’s a perfectly understandable move for any high-profile company that can logically make the leap to get a part of the win-win that the world of movies can offer in terms of brand expansion and gross receipts. Marvel Comics has been riding the crest for a number of years now, for example, with its numerous franchises, including the Iron Man, Spider-Man and X-Men series, making a fortune for itself both at the box office and stimulating heightened interest in what they’d no doubt describe as their “core assets” at the same time.
So all of this is very clever. On the other hand, it also makes me want to cry uncle because of all of the Gen X nostalgia exploitation going on lately. Between brand-expanding movies like those of the Hasbro/Universal variety and other trips into the past like Land of the Lost — which is only one of numerous Sid & Marty Krofft remakes yet to come — the market is getting thick with the flotsam and jetsam of a childhood I recognize, but am not always so keen to relive for $10.50 a ticket. Thankfully, they’re not the only show in town. But they’re pervasive enough.
Nostalgia is a powerful vortex — powerful enough to draw in generations that didn’t even exist the first time around, which is something I only slightly understand. I remember being in high school in the mid-to-late ’80s when many kids seemed particularly taken with ’60s culture: psychedelia, beads, calling Clapton God — the whole bit. Maybe it had to do with the drugs that were in vogue at the time, but whatever it was, the atavistic tendency always seemed a bit disingenuous. Something about rebelling in the same way that our parents’ generation did just seemed wrong. I remember wanting there to be more new and creative ideas, not just the same stagnant pool of ideas endlessly recirculating.
I’m having the same feeling these days, seeing brands of the past being trotted out for a big-screen rehash. But we’re in a pretty hard recession, and I realize that to some extent, studios are looking for something safe, something with more of a tried-and-true track record of success in the marketplace, and nostalgia is always going to have SOME broad appeal.
If only it didn’t all feel so stale …
Credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures