How do you monetize a series about kids killing kids? Very carefully
Finding the right merchandising opportunities for “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” — a movie that deals with such heavy topics as poverty, oppression and deathsport — requires a careful balance between taste and commerce, but it should be easier with the sequel than the original, marketing experts and analysts tell TheWrap.
“Any movie with this kind of box office is going to have a lot of opportunities for merchandising,” Matthew Harrigan, an analyst with Wunderlich Securities, told TheWrap. “But this is a violent movie, so some products aren't going to translate.”
It's not just the risks of exploiting a movie that at its core is about kids killing kids that could be hazardous for Lionsgate, the studio behind the series. Fans of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian fantasy novels could also recoil if they believe that the studio is cheapening the characters they've come to care about by flooding the market with too many Katniss Everdeen happy meals, action figures and commemorative bows and arrows.
“I don't think it's a matter of not wanting to offend anyone by pushing too hard, it's a matter of not want to bastardize or commoditize things to such an extent that they can't do it again,” branding expert Avi Savar, founder and chief executive of marketing and communications agency Big Fuel, told TheWrap.
A spokesman for Lionsgate declined to comment for this article.
The studio's strategy has been to find opportunities that don't diminish the brand. Though the studio has demonstrated impressive restraint, that's not to say that Lionsgate isn't taking advantage of the pent-up enthusiasm for Jennifer Lawrence and the other young stars of the film.
The studio has lined up a string of tie-ins, from “Hunger Games” inspired chocolates to a mobile video game entitled “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Panem Run.” Other companies that have lined up to associate themselves with the futuristic thriller include Internet Explorer and the Amazon Kindle, as well as socially conscious campaigns for World Food Programme and Feeding America.
There are also a series of merchandising and promotional efforts that range from the high-end — such as the movie-inspired clothing line with web retailer Net-a-Porter — to more middlebrow offerings like Subway's sriracha chicken and steak melts, which the fast food company says have bold flavors that mirror Katniss’ bravery. (The “hunger” in the movie's title seems to have been radically reinterpreted.)
“The stakes are huge because of the potential,” Savar said. “I don't think it's any different than with Superman or Batman, with all the potential for games, music, theater, you name it.”
“I saw the other day that they're turning ‘The Princess Bride’ into a musical,” he added. “I'd be a lot more surprised to see that one hit Broadway than I would ‘The Hunger Games.'”
Yet the studio has not been as aggressive with “The Hunger Games” as other Hollywood players have been with “The Avengers,” James Bond or other top brands.
“With the first movie they wanted to be conservative,” Marla Backer, an analyst with Ascendiant Capital, said. “They did not know if they had a ‘Star Wars’ on their hands and they were dealing with a relatively unknown property. The second time around this is a known quantity, so you're seeing more branding opportunities.”
There are indications that Lionsgate is about to make its biggest splash yet when it comes to monetizing the world of Panem.
On a conference call with analysts this month, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer said the company is exploring the possibility of “Hunger Games” theme park attractions.
“We have been approached in two different territories about potential theme park opportunities, which gives you a sense of the cultural impact of this franchise,” Feltheimer said. ”We're excited about those opportunities and we're pursuing them.”
Analysts are divided about the practicality of those ambitions.
“The concept of a ‘Hunger Games’ theme park sounds extreme,” Harrigan said. “This feels a little under-developed. It's not Disney or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
But Backer thinks that the conversations about “Hunger Games” rides or attractions are an indication that the characters could have an enduring popular culture appeal that will extend beyond the planned four films in the franchise.
“Licensing intellectual property for a theme park is a much bigger financial commitment than licensing it for a T-shirt,” Backer said. “It tells me the brand resonates and that it has durability. It means that Lionsgates could have the chance to leverage this property for a long time to come.”