Monday, February 22, 2010

Drink Me: The Proverbial ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Kool-Aid

Did you know that a new Tim Burton-directed, Disney-produced version of Alice in Wonderland (in 3D!) is coming to theaters on March 5? If you answered “no,” can I come stay at the rock you live under the next time I need a mental health weekend? It sounds like a very peaceful place.

The promotions for Alice started months ago, but now that we’re in the home stretch, its marketing strategy has gone off the rails. Every television commercial break includes an ad for the movie, billboards and posters are everywhere, and every other day there’s a new video promoting it available online. Trailer! International trailer! Meet the Mad Hatter! Look at the new Wonderland! Music video by Avril Lavigne! Johnny Depp professes love for Tim Burton! Tim Burton professes love for Johnny Depp! Everybody loves Raymond!!! We are all indeed a little mad around here.

Perhaps even curiouser, there are Alice movie tie-ins available from some unusual sources. Shopping mall retailer Hot Topic is offering a line of Alice products catering to the goth crowd, from t-shirts to tote bags to costume jewelry. Nail polish brand O.P.I. has put out a new collection of colors inspired by the movie. Even high-end cosmetics retailer Sephora is getting in on the action by selling Urban Decay’s Alice in Wonderland eye shadow palette (which was so popular, it’s already sold out).

But what do these brands have to do with marketing a family-friendly fantasy film based on a beloved story? And is this sort of gonzo marketing even necessary for this movie? Alice already has a devoted fan base in those who love Lewis Carroll’s books, fans of Disney’s 1951 animated feature, and devotees from various other sources, like other movie versions and the darkly sinister Alice video game by American McGee. And that’s not even including the rabid fan bases for both Tim Burton and Disney. I know all I had to hear was, “a new version of Alice in Wonderland is being directed by Tim Burton,” and I knew I would be going to see it long before the first teaser trailer or promotional images were released.

The fact that Disney is promoting this movie so hard makes me a bit worried about how good it will be. Generally, if a movie is worthwhile, it can stand on its own merits and succeed primarily through word-of-mouth and repeat customers. If the studio finds it necessary to throw so much money and creative merchandising behind a movie that is already buzz-worthy, are we all in for a rude surprise on March 5? Better check to see if the Alice Kool-Aid is marked ‘poison’ before taking a drink.

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