"The Little Mermaid" and "All Dogs Go to Heaven" aren't just competing at theaters this holiday season. Ariel, the ocean beauty, and Charlie, the rakish junkyard dog, will be vying for consumer attention in fast-food restaurants, department stores, toy and record shops and on TV and in print as well.
The most direct clash will occur in the fast-food arena. Starting this Friday, Wendy's and McDonald's will go mano-a-mano with their respective "All Dogs" and "Mermaid" promotion campaigns.
There will be Wendy's commercials and print ads featuring the company's "Dogs" promo, McDonald's commercials and print ads dedicated to hyping the chain's "Mermaid" campaign. Visitors will find McDonald's 8,110 franchises and Wendy's 3,800 stops adorned with movie-themed decorations. And, of course, there will be cute items galore to help kids charm some money out of their parents.
Buyers of McDonald's $2.09 Happy Meal will receive "Little Mermaid" bath toys, a different one each week for four weeks.
Wendy's customers will be offered one of five 2 1/2-inch rubber "All Dogs Go to Heaven" figurines with the purchase of a $2.99 Kid's Meal. The "Dogs" characters will also be available with the purchase of a holiday gift certificate of $5 or more.
Buy your $5 gift certificate at McDonald's instead and you can get a "Mermaid" Christmas tree ornament.
Is this burger-based battle deliberate? It seems not.
Wendy's executives had no idea they would be bucking a Disney/McDonald's campaign when they cut their "Dogs" deal months ago with Sullivan-Bluth Productions, a company spokesman said. McDonald's declined to discuss any aspect of their plan, or Wendy's: "We wouldn't even begin to comment on someone else's program or our feelings about it," said a company rep.
Both Disney and Sullivan-Bluth marketing executives consider their fast-food corporate tie-ins as the cornerstones of their campaigns. But there is much more. On the merchandise front, "All Dogs" licensees are producing posters, T-shirts, plush toys and kids' books that will be available at various retail outlets.
"It's a sell, but not a hard sell," said Matt Mazer, "All Dogs" marketing and promotion consultant. "Our thrust is to get people to see the film rather than to sell books or toys." Mazer, a former Disney marketing executive, added that the gift products "are just part of our effort to get across the magic of the film."
Disney's thrust, on the other hand, has a lot to do with getting across the magic of the merchandise. With 20 licensees aboard the "Mermaid" ship, the company is sailing into Macy's department stores, Disney Stores and numerous other outlets on a tidal wave of more than 100 different products. Among them: "Mermaid" dolls, plush toys, figurines, music boxes, stationery, sleeping bags, books, bed linens, children's sleepwear and a line of play clothes that includes aquamarine "Mermaid" raincoats.
Disney is also out to capture grown-ups with its "Mermaid" goods.
"For that, we're looking mostly in the apparel area," said Paul Pressler, Disney marketing vice president. "We have a collection of Calypso-style shirts in hot, bright colors. The designs are done and retailers are looking at them now. We hope they'll be out there by Christmas."
If not, adult "Mermaid" fans will still have plenty to choose from: T-shirts featuring an Andy Warhol-style multiple image treatment of Ariel the mermaid; gift items featuring a character from the movie named "The Duke of Sole"; "surf 'n' turf" tote bags that have make-believe characters and real sand trapped between layers of plastic.
"Adults remember seeing the classic Disney animated films as kids," said Dan Coulter, Disney marketing manager, "so items like these have a strong emotional appeal."
Indeed, Disney has two separate ad campaigns to support its new animated effort--one in the children's/family movie vein, the other aimed squarely at adults. The adult campaign, relying on art that features a moonlit silhouette of Ariel, is in evidence even in such typically un-Disney-like places as the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.
Another showdown is shaping up between the two films' sound-track albums.
Curb Records hopes to make a hit out of its "All Dogs" lead song, the ballad "Love Survives," which was written by Academy Award winners Al Kasha, Joel Hirschhorn and Michael Lloyd and performed by Irene Cara and Freddie Jackson. It will be released soon as a cassette single, with a possible video to follow.
The "All Dogs" sound track also boasts songs performed by Melba Moore, who does the voice for the whippet Angel in the film, and Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, the voices of Charlie and his dachshund pal Itchy. The score is by Ralph Burns, whose past credits include orchestrations for "Cabaret" and "All That Jazz."