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MARKETING / BRUCE HOROVITZ

'Jurassic Park' Faces Tough Obstacles to Beat 'Batman' in Retail Sales

June 01, 1993|BRUCE HOROVITZ

The makers of "Jurassic Park" believe that they have something that will make Batmobiles and E.T. dolls extinct: toy dinosaurs. Not just any toy dinosaurs, mind you, but dinosaurs with "Jurassic Park" hang tags.

In anticipation of Steven Spielberg's much-hyped film opening June 11, merchandise made by more than 100 licensees is about to go to market--from freebie McDonald's soda cups to Kenner's $40 dinosaurs, which have removable skin. One top executive at MCA/Universal Merchandising said that "Jurassic Park" product sales could surpass the record $1 billion in retail sales generated by the all-time summer blockbuster, "Batman."

While most experts say the film version of Michael Crichton's bestseller will be this summer's box office king--ahead of "Last Action Hero" and "Dennis the Menace"--some skeptics question whether children will go bonkers over yet another line of dinosaur toys. And some industry executives wonder if the current dinosaur craze has the legs to carry "Jurassic Park" merchandise to Christmas and beyond.

"Everyone is looking to 'Jurassic Park' to lead licensing for 1993," said Karen Raugust, editor of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Licensing Letter. "But there have been a lot of movies that were supposed to be movies of the year--like 'Dick Tracy' and 'Batman Returns'--that did not live up to the hype."

What's more, so many merchandisers have already leaped onto the dinosaur bandwagon--mostly in anticipation of the "Jurassic Park" release--that the film's makers are among the last to introduce a dinosaur toy line, said Robert McCoy, editorial director of the trade magazine Toy & Hobby World.

"What if kids have bought their share of dinosaur products already?" he asked.

The man who oversaw the "Batman" merchandising, Dan Romanelli, is president of worldwide consumer products at Warner Bros. He says it will not be an easy sell for "Jurassic Park." After all, "Batman" had all kinds of popular gimmicks, such as the Batmobile, that children already knew about. "There will be a more difficult challenge with dinosaurs," Romanelli said.

Still, top executives at MCA/Universal and Spielberg's production company, Amblin Entertainment, seem undaunted by the challenge. They spent $60 million to make the movie and another $60 million to market it. Box office receipts aside, they expect to rake in millions of dollars in royalties from the product licensees, who will kick in 10% to 15% of their profit.

"We will make all other dinosaur products extinct," said Linda Berkeley, senior vice president of MCA Inc., who heads merchandising and business development.

Some time after the film's release, Universal plans to develop an animated TV series, as well as "Jurassic Park" attractions at the Universal Studio theme parks, officials said.

Licensees that have signed on are sure they will profit, big-time.

"People have been interested in dinosaurs for 65 million years," said Bruce Stein, president of Kenner Products. "So I think we can keep that interest up until Christmas."

He said Kenner, which sold $100 million worth of "Batman" toys, could equal or surpass that figure with "Jurassic Park" merchandise. The toy dinosaurs are made from molds virtually identical to those used to make the dinosaurs in the film, Stein said.

Retailer demand for "Jurassic Park" stuffed animals is so high that Dakin Inc., the Woodland Hills firm that is making them, can fill only half the orders, said Robert Solomon, president of Dakin. The firm also made merchandise for "Batman" and "E.T.," and it is also producing "Jurassic Park" key rings, bookmarks, figurines and coffee mugs.

"I've never seen more anticipation for a movie project," Solomon said.

Meanwhile, as much as 200,000 pounds a day of "Jurassic Park" candy is churning out of Ferrara Pan Candy & Co. The Forest Park, Ill., confectioner is making everything from gummy dinosaurs to candy "dinosaur eggs."

"It's a no-brainer," said Sal Ferrara II, president of the company. "The only question is just how big a success this will be." Over the next year and a half, he said, the company hopes to sell $30 million worth of "Jurassic Park" candy.

Not everyone is so enthralled.

Choice Hotels negotiated at length with Universal for a film tie-in, but they couldn't come to terms. "They have an artistic message, and we have a commercial one," said Betsy O'Rourke, vice president of marketing at Choice Hotels. So Choice Hotels is about to introduce its own summer mascot: the "Choiceasaurus," a dinosaur that appears friendly and far less aggressive than those in the film.

The trade magazine Brandweek reported that one of the biggest companies with a tie-in to the film, McDonald's, asked Spielberg to tone down some graphic elements of "Jurassic Park." However, McDonald's strongly denied that it was concerned about excessive violence in the movie.

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