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BEATTS ME!

A Plum Idea That's Ripe for Marketing

July 26, 1998|ANNE BEATTS | Anne Beatts is a writer who lives in Hollywood

Parents of children who refuse to eat any food that doesn't come with its own little plastic dinosaurs are well-acquainted with the marketing concept of cross-promotion. Nonetheless, I was somewhat startled awhile ago to find an animated character stuck on my breakfast banana. I could tell it wasn't Chiquita Banana, but otherwise I was at a loss.

To uncover the sticker's identity, I was forced to seek the aid of my neighbor's 7-year-old, who gently informed me that anyone who wasn't brain-dead and / or old could see it depicted Anastasia, eponymous star of the recent Fox animated film. Given that the real Anastasia's previously exhumed remains, following extensive DNA testing, were at that very moment in Russia awaiting imminent burial, I felt perhaps it was a mistake to associate her with fresh fruit.

Not according to Dole, who encouraged Fox's consumer products division to plaster "Anastasia"-related stickers on 250 million assorted bananas and citrus fruits. There were five different stickers, each featuring a different character from the film, so kids could collect all five.

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Let us a draw a veil over the ensuing chaos in the produce department, as sticker-crazed kids and moms tussled over bruised fruit. I won't breathe a word about the tantrums that may have occurred in some banana-deprived households. More bananas were sold (if not eaten), Dole is happy, Fox is happy, and that's good enough for me.

Then I learned that Disney has been putting ads for its animated feature "Mulan" on those stick things you use at the checkout to separate your groceries from the next-person-in-line's groceries. (There must be a name for them, and if you know what it is, please write me at "STICK THINGS," care of this newspaper. Incidentally, the name for those brass things you stick in three-hole paper to hold it together is "brads." Just thought you'd like to know. See, I'm not altogether ignorant of nomenclature, even if I'm not familiar with all the latest cartoon characters.)

This is all well and good, except that "Mulan" fanciers, of which there apparently are more than you might think, keep stealing them, the stick things I mean, creating a severe shortage of stick things. As a result, the groceries of the guy with the nose ring buying two boxes of macaroni and cheese, a quart of Tropicana and a fifth of generic vodka get hopelessly mixed up with the groceries of the woman in the flowered muumuu buying enough barbecue fixin's to nourish all of Griffith Park, and there's not a thing anyone can do about it.

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But all this got me thinking, and about more than just what those stick things are called. This is deep. Why should the movie companies hog the limelight? Why not open grocery stores up to other promotional opportunities? You could even cross-promote products from one aisle to the next.

Take eggplants, for instance. Maybe it's me, but those smooth, plump, purple babies seem to be just begging for stickers. A natural cross-promotion would be . . . eggs! Don't some eggplant dishes even involve eggs? Why, I'm so excited, I'm calling up the National Egg Board right now on this, or anyway I would if I knew the number. Probably something like 1-800-EGG-YOLK. Whatever. Why don't you give it a shot? I'm busy thinking of other promotional possibilities.

Like watermelons. Those big ol' watermelons of summer offer an ample expanse for any sort of consumer message. Koo Koo Roo or Chicken on Fire might be a little obvious, but how about shower gel? Personally, I always need to hose off after I eat watermelon. C'mon, Body Shop, prime advertising space is going to waste here!

I could see the National Teachers Assn. working something out with apples. And as for carrots--well, what savvy optician (optometrist? ophthalmologist? Let me know which is which in that "stick thing" letter, will you?) wouldn't appreciate a tie-in?

Green beans are a little tougher--do you sticker each individual bean? But hey, that's what can-do American efficiency is all about, and I'm sure we could find some folks in Mexico or Thailand who'd be happy to put the stickers on if the right corporation got behind it. Maybe some big oil company that wants to send a message about how ecology-minded and "green" they are.

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But why stop with fruits and vegetables when there are so many other potential billboards going to waste? Trees, for instance. Admittedly, it would be a mistake to use trees for messages that appeal to kids: They might damage or even uproot the trees trying to get the stickers off.

But following the adman's axiom, "Know your target group," why not go with messages on trees geared to people who already love trees? Health food, organic hair products and hiking boots are just a few of the tree-worthy items that spring to mind.

It's a big, wide world out there, full of things that carry absolutely no promotional message whatsoever. This state of affairs can't be allowed to exist for long. American entrepreneurs, the public is relying on you. Vast areas of potential stickerdom remain unstuck. There are new frontiers to conquer. Get those advertising messages across!

But don't forget. The beets are mine.

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