Eat, pray, shop! Movie merch grows up

Sony targets women with tie-ins to its latest title

Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling 2006 memoir launched a self-discovery movement that could best be described by its full title: "Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia."

Although Sony Pictures has simplified the title, the ongoing search for "everything" remains an integral part of the movie release Friday -- especially if "everything" includes the slew of merchandising items, from the "I Deserve Something Beautiful" lotus petal necklace (Dogeared Jewels and Gifts, $72) to the "Only True Love Remains" organic tee (Signorelli, $45) to the official prayer beads (World Market, $4.99).

The film might be a call to action for women to live their lives passionately, but it's also a call for them to purchase the tastes, smells and luxuries that Julia Roberts enjoys onscreen through her travels. It serves as a fragrant reminder that movie merchandising, once the domain of films for teens and kids, has matured for the adult female audience.

But rather than just selling the adult equivalent of Transformers toys, the bigger task is creating an event movie that builds excitement and leads to that much-needed big opening weekend for "Love."

Handlaced jaipur Aztec motif leather clutch from Clever Carriage ($129.90)
"It's absolutely to drive boxoffice and generate buzz," said Mark Owens, president of Norm Marshall and Associates, a global product-integration and marketing agency (which has not worked with "Love"). "What the studios are really looking for is a partnership that is going to drive viewership of the film."

Along with an entire weekend extravaganza devoted to "Love" on the HSN shopping network -- one of the campaign's biggest components -- there's a 21-day trip to "Love" locations being given away by STA Travel, trumpeted by Borders bookstores; a specialty tea line from the Republic of Tea; a "Love"-branded clothing line from Sue Wong; a fragrance collection from Fresh; signature T-shirts from Signorelli; and jewelry from Dogeared Jewels and Gifts.

One rival studio marketing honcho said Sony "has done a clever job of putting a thematic umbrella over the movie's promotion." The exec added, "It's not how many 'Eat Pray Love' prayer beads they are going to sell, it's about getting messages out about the movie that money cannot buy."

Along with Roberts' star power and female-friendly themes of soul-searching and empowerment, the movie is rife with spinoff possibilities thanks to its sectioning by idyllic location: Italy (Eat), India (Pray) and Bali (Love).

"I Deserve Something Beautiful" T-shirt from Signorelli ($20)
The exotic locales proved a natural fit for Cost Plus World Market stores, which placed prominent special sections in its 263 locations featuring items split into the specific countries. Sony receives a percentage of the sales for the 11 items it licensed, but the displays also are meant to push people to see the movie.

Shoppers can pick up the tunic Roberts wore onscreen in India ($19.99), "Love"-labeled Pinot Grigio from Italy ($9.99) and a replica day bed like the one Julia reclined on in Bali ($359.99).

"It brings the experience home," said Liz Allen, senior vp marketing at World Market stores. "You can work your way through Eat, Pray and Love right through the stores."

And then, presumably, the customer could head to the megaplex.

"Love" is World Market's first foray into the movie-marketing business.

"We were looking for tie-ins," Allen said, "and it's a win-win for us because it's so on brand with what we carry in the store."

Alina Roytberg, co-founder of Fresh, worked with Sony on 2005's "Memoirs of a Geisha" and waited for the perfect fit before jumping back into movie tie-ins. Besides the three location-themed "Love" perfumes ($32 each), Fresh is offering an accompanying candle trio for $45.

Roytberg said Sony's teaming with Fresh proves that the studio's interest lies beyond direct financial gain, instead highlighting its interest in targeting her concentrated audience of potential moviegoers.

"We're not a major brand, but they knew we can bring something that is unique and that we are connected to people who will react to this movie in the right way," she said. Her customers not only notice the "Love" displays in the stores but are touched in a sensuous way that traditional marketing can't reproduce: through smell.

"They are looking for a different way to get into people's heads and brain," Roytberg said. "It's marketing through the nose, and that's the most powerful thing."

Sony dove into uncharted territory with its strategic partnership with HSN (formerly the Home Shopping Network). The deal came to fruition after the shopping network expressed its desire to branch out into the movie-marketing business. Producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas shepherded HSN chief executive Mindy Grossman and executive vp Bill Brand around the studios last year.

Love Robin by Me&Ro charm necklace ($79.95)
Goldsmith-Thomas, whose producing credits include "Maid in Manhattan" but isn't involved in "Love," said studio execs had a "light-bulb moment" at the potential marketing opportunities the female-driven HSN offered and were eager to do business. But Grossman lasered in on Sony's project.

"We immediately responded to 'Eat Pray Love,' " Brand said. "We thought this was a great opportunity."

The deal amounted to an exchange of airtime for the right to sell tie-in products. HSN committed to valuable programming segments that serve as promotion for the film, and Sony allowed HSN to line up and sell merchandise, with the studio getting a cut of the sales from some of the items.

The result of the unique marketing alliance? A 72-hour "Love" event featuring one day of product for each section of the film, interspersed with clips, interviews with the filmmakers, and gushing endorsements from the on-air hosts. "I just wish the movie was opening tomorrow," one saleswoman chirped after a clip from "Love" was shown. Then she moved on to selling Italian sheets.

Sony sent 2,500 copies of the book to HSN's headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla., and offered local screenings of the movie to staffers ranging from on-air hosts to the 1,500 phone-sales reps so that they could talk it up effectively. Brand said Sony made immediate money from specific "Love"-licensed products.

"That's Sony's piece," he said.

HSN reps declined to give specific sales numbers but noted that they sold out of products more than 100 times during the three-day extravaganza.

But it really was about pushing the film the weekend before it opened.

"The number value of the partnership is marketing," Brand said. "We are talking to 5 million women who are active customers, inspiring them to shop HSN and then go see the movie when it opens."

Timeless by Naeem Khan large mirror-sequin tote ($1,399.90)
Although critics might sneer at the concept of New Age spirituality tokens being shilled through the night with various flex purchase deals and breathless "once in a lifetime" offers, the momentum it can build is enviable. Designer Kim Isaacsohn didn't hit the air until 3 a.m. Saturday morning, but she noticed an engaged and eager audience for more than just her Indian craft creations.

"Before the cameras started, we were getting e-mails that blew me away," she said. "That was the 'a-ha' moment for me. Not only were they in love with the bags, but they couldn't wait to see the movie. I was just surprised no one's done it before. It's like french fries and ketchup."

The idea of this continued tie-in coupling has proved intriguing to even the movie newbies. World Market execs are fielding multiple offers from films now that they have entered the picture. And HSN is positioning itself to be a player in future opportunities. The competing studio marketing rep was impressed with the Sony-HSN tie-in, calling it "great, very clever" before adding: "HSN is now in the movie-promotion business. That's a good thing."

Said Goldsmith-Thomas: "As a producer, I can appreciate what that does for a movie. Three full days aimed at your hard-to-reach audience? You cannot buy that."
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