Etch A Sketch gets starring role in 'Elf'

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It's the Hollywood home of Leatherface and Freddy Krueger, so it's little wonder that potential corporate tie-in partners weren't sure New Line Cinema could beget a warm and fuzzy family movie for the holidays.

The producers of "Elf," starring "Saturday Night Live" alum Will Ferrell, made the rounds and came back with a lone, eleventh-hour partner, Ohio Art Co., best known for its venerable Etch A Sketch. But with buzz building for the movie-Mr. Ferrell has just inked two new film deals-both the toymaker and the studio have their fingers crossed for a sleeper of "Home Alone" proportions.

Ohio Art, which linked to Walt Disney Co.'s "Toy Story 2," and still a relative novice in film cross-promotions, is projecting upward of a 30% sales jump. "It's a matter of, `How many can we make?' We're going full tilt," said Martin Killgallon, Ohio Art's marketing and sales manager. "Everything about this movie is perfect for us. The product is part of the cast."

In the movie, Mr. Ferrell's character, raised by elves, searches out his real family in New York. He uses his Etch A Sketch as a kind of elfin Blackberry. In several scenes, elves in Santa's workshop are seen building Etch A Sketches on an assembly line.

Time Warner's New Line and Ohio Art are dispersing "Elf"-themed study guides to a million grade schoolers around the country this month, and hundreds of thousands of Etch A Sketches will sport "Elf" stickers and inserts. An "Elf" Holiday Cash Sweepstakes will give away $20,000 in cash. Retailers like Toys `R' Us will have movie posters and special displays.

The toy might get some additional face time when Mr. Ferrell makes the late night and morning talk show circuit. Artists from the company will do Etch A Sketches of hosts such as Jay Leno, with Mr. Ferrell handing over the sketches as gifts.

other efforts

Among other efforts: People dressed as elves are piling into cabs in New York to deliver toys to shelters and kids' groups. In a tie-in with parent Time Warner, clips from the film are appearing on AOL Instant Messaging systems in place of banner ads on Buddy Lists.

Mr. Ferrell was also featured Nov. 7 on's "Holiday A-List" page and will be featured reading the "Elf" book in its audio page later this month.

For New Line, best known for its horror-fantasy-action movies, the recently released "Secondhand Lions" and "Lord of the Rings" franchise have inched the studio toward a broader audience base and potential partner pool, said Gordon Paddison, exec VP-integrated marketing. "It's new territory for us." Recent formation of the integrated marketing group, aimed at helping partners navigate the studio and tie-in across divisions, should help too, he said.

Partners are difficult to come by in the current risk-averse economy, industry veterans said, and tend to cluster around easily understood concepts like Universal's "Cat in the Hat" and Warner Bros.' "Looney Tunes." There are times when marketers miss out, as with Fox's "Home Alone," which opened without partners. "Elf," which also stars James Caan and Ed Asner, was directed by Jon Favreau of "Swingers" and "Made" fame.

"This is the most family-friendly movie we've ever done," said Russell Schwartz, New Line's president-domestic theatrical marketing. "Corporate America didn't quite know what to make of it."

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