HOLLYWOOD TIES STILL ATTRACTIVE TO FAST-FOOD DESPITE FLICK FLOPS: TOTAL PACKAGE SEEN AS KEY FOR MOVIE PARTNERS

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Fast-food marketers aren't losing their taste for Hollywood despite a summer marked by underwhelming box-office performers that haven't driven kids or adults in droves toward tie-in partners.

The most-hyped movie of the summer, Sony Pictures Entertainment's "Godzilla," hasn't met expectations. A spokeswoman for Taco Bell Corp. still pronounced its tie-in a success, although Hershey Foods Corp. said lower-than-expected results for its "Godzilla" promotion contributed to softness in its second-quarter business.

Taco Bell wouldn't provide sales results for the six-week promotion. Same-store sales for the quarter ended June 30, to be reported today by parent Tricon Global Restaurants, are expected to be up, according to Wall Street analysts. But it's unclear if "Godzilla" or a new product called Gorditas lifted sales at the slumping chain.

"Godzilla" has grossed a respectable $134 million, but expectations were higher due to the intense hype generated by Sony.

Jim Watkings, senior VP-marketing, North America, Burger King Corp., said the chain's current link to DreamWorks Pictures' "Small Soldiers" is driving sales thanks to a multipronged strategy, including the launch of the 99 cent Rodeo Burger.

"The secret goes into the vertical integration in the consumer message about the right product at the right value and, oh yes, there's the entertainment event," Mr. Watkins said.

Burger King's sales boost comes despite poor reviews and a PG-13 rating that prompted the chain to pull ads off Saturday morning TV.

The jury is still out on "Small Soldiers"; it has grossed $30 million to date after a strong opening. And Hasbro's toy line is selling well.

KEYS TO SUCCESS

DreamWorks executives said the key to promotion and licensing success isn't necessarily box-office performance but the nature of the property. "Small Soldiers," for example, lent itself well to toy premiums. Another factor is the partner's own marketing equities, such as Taco Bell's Chihuahua icon that appeared in tie-in ads to "Godzilla."

"It has to be a creative combination," said Brad Globe, head of consumer products at DreamWorks SKG.

"For fast-food companies or any promotional partner to be completely reliant on a movie's box performance is a risky strategy."

`MULAN' A SUCCESS

Several franchisees of McDonald's Corp. said the Happy Meal link with Walt Disney Co.'s animated feature "Mulan" was a success but the current promotion linked to the adult feature "Armageddon" is a disappointment.

"We're getting higher returns on the Happy Meal side of the ledger. The adult side has got to be improved and it will be," said one franchisee.

"Mulan" is considered a summer success story, grossing $101 million to date. "Armageddon" is angling for the summertime box office crown with $129 million to date, although its opening weekend didn't meet the trade's astronomical expectations.

Long John Silver's suffered from the underwhelming performance of New Line Cinema Corp.'s "Lost in Space," which grossed $68 million. The chain's biggest movie tie-in ever resulted in thousands of unwanted premium toys sitting in a warehouse, said an executive familiar with the promotion.

The company declined to comment on sales results, but said it isn't giving up on Hollywood.

"Licensed properties are always a desirable commodity," said a spokesman. "You can never predict the success or failure of a movie. You just kind of have to go on faith. The only guarantee is Disney and kids, and we all know somebody has that locked up."

SHORT-TERM BACKLASH

Michael Schau, executive editor of The Entertainment Marketing Letter, said marketers won't quickly forget the summer of '98.

"There is going to be a short-term backlash," said Mr. Schau. "Some marketers are saying right now, `God, do we have to work so hard to so little effect?' But it's cyclical, and there will be other event movies and summer fare and holiday stuff that they will be eager to tie into in a big way."

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