How Much 'Lorax' Advertising Is Too Much?

Creature Speaks 'for the Trees,' and Mazda, Pottery Barn, Whole Foods

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Marketing around Universal Pictures' "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" has flooded consumers in the past couple of weeks, cross-promoting everything from a Mazda SUV to Seventh Generation diapers; spawning in-store promotions at retailers as varied as Target , Whole Foods and Pottery Barn; and presenting the Lorax himself as a guest judge on Monday's episode of "The Voice."

Isn't there such a thing as too much marketing? And should the Lorax, who speaks "for the trees," really be pushing an SUV?

A promo for the Lorax's appearance on NBC's 'The Voice'
A promo for the Lorax's appearance on NBC's 'The Voice'

More is usually better when it comes to kids, according to Howard Belk, CEO at the branding firm Siegel & Gale. But an influx of messages can turn off parents, who ultimately buy the tickets and the movie's tie-ins.

Complicating things for "The Lorax" is that its source material dwells on protecting the environment and reducing consumption. So Universal's many partnerships on the movie have made it a symbol of excess for some advocacy groups.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is calling out the partnership with Mazda as the most egregious of these branding campaigns. A commercial for Mazda's CX-5 SUV shows the vehicle driving through scenes from "The Lorax" and calls it "Certified Truffula Tree Friendly." Mazda also teamed up with the National Education Association to promote the car and the film in public schools around the country.

"By airing these advertisements, Mazda and Universal have shamelessly turned a character who has inspired millions of children to care about their environment into a car salesman," the CCFC said this week as the marketing crescendo built. "Cars -- even ones that pollute a little less -- are neither kid-friendly nor good for the environment."

A Mazda spokesman did not respond to requests to comment on Friday (the day the movie opened, to mixed reviews), but had said previously that the most fuel-efficient model of the CX-5 gets more miles per gallon on the highway than any other SUV, including hybrids.

"The Lorax" was bound to attract a lot of interest from marketers that want to be associated with environmentalism, partly because there aren't a lot of faces for the green movement, said Allen Adamson, managing director of Landor's New York office, which specializes in brand consulting, creative and design services. "The Lorax is becoming the Smokey the Bear for the green movement," Mr. Adamson said.

But the cluster of tie-ins will make it harder for any individual marketer to win big on the movie unless it becomes a blockbuster, Mr. Adamson said. "With the space so crowded, none of the brands stand out, especially those with no obvious connections like hotels and cars," he said.

UPDATE: After this article was published, the Mazda spokesman responded to say that Universal Pictures approached Mazda about a "Lorax" tie-in after learning about the carmaker's goal of increasing fuel efficiency 30% from 2008 through 2015. Rather than presenting a starkly environmentalist message, the Mazda spokesman said, the movie suggests considering how the actions we take today will impact the world tomorrow.

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