"The Flintstones" is a box office hit, but the film's promotional tie-ins aren't yabba-dabba-dooing it for most kids.
With searing honesty, a cross section of kids interviewed by Advertising Age this month said they liked the movie but called the $50 million-plus licensing and mer- chandising program dull. They also tended to yawn at the film's commercial references but did remember RocDonald's, Toys-R-Saurus and Chev-Roc.
"It was corny," said 11-year-old Robby Kaufman of Atlanta, who clearly recalled the film's reference to McDonald's Corp.'s Stone Age sibling. "I haven't bought any of the merchandise, and I do not plan to."
Chris Park, 11, of San Francisco, agreed, noting he "hasn't seen anybody wearing `Flintstones' hats, backpacks or clothing."
"To put Fred Flintstone on a backpack or a hat isn't the freshest thing you could do," he said, adding he'd rather buy a T-shirt featuring a Ferrari or another fast car.
That's not to say kids don't enjoy the movie. While critics panned it, families are flocking to see it; kids report lots of laughs and they mostly got a kick from references to real-life companies. "The Flintstones" pulled in $37.5 million for Universal Studios when it opened Memorial Day weekend, setting a record for that weekend.
As of last week, box office receipts had reached about $85 million. The film is expected to become the summer's first, and possibly only, $100 million movie.
But box office success doesn't always spell equal promotional results. Licensing executives note much of the merchandise offered this summer-including Mattel toys and McDonald's Happy Meals premiums-are based not on Hanna-Barbera's animated TV series but the movie's live-action characters.
"Kids may have been happy to see John Goodman the actor playing Fred on the big screen, but that's not the image they want to take home to play with," said Seth Siegel, co-chairman of the Beanstalk Group, a New York licensing company.
McDonald's said it was pleased by results of the tie-in, which targets adults and children. The movie marks the first time the marketer has locked in promotional support in 38 countries before the movie is released abroad.
Claire Schwartz, 11, of Memphis, Tenn., reported seeing the Happy Meals promotion at McDonald's, and while she hasn't bought any tie-in items, she would like to "try out" the cars. Her sister Nancy, age 9, enjoyed the movie but she doesn't covet any related merchandise.
Mattel didn't report runaway sales of its "Flintstones" toys.
Mattel Media Relations Manager Donna Gibbs said only: "It's a little too early to tell how they'll do. The toys have only been out two months, and we're hoping for a resurgence at Christmas."
Jaime MacEwen, 10, of Mullica Hill., N.J., was typical of girls who enjoyed the movie but wasn't taking home any merchandise.
"I asked my mom for the [`Flintstones'] T-shirt, but she wouldn't buy it for me because it was too much money," she said.
Maria DeBacco, 11, of Memphis, said: "I liked the everyday things they used [garbage disposal, etc.] but if I had my choice I would rather be a Jetson." She said she has seen Fred Flintstone dolls and plans to buy the boxer shorts. Her sister Angela, 9, said she enjoyed the special effects and Flintstone versions of today's products.
Brian Coleman, 8, of Leominster, Mass., reported seeing everything from fast-food to vitamins, macaroni & cheese and posters tied to "The Flintstones," but he had no interest in any of it. However, he said he approved of the product tie-ins because "it makes money."
The estimated $15 million to $20 million in TV advertising seemed to have caught kids' attention.
Nearly every child named McDonald's as the fast-food marketer offering "Flintstones" products this summer; that effort has been backed since May by a network TV campaign from DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago.
Most kids also knew about Mattel's toys based on the movie, advertised on weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings via Ogilvy & Mather and Foote, Cone & Belding, both Los Angeles. But few wanted the toys.
Chris Park said his 8-year-old sister might be interested in the action figures, but he and his friends didn't want them.
Chris Causa, 9, of Hollywood, Fla., was typical in his reaction to the overall promotion effort, saying he enjoyed "The Flintstones" but wouldn't be bugging his parents to buy him any related merchandise.
Still, trips to McDonald's for Happy Meals could be in his family's future.
"My brother just likes to play with the" Happy Meals toys, he said.
The Big Mac link also made an impression on two brothers.
"McDonald's was the RocDonald's in the movie, and McDonald's has collectors cups and Happy Meals toys," said Tommy Brown, of Oak Lawn, Ill., when asked what related promotions he remembered.
His younger brother Tony has already collected several "Flintstones" McDonald's Happy Meals toys. Both said they would like merchandise related to the film but couldn't name specific items.
Advertising Age correspondents contributed to this report.