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Jurassic Park monster-sized marketing and merch campaign changed the game forever

Contributed by
May 29, 2018

Anyone old enough to remember seeing Jurassic Park's in 1993 will remember the awe of seeing the T-Rex and raptors for the first time, marveling at the special effects just like Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and the rest of the cast do on the maiden voyage to Isla Nublar.

Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel was innovative in its use of both practical and CGI effects, and the script, direction, cinematography, score, etc. certainly made it into the enduring hit that it is. But there's another factor, an innovative strategy by the Amblin Entertainment core team and Universal Studios backing it, that helped the movie become $1 billion-plus grossing blockbuster — marketing the hell out of it.

In a precedent-setting move, the studio spent an astounding $65 million — $2 million more than the film's budget — to promote Jurassic, securing deals with over 100 companies leading up to the premiere and in the summer months after. You could scarcely go anywhere without seeing a piece of Jurassic merch, ranging from burgers to toys to video games to coloring books to sleeping bags.

Over 1,000 products were created to promote the movie, many of them conceived in pre-production. Universal already started plans to make its own themed rides for its Orlando park — without the inherent danger of actual dinos — at the time. (That attraction eventually opened in 1996, with Goldblum, Spielberg, and other cast members in attendance for the inaugural trip on the thrill boats.)

The campaign came from Amblin VP Brad Globe and MCA/Universal VP Elizabeth Gelfand, who specialized in marketing and merchandising. Like Richard Attenborough's John Hammond, they spared no expense, at least when it came to courting brand partners. It also helped that the movie's T-Rex skeleton iconic design — and its red and orange coloring, long considered to be the most appetizing — played well internationally.

"What created the spine of the marketing program was the logo," Gelfand told AdAge in 1994. Globe is credited with the idea of having the logo plastered on every product related to the film, making them instantly recognizable to fans young and old, domestic and foreign. Basically, rather than slap a label on it that needed to be translated somehow, it was a worldwide image that told consumers "dinosaur movie."

It also helped that McDonald's was an early adopter, with a Jurassic-themed deal: a value triple-cheeseburger, "dino-sized fries" and one of six 32-ounce soft-drink collector's cups. The marketing execs then parlayed McD's support into international deals at a presentation to divisions of Coca-Cola, Panasonic, Pepsi, Kellogg and other companies that were more prominent at the time.

It seems like the norm these days. You can get a Funko doll for just about every sci-fi, fantasy, cartoon character, etc. ever created — including the original velociraptors, T-Rex, Ian Malcolm, Hammond, and in a great sense of symmetry, a dual set of the traitor Nedry (hello, Newman) and the spitting Dilophosaurus that killed him.

Ziploc sells Avengers: Infinity War sandwich bags. There's a Deadpool version of Monopoly, which we're unsure if he would either hate or love it. Go to a Bed, Bath, and Beyond and you'll find an entire line of Star Wars-themed products, such as showerheads, waffle makers, jewelry, and hand towels. (Not so coincidentally, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy was at Amblin at the time, producing Jurassic Park and presenting these kinds of deals alongside the marketing team.)

Considering the original film's success, it's obvious that this kind of market saturation can work, when you're smart about it. But then sometimes it also backfires. For the first sequel, The Lost World, the studio spent $250 million on promotions with 70 or so on brands including Burger King, Betty Crocker, and Hamburger Helper, and movie earned about a billion dollars less. The third sequel was even worse, earning around $360 million. One of the marketing ploys for the home release was the chance to get a disposable cell phone. They were never made and the "winners" got $30 and a free DVD of the flick.

With a combination of absence making the heart grow fonder — a 14-year break between the second sequel and 2015's Jurassic World — and more brand integration with Kellogg's and Lego, along with online games and an increased social media presence helped the film earn $1.6 billion.

And now its sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, is going even further with virtual reality and mobile apps, as well as old-school tactics like putting characters' faces on Dr. Pepper cans and releasing action figures (though this time they also made Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard's characters into Barbie dolls).

The next time you're in a checkout line at your local Target or pharmacy or grocery store, you'll probably see some tie-in Pez dispensers, after you've walked by a few Jurassic t-shirts. And then some other merchandise for Avengers, Deadpool, Solo, Incredibles, and so on and so on. Love it or hate it, but you have to respect the way the original Jurassic Park team created a strategy to both thrusts a movie into a billion-dollar blockbuster, then make a mint off the merch.