Toy in a movie, stockholders in 7th heaven

Etch A Sketch sales zip with appearance in `Elf'

November 18, 2003|By Monty Phan | Monty Phan,NEWSDAY

Shares of Ohio Art Co.'s stock were up 33 percent a week ago, and the only reason anyone could think of for the sudden jump was the movie Elf.

The correlation might seem odd, but a little background makes the connection clear: Ohio Art, based in Bryan, Ohio, makes the Etch A Sketch , which appears prominently in Elf, a new comedy starring Will Ferrell that made $32 million its first weekend in release.

The company's stock price leaped from $11.75 to $15.63 Nov. 10. Product placement in a popular movie will do that, as was the case when Reese's Pieces appeared in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Shares closed yesterday up 10 cents at $15.70 on the American Stock Exchange.

"I think that would have to be" the explanation, said Jerry Kneipp, the company's chief financial officer. "Nothing else is happening at this time."

The most influential product placements typically are for new items - the BMW that Agent 007 drives in the James Bond films, for example - and not a toy that has been around since 1960. But when Time Warner Inc.'s New Line Cinema, which produced Elf, approached Ohio Art about a year ago for permission to use the Etch A Sketch as a prop, the toy company jumped, said marketing sales manager Martin Killgallon.

The film stars Ferrell as an orphaned human baby who is mistakenly taken to the North Pole by Santa and is reared by elves until adulthood, when he travels to New York to find his father.

At first, Ohio Art supplied only the toys themselves, including a dismantled version for use in a scene in which elves assemble the Etch A Sketches. But in July, the company got a call from New Line saying the toy had a more prominent role - Ferrell's character uses it to make a "to do" list and to design a detailed version of The Mona Lisa - and worked with Ohio Art to create a campaign around the toy.

Although the Etch A Sketch appeared briefly in both Toy Story movies, this was the first time Ohio Art was able to create such a campaign around a product placement, Killgallon said. The company has arranged to put Elf stickers on Etch A Sketch boxes promoting a $20,000 cash giveaway and has sent workbooks to schools with the toy and movie.

Christopher Byrne, an independent toy consultant based in Manhattan, said sales of the Etch A Sketch are "very strong" every year, so children are aware of it. But the perception of the toy changes when it is used in a movie such as Elf.

"It's something that moms almost always buy because they think kids ought to have one," Byrne said. "Now it may be something that kids actually request. That's the difference."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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