Misaimed Marketing

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
They make great bedtime stories![1]

"Hey, kids! Which horribly disfigured sociopath is your favorite? Get all three, and you get a free straitjacket."

Iron Man, snipping Batman on how he claimed that The Dark Knight is for kids, in I'm a Marvel And I'm a DC.

Executives are a superstitious, cowardly lot. They're always worrying about their "next big thing" gaining lots and lots of fans. And so when it comes to marketing and tie-in merchandise, they'll try to cast as wide a net as possible to attract a wide variety of people.

This often results in Misaimed Marketing. It's when a work of fiction is promoted in a way that seems... odd to people who are already familiar with it. This most often takes the form of extremely deceptive advertising or bizarre tie-in products.

Toys based on R-rated films are common, though these are usually aimed at adults. However, such action figures are also often found sold in mainstream toy stores. Some companies go even further, creating products directed at kids for those same movies. It's a tad creepy when either toys or Saturday Morning Cartoons of movies that had visible sexual content are sold to kids. (Why, yes, your kids would love a Starship Troopers action figure...). It may also be because executives know that Periphery Demographic exists among kids who watch shows meant for older audiences.

Fortunately, retailers are starting to get wise to this and such items are often found only in specialty stores now. And keep in mind, just about every apparently misaimed retailer action will end up being justified if it makes money. There are no exceptions to this.

Contrast Merchandise-Driven, where marketing may have been the point all along. Tends to happen when you've got yourself a Cash Cow Franchise. Very often leads to What Do You Mean It's Not for Kids? See also Never Trust a Trailer and Contemptible Cover. Sometimes runs headlong into My Little Panzer...

"How Toyetic Can you Get?"
  • One of the biggest inspirations for this trope: the stuffed animals and PEZ dispensers (!?!) of nearly all the major nonhuman characters in His Dark Materials. And that's not to mention the plastic toy Alethiometers given away at Burger King. These were all meant to promote The Golden Compass movie.
  • Pro wrestling figures, a sport not meant for kids in the slightest, though even during the Attitude Era kids still watched! And now that the WWE is coming out of the PG era and possibly moving towards a second attitude era, this makes even less sense. However, this is to be expected when every other adult-oriented movie/show/what have you under the sun gets merchandise like this.
  • Hasbro has an entire line of fun sized Marvel superheroes ("Super Hero Squad") and related lines for other franchises (almost all "____ Heroes", like Star Wars Galactic Heroes and Transformers Robot Heroes). Chibi Indiana Jones is a little strange, but Hulkie Pokey (an Incredible Hulk toy who sings and dances in the same manner as Tickle Me Elmo) is just nuts. The cute and cuddly Punisher is straight-up madness.
    • And to complement the Hulkie Pokey, they have a SD Spider-Man plush that sings Eensy Weensy Spider and another with Spider-Man and his security web blanket as well.
    • There are also T-shirts featuring chibi versions of the Marvel characters, with quotes like "Bad temper" for Hulk and "Doesn't play well with others" for Punisher.
    • There's a little Wolverine action figure now, who's naked except for his Weapon X mental reprogramming gear. He's smiling.
    • Quite a bit of the Super Hero Squad line is odd either for violence levels (The Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Blade—complete with Cute Little Fangs) or obscurity (would the 3-5 year olds this line is aimed at have even heard of the Sentry, Ben Reilly, or Fin Fang Foom?).
    • Or Victory Saber, Deathsaurus, or even Unicron?
    • Some have argued that they're not really going for kids, but as a nerd Guilty Pleasure that's cheaper and easier to pose than action figures.
  • On the subject of Transformers, note the toyline for the first Transformers live-action movie from 2007... which is rated PG-13. Yet the toyline includes some gimmick-based assortments with a minimum suggested age of three, including a cutesified "Cyber Slammers" version of the deadly Decepticon tank, Brawl (aka "Devastator"). Parent groups were not happy.
  • The Star Wars Transformers line. Had both Star Wars and Transformers toys been made by the same company in the '80s, they could have bankrupted their competition because of the sheer awesomeness of the combination. Seeing as how both have been around for nearly the same amount of time, it seems a bit forced.
  • Another example of misaimed marketing in Transformers is the IDW comics original character Drift. While more a canonized fan-character, the company has been playing him up, as they believe his Japan-centered drift racer car mode, red and white rising sun deco and dual samurai swords will appeal to the fans, who've ended up finding his Creator's Pet Gary Stu Japan-shilling slightly insulting. That said, Drift's toy is pretty much agreed to be So Cool Its Awesome by the fans, even those who detest the character. On the other hand, the toy has been redecoed as Blurr, so Drift-haters can still experience the figure without actually owning a "Drift".
  • Half this, half Misaimed Fandom: People were getting replicas of the One Ring as wedding rings. What does that say about your marriage? There's also Lord of the Rings navel piercing rings!
  • J. K. Rowling rejected a lot of hypothetical Harry Potter merch. Her least favourite idea was the "Moaning Myrtle toilet seat". This mindset makes the existence of this "levitation skill game" even more odd.
    • How many Harry Potter fans actually wanted to know firsthand what an earwax-flavored Bertie Bott Bean tasted like anyway?
    • There was also the "slime chamber" playset released around the time of the second film. What this has to do with Harry Potter is anyone's guess as there is nothing resembling a slime chamber in any of the books or films. Oh, and the Harry Potter action figures you're supposed to pour the slime on, Nickelodeon style, aren't even included in the set! Really, the closest tie to Harry Potter is the fact that the slime chamber rather vaguely resembles the Chamber of Secrets.
    • Cute Scabbers plushies were made in conjunction with the first two movies, when anyone who'd read the third book, released two years before the first film, already knew Scabbers would turn out to be a creepy little man who betrayed Harry's parents to Voldemort.
  • Or how about what Disney's does with its "Disney Princess" line—including Mulan. Nope, no female empowerment or ass-kicking Sweet Polly Oliver from an ancient story here, she's just lumped in with the princesses and put in pretty dresses and makeup. Did we mention that the whole first part of the movie is about how little being "super-girly" suits her? She isn't even a princess to begin with! And don't get us stated on what they've done to Pocahontas.
    • That's not all that's wrong with the Princess line, though, oh no. Dig how "Princess" Belle is never seen in the blue dress she wears throughout the movie or with a book in hand. Marvel at how Aurora wears pink (look closely. They also give her purple eyes). Rejoice that all your favorite heroines spend their days in toy stores posing and staring vaguely into the distance, swishing their sparkly gowns in the same exactly poses over and over again, in recycled, off-model clipart slapped onto every pink backpack they can find. Their coloring books and Direct to Video features are filled with stories about spring cleaning, going to the market, and setting up parties for their friends.
    • Mulan was more popular than Pocahontas, so in the line-up she went.
    • One Mulan doll is not only sculpted with Barbie feet (i.e. can only wear heels) but this is the product description on the back of the box.

Dressed in her beautiful sparkling gown, this Disney Sparkling Princess Mulan doll is ready for the ball and ready to meet her prince.[2]

  • Some Disney stores these days are selling stuffed Cruella de Vils (we guess kids need punching bags), stuffed Oogie Boogie dolls, and stuffed Aslans, which is probably a sin of some sort (at least if you're Orthodox).
    • There were stuffed Oogie Boogie dolls made before the Disney Store models. They were manufactured by Applause (a name you don't hear very much of these days), and featured a velcro front that, when pulled apart, revealed some black fabric with glow-in-the-dark "bugs" silkscreened on.
    • A stuffed Jafar from Aladdin. Good luck finding one now.
    • The adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame had Frollo action figures rotting away on store shelves. Guess kids just don't get a kick out of elderly lust-crazed priests these days.
      • There were also Barbie-sized dolls of the good guys. Yes, including Quasimodo.
    • There are Ursula Barbie dolls in the Disney Store. Just what the kids want!
  • Half this, half Villain Decay. You know you're not going to be seeing Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees do anything really horrible after they've been deemed okay for child-sized Halloween costumes.
    • Though this is probably more a case of wild age-inappropriateness, considering that child-sized pimp costumes have been made.
    • Halloween costumes in general, especially those for preteen girls, have become rather horrifyingly inappropriate.
  • NASCAR Barbie. Really. On the plus side, it's milder than most of the examples shown here.
  • There is apparently a large market for licensed military toys. We have Batman Tanks, Hulk Humvees, Iron Man fighter jets and, of course, Spidey stealth bombers. Basically, they are just cheaply made Hot Wheels or a similar toy painted in the color of the hero with the hero's logo, or in some cases, a decal of the hero, placed on it. Because nothing says stealth as much as having Spider-Man painted on your hull.
  • Moe Moe anthropomorphized Angel dolls from Neon Genesis Evangelion (including a genderbent Tabris in a short skirt).
    • Studio Gainax have a reputation for being absolute marketing whores and will sell pretty much any merchandise and sex up their characters as much as necessary. Including a Rei Ayanami soap dish.
    • They still haven't made a Kaworu PEZ dispenser, which would be cool in a completely tasteless sort of way.
    • Just to give you an idea of the horrors Gainax has unleashed here's a review of two catgirl figurines of Rei and Asuka which have generic anime faces, tiny underwear, and lovingly sculpted camel toes.
  • This bit Warner Brothers in the butt something fierce when Batman Returns was released and turned out to be a significantly darker and more violent film than its predecessor. Complaints about kid-oriented tie-ins like McDonald's Happy Meals made it to at least one talk show, and Nickelodeon apparently canceled a contest where the winning kid would attend the London premiere. This outcry was one reason the Joel Schumacher-helmed films that followed wound up significantly Lighter and Softer.
    • What made this even more bizarre is that Hasbro deliberately misled gullible consumers into thinking Batman Returns was a different kind of movie entirely by releasing some In Name Only "deluxe" Batman figures that had him wearing costumes that weren't even in the movie, such as "Jungle Attack Batman." (Remember seeing any jungles in Batman Returns? We sure didn't.)
    • The Dark Knight had toys being released for a movie that some critics are surprised didn't score an R rating.
    • The kid-sized Batsuit that ties into The Dark Knight comes with a gun. Let's repeat that: A Batman toy comes with a gun. It's got pretty big fanfare in the commercial too. Whether it's just a case of not knowing anything about what the toy was promoting, or whether they knew Batman's a legendary Gun Hater but just want to make more money is an unsolved question...
      • Long before that, there was a toy called the "Batman Blaster"(?), which was basically a nerf gun that straps on like a harness and has wings that pop out of the back of it.
    • In Argentina, The Dark Knight was promoted with coloring books, Burger King toys, action figures, juices and candy.
    • There is not just one, but two children's books based on it. And, oddly enough, they're kind of adorable...
      • To be fair, they would serve as an means of knowing the story (or at least getting the gist of it) without watching the movie, which would be helpful for kids whose parents DIDN'T take them to see TDK. Besides, TDK may be Darker and Edgier, but it at least didn't have as much Moral Dissonance as Batman Returns did...
    • Plenty of "easy reader" books and coloring books, too. Though I think we can all be grateful they didn't do happy meals this time.
    • Australian fast food chain Hungry Jack's did run TDK-themed toys in their kids' meals, and in America a cereal brand packaged tiny Batman and Joker figures. They sold out very fast, by the way.
      • Speaking of Hungry Jack's, in recent years they regularly produce variants of their Whopper hamburgers branded as a burger based on/inspired by whatever hot new film is currently doing the rounds (the aforementioned The Dark Knight was one of the first examples). You have to wonder because really, they barely alter the burgers at all and most of the films don't even have the slightest connection with the things.
    • The Dark Knight Kids Meal was spoofed in this Mad TV skit.
  • Somewhere in byzantine tax codes (Toy Biz v. United States), dolls representing humans end up getting taxed heavier than toys not representing people (such as dollhouse tables or kitty cats or whatever). To capitalize on this during the release of the X-Men movie, attorneys for Marvel successfully argued that mutants are not people. They got the favorable tax rate—and the X-Men's main message got completely broken. This sets a worrying legal precedent...
  • There's a really nice Ryuk handpuppet sold in shops. A Death God with a short attention span and worrying lack of morals... in puppet form. How cute.
  • Think that's bad? Tokyo Mew Mew has a few odd things. The panties are understandable, since it is a kids' show. Plastic beauty set? Nothing to do with the actual show, but some little girls probably liked it. When you get to the large inflatable Ichigo, however, you really do have to wonder.
  • Back in the early 1990s, there were Alien and Predator toys geared for kids. Yes, you heard right. A toy franchise based on two R-rated movie franchises. This included a face hugger that slipped over the human action figure's head and a baby Xenomorph.
    • ALIEN! ACTION FIGURE! Apparently they are pretty expensive these days, for collectors who want to get their hands on one.
    • It gets better...or worse, there are even Alien plush toys. No, really. They look like this. [dead link]
      • The Alien plush toys are adorable, but it's difficult to picture a child playing with it.
    • Or RoboCop? You know, the movie that nearly got slapped with an X rating just for violent content?
    • And let's not forget Rambo - because kids definitely need a figure representing a near psychotic Vietnam vet who destroyed most of the town in First Blood. (Not to mention the original ending had him committing suicide.)
  • Coloring and puzzle books for the David Lynch film Dune, which features graphic violence and murders, lots of folks in latex and tubes up their noses, a pus-faced psychopath who kills his male sex slaves by uncorking their hearts, and of course a gigantic fish mutant with a vagina mouth. The coloring book made sure to provide lines on Baron Harkonnen's face so children could choose different colors for his facial pustules. The movie was rated PG-13, but this was just months after the rating was introduced in 1984; it's possible Universal expected a PG when they inked the licensing deals, anticipating a Star Wars-esque hit.
  • The first Star Wars prequel was merchandised to hell and back. At the time, big box stores would have aisles where everything had a Star Wars character somewhere on the label—the Queen Amidala Galactic Body Wash and Learn Letter Sounds With Sebulba coloring book were especially hilarious. But this horrifying Jar Jar Binks Push Pop was certainly the lowest point. (See also the Parodies section below.)
  • A doll of a drunk Peter Griffin from Family Guy with a beer stain on his pants.
  • There was actually an Austin Powers talking doll that was sold to children. And yes, it did say "Do I make you horny, baby?" And yes, the media made a predictable uproar about it. Someone lost their job over that marketing decision, you better believe. Whether or not it was someone who had even met the actual decision-maker is another story. There were actually two intended releases: one meant for sale at Toys R Us that said "Yeah, baby, yeah!" and one meant for Spencer's Gifts and collector shops with the above line. However, some of the Spencer's Austins got mixed in with the Toys R Us shipments, causing a big stir.
  • The Terminator 2 line of action figures, released to tie in with a very violent R-rated movie.
    • And now, the Terminator 2 Minimates, finding their way into Toys R Us stores across the nation. Cute, 2 inch tall versions of the T2 characters. To be fair Terminator 2 is quite toned down from what we got in terminator 1, for one thing the terminator is no longer a killer, but a kid friendly bodyguard that does what you say.
  • A toyline tied in with the Alec Baldwin version of The Shadow. Yes, that film received a PG-13 (many feel doing so undermined the film), but the film still kept the Shadow as an outlaw who worked without police approval (Commissioner Wainright Barth mentions early in the film that he will order his subordinates to stop the Shadow from interfering in police business). The film also depicted the Shadow as a reformed opium warlord who had a rival slain even though doing so also slew one of his own loyal men.
  • The X-Entertainment blog [dead link] has an entry of two products based on A Nightmare on Elm Street: A Freddy stress doll and a Freddy yo-yo.
  • Halo Wars toy sets by Mega Bloks. It seems reasonable, until you remember that that Halo series in general is rated M. Mega Bloks in general does have a tendency toward going for licences that fall under this trope.
  • There were McDonald's Happy Meals for James Cameron's Avatar. Translation: kids' meals tie-in toys for a PG-13 movie.
    • The idea of kids' meal toys for PG-13 movies isn't new, but Avatar has too many adult themes and would be too unknown to kids IMO to deserve a Happy Meal line. They also have a reusable sticker book. Next thing we know, they're going to have coloring and activity books for the sequel. Oh wait, they HAVE those.
  • There was some feminist outrage over the marketing of an action figure based on Quentin Tarantino's character in Planet Terror, who is credited simply as "Rapist". Some of it was possibly-justified disgust at seeing action figures labeled "Rapist" in stores, but some people who weren't aware of the adult geek market for action figures assumed that they must have been being marketed to children.
  • Jurassic Park toys are still made long after the films. Subverted as they have parents notes on the back.
    • Also, dinosaurs are just awesome to kids in general; plenty of people had them in one form or another before the JP movies where released. The connection to JP is probably just because its easier to brand something as "Movie-related dinosaur with flesh-eating action!!!" rather than "Generic T-Rex #3"
  • It's not like the Toy Story franchise isn't suited for merchandising (understatement of the year, in fact) but one particular toy, of the telephone character in the third movie, has a speech function... and it sounds a bit odd to have a toy designed for 3-year olds say lines like "I've been here for years, they'll never break me!" in a Film Noir style accent. If one is familiar with the toy, the lines "I've been here for years!" (I had that toy 40+ years ago) and "They'll never break me!" (it was made out of wood and sturdy plastic, and was virtually unbreakable) are a lot funnier.
    • Oh, and apparently there's a toy set based off the Incinerator scene.
      • There's two. One's a LEGO set. In fairness, both put more emphasis on depicting the conveyor belt leading to the incinerator, which was a fairly action-y sequence before the Tear Jerker final part set in.
  • There's a Roger Rabbit game where the goal is to flip toons into Dip. Short video here by Jeepers Media.
  • Kick Ass action figures, of Kick-Ass himself and Hit-Girl. The best part is that the word "ass" is obscured on the packaging both times it appears, first by graphics of the characters, and then by a spray-paint smudge effect, so the figure can be sold at more mainstream retailers like Toys 'R' Us.
    • There are also Halloween costumes.
  • They had Twilight toys at Burger King. No, really. Not only that, but half of the toys were for girls and half were (purportedly) for boys. Predictably, the toys stayed in bargain bins months after the promotion ended.
    • ... Not to mention the Twilight Barbie dolls. Apparently the Edward doll has glitter skin. There's also a Jacob doll which comes wearing only its pants.
  • Inception has both official and unofficial replicas of the top used as a dream totem by Cobb and Mal. The top which is for the explicit purpose of being one of a kind and handmade by only one living user so that nobody else could possibly know the feel of it. There is even an official set of every totem from the movie (the top, a loaded die, and a metal chess "bishop").
  • Barbie dolls of the various Bond Girls. Yes, they had the white bikini.
  • Wendy's Japan did a movie tie-in for, of all things, Titus. Yes, Julie Tamor's R-rated adaptation of Shakespeare's bloodiest play, which culminates in two characters being cooked into a pie, and fed to their mother. Enjoy your burger.
  • A relatively mild example, but there are Taylor Swift dolls out there, aimed at much the same demographic as Barbie. Granted, Swift is more than a little popular with prepubescent girls, but with such lovely revenge fics as "Picture to Burn" and "Better Than Revenge", some mild swearing in the debut album and the song ("Sparks Fly") that is as close as Swift can get to Intercourse with You without inciting the wrath of the Moral Guardians, she's not exactly suited to the preschool set.[3]
  • The release of The Hunger Games in theaters brought out bushels of merchandise. Some of the things include a magnetic story book (recommended for ages 5 and up), tribute bracelets, figurines of the tributes, costume replicas, and socks. Nothing says family friendly like children being forced to brutally murder each other for entertainment!

Other Marketing Oddities

  • Mortal Kombat has a Saturday Morning Cartoon. Let me repeat that. The game that is single-handedly responsible for rating systems and the need to keep adult games away from kids. Has a Saturday Morning Cartoon.
  • Night Watch is often marketed as "J. K. Rowling, Russian style". This is a book series that includes at least one very descriptive sex scene, an incredible amount of alcohol consumption, quite a bit of swearing and craploads of violence, as well as numerous very intricate and intelligent Plans. In short, it is not a kids' book. But then again, it depends on what they mean by "Russian style".
    • Unfortunately, since practically every fantasy novel today gets compared to Harry Potter, no matter how different they are (Across the Nightingale Floor? Thursday Next?) this could also just be a case of lazy marketers/reviewers who think all fantasy is basically the same.
  • In Japan they were apparently selling "LCL" brand orange juice as a tie-in for the recent Neon Genesis Evangelion remake movies. For those who aren't Eva fans, LCL is a fluid humans can breathe in that fills the EVA cockpits that's actually the harvested blood of an Eldritch Abomination. And in The Movie Grand Finale, every human being on earth melts into LCL. It's almost like releasing Soylent Green brand tofu. Besides that issue, part of the Freudian overtones of the EVA designs also make it analogous to amniotic fluids.
  • WCW Nitro cologne. Smelling like "large sweaty muscleman" ranks pretty low on the list...
  • Star Wars themed Christmas snowglobes, including one with Darth Vader as Santa Claus.
    • Star Wars bath detergent. The cork is a figure of Darth Vader, and the cream itself is in a mini-Death Star.
    • Once again: Queen Amidala's Galactic Body Wash. (Wait, so we can take a bath with Natalie Portman?)
    • Star Wars soda cans... in a collectible Queeen Amidala can-carrying case.
  • Game Boy shower gel. In a black, brick-like container modeled after the original Game Boy. A and B buttons work for a mini-pinball game in the 'screen'.
  • Super Mario Bros.. shampoo As David Letterman put it, "This will go great with my Pac-Man cologne!"
  • Would anyone like some Fear Factor ice cream? How about Fear Factor gummy spiders?
    • The candy for Fear Factor was completely insane. Stuff like mango flavored gummy candy shaped like sheep eyeballs and cola-flavored gummy cockroaches coated with icing so they would crunch when you ate them.
  • The now-infamous attempt to widen Las Vegas' appeal beyond gamblers in the early 1990s was all about this. After the tropical themed Mirage casino-hotel revived the conceit of a Vegas trip as a classy proposition, there was a push by the convention authority to appeal to the family market. New themed hotels like the Excalibur (King Arthur), Luxor (ancient Egypt), MGM Grand (Wizard of Oz), and Treasure Island (pirates) arrived with colorful architecture and family-oriented attractions and shows in addition to the usual casinos and restaurants. But most of the family attractions (including the biggest, the MGM Grand Adventures Theme Park) were duds and adults-only groups and casino-hotel management didn't enjoy dealing with kids. Families that came often split up, parents leaving their kids to fend for themselves since the law prohibits kids from sticking around with them while they gamble, causing further problems. Once it was clear Vegas as a family destination wasn't workable, most of the hotels moved on, remodeling and becoming more "adult" (for instance, the live pirate battle outside Treasure Island is still there... but it's between skanky "sirens" and buff buccaneers instead of an old-fashioned pirates-vs.-Navy bout).
    • Which is a shame, because the pirates vs. Navy show was much better.
  • Plush dolls of Cthulhu are an interesting example; both the makers and buyers play it for deliberate post-modernish Irony. H.P. Lovecraft is rolling in his grave nonetheless.
    • A report of a kid who loved to take naps with her Cthulhu plush toy: "Me and Cthulhu are gonna go to sleep now, but when we wake up, we're gonna rise out of the ocean and EAT YOU!"
    • See also this animation.
  • A Golgo13 kewpie. A GODDAMN GOLGO 13 KEWPIE. A GOLGO, THE DEADLIEST ASSASSIN IN THE WORLD. KEWPIE. Not that the Devilman and Sirene kewpies are any less insane, but c'mon.
  • There was a toyline, comic book and freakin' CARTOON SERIES based around the raunchy R- to PG-rated Police Academy franchise of films.
  • Hello Kitty Vibrator. It's supposed to be just a Massager; Sanrio reportedly discontinued the item when they found out about people discovering the Perversion Potential. That doesn't stop the weirdness, though.
    • Happily featured in the last arc of Vampire Cheerleaders.
    • Perhaps not a pure example as these things apparently sell like crazy in both Japan and to importers of the Weird Japanese Things.
    • You think that's odd? One of Japan's more famous Love Hotels has a room with a Hello Kitty BDSM theme, hardcore enough to give the plush Kitty Dominatrix in it barbed wire garter belts.
    • And now they have Hello Kitty lingerie available!
      • Appears in School Bites - along with the inevitable kitty jokes.
    • Harry Potter went through the EXACT same thing, with the vibrating Nimbus 2000 Broomstick made by Mattel. Shortly after it was released during the 2001 holiday season, girls apparently began discovering that toy had "other" functions as evidenced by some of the reviews on Amazon (by parents, or 11 year old trolls who noticed the word "vibrating", you can never tell) talking about how even their older daughters loved playing with that toy. And there are widely copypasted claims that New York Post and the Toronto Star had articles on this (that don't appear to be on their sites). Mattel caught on to this after a while and permanently discontinued the item.
  • For anyone who's seen Grave of the Fireflies, this lovely commemorative tin has to seem at least a little disturbing. It Makes Sense in Context, sort of—the brand of candy was featured prominently in the film, as a favorite of the two main characters. However, considering what happens to them, and that the lack of candy is one of the first signs of their impending death by starvation... It's mildly unsettling.
    • That's not even the half of it. That little girl on the packaging? Not only does she die, but her ashes are kept inside that tin of candy.
  • An Invader Zim edutainment game... (sorta) Jhonen Vasquez probably choked on his tacos when he heard about it.
  • You're a company that sells string cheese. One day, you decide to offer free PC CD games in with your cheese. Sound plan. What do you decide to offer? A platform game with a cute mouse? OK then. A cult classic set in a futuristic semi-dystopia where a lone rogue reporter is the only hope of saving an entire planet from an evil empire by exposing their inhumane acts in order to cause the populace to revolt? Sorry, what?
  • Burger King promoted the SpongeBob SquarePants kids' meals with a commercial featuring... a "Baby Got Back" parody music video: girls in hot pants with square appliances on their backsides shaking their booties to "I like square butts and I cannot lie!" to hock fast food and cheap toys to 6-year olds, with The Burger King standing around them. Who thought this was a good idea?!
  • An Incredible Hulk children's book series has Hulk going around making friends and helping people. He's never angry and always huge and green. A sweet, voiceless guy.
    • See above regarding the "Hulky Pokey" doll and other Marvel madness.
  • Many people have gotten whiplash while walking past a bag of Disney's Old Yeller brand dog food. The one thing most people know about that movie should be reason enough not to use it to sell pet care products!
  • More a case of misconceived marketing, the Schnookums and Meat canned pasta had this remarkable disclaimer on the label: "Meat is a character developed by Buena Vista Television. THERE IS NO MEAT IN THIS PRODUCT."
    • Shouldn't they be more concerned with assuring the customer that the product doesn't contain any Schnookums?
  • There was a strange attempt in the mid-90s to make the Mortal Kombat franchise more kid-friendly (without changing the content of the games). This included the movies, the cartoon show, and even a series of live performances, all which focused more on the martial arts aspect rather than the killing aspect. It didn't work out so well and after the second movie bombed they went back to promoting the Rated "M" for Manly. Quite ironic in retrospect what with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.
  • For a strange time period in the late-80's early-90's, everything and its mom and its dog had a tie-in breakfast cereal. Back in '91 you may have seen this irritatingly Ear Worm-y commercial for this example:

"Now, Prince of Thieves is an EXCITING CEREAL!!!"

  • Dear God, Barbie:
  • For a happy, E-rated game, some of the pay downloadable costume packs for LittleBigPlanet are rather un-kid-friendly. Examples include 2000AD, Watchmen, Metal Gear, and Resistance Fall of Man. Could just be trying to hit the Periphery Demographic, but still...
    • The marketing on this this one is actually pretty specifically aimed. Kids aren't likely to buy DLC, and slightly older kids who might buy some of it probably wouldn't spend their money on something extra if they don't recognize it. The game's Periphery Demographic is the DLC's intended demographic.
  • At the Museum of Science and Industry's U-505 exhibit, you can buy a full range of "Rosie the Riveter" projects -- oven mitts, spatulas, and dish-towels. Seems a little counter-intuitive.
    • Well, Rosie is popular, and even women who don't spend all their time in the kitchen still have one. It's still weapons-grade irony, but understandable.
    • As long as the spatulas also are weapon-grade.
  • Live theater souvenir merchandise usually consists of souvenir programs, mugs, T-shirts, etc. Cirque Du Soleil goes further (especially online) with jewelry, accessories, stationery, and fine art pieces, many of which don't relate to one show in particular, but the company in general. It's not unlike Disney's adult-targeted merchandise, but it does result in oddities such as Cirque-decorated salt and pepper shakers and lip balm in a decorated tin.
  • There was a toyline for Hellboy II. Which never had the word "hell" anywhere on its packaging (the franchise was labeled "HB II", and the character was "Big Red"). If you can't say the guy's name in front of kids, you shouldn't be marketing to them.
  • The Character Greetings at Disney Theme Parks have gotten some pretty strange additions. Meeting regular villains is pretty justifiable, since Evil Is Cool, but they've had greeting for villains that qualify for Complete Monster status, including Frollo and Toy Story 3's Lotso. That's right kids, come meet the genocidal Yandere!
    • On the subject of Lotso, Disney went all the way and generated deliberate Misaimed Marketing for the character before the release of Toy Story 3 so that The Reveal of his utterly depraved nature in the movie would be made even more shocking (Of course, no one would know that it is Misaimed Marketing before then.). After the release of the movie, the usage of this trope with him firmly becomes straight though.
  • The Disney on Ice shows often devote segments to the company's newest animated films and/or characters. A rare case of a live-action film getting represented came in the early Eighties when one edition featured a Tron-inspired segment...
  • Bartleby was marketed as a zany comedy. It resembles one at the beginning, but it soon becomes apparent just how messed up the title character really is, and things take a downwards turn.
  • A book of American Dad Mad Libs. Mind you, the audience for Mad Libs is MUCH younger than the audience for American Dad.
  • For Christmas 1986, McDonald's released An American Tail Christmas stockings [dead link], which featured Fievel on them. This may sound all well and good until you realize that Fievel is a Jewish character. A lot of Jewish groups were not happy.
  • This trope may well be Older Than Radio at the least if you consider military-inspired toys (soldiers, tanks, and so forth). Granted, warfare wasn't quite as grisly as it is today until around the early twentieth century, but going to war in any era is certainly no picnic.
  • In 1999, Compaq Computers sponsored musician Sting's (then-current) album Brand New Day, as part of a marketing tie-in to promote their new line of products and services. The only problem is that point of Brand New Day was Sting lambasting the use of consumer products and ridiculing anyone who believed someone was a god because they brought out a "newer and better" version of something. Hell, it even says this in the music video. Somehow, no one at Compaq (not even their vice-president of marketing, who stated that the song "fit in with our core values") realized that having a song telling the listener not to embrace pointless upgrades and newer versions might not be a good fit for their brand-new line of computer products.
  • Pingu's English. Because clearly the best mascot for a language school is a character known for speaking in complete gibberish.
  • Twilight. If something exists, you can probably find a Twilight version of it. Clothing? Posters? Bags? Candy? Bed sets? Band-aids? Jewelry boxes? Valentine cards? Barbie dolls? Board games? You can find Twilight versions of all those things and more. Even vibrators. (Yes, they're sparkly.)
    • Burger King had a tie-in "pull off the Twilight sticker on the package to win" campaign, and aired commercials where overzealous fans harassed customers to pick "Team Edward" or "Team Jacob" by crowding around them and trying to explain why the characters were so great (to blank stares and incredulous reactions from the diners). It therefore ensured that anyone outside of the target demographic would stay far, far away from the restaurant.
    • A tie-in commercial for Volvo had the car company trying to market their vehicles to preteen girls by equating the danger one can face (shown via Bella unsuccessfully trying to ride a motorcycle) with the safety and security of a luxury car. Don't forget your financing options and down payments, girls.
  • The classic Peanuts special A Charlie Brown Christmas, in its original broadcast, included copious Product Placement for Coca-Cola. As anyone who's ever seen the special (and that's a lot of people) would know, A Charlie Brown Christmas is very much anti-commercialisation.
  • Among HBO's line of season one Game of Thrones merch an odd choice of T-Shirt was unveiled just for the ladies; a House Frey shirt. Lord Frey being both untrustworthy and a Dirty Old Man with a teenage bride. Hardly the faction a lot of fans, new or old, would really want to get behind.
  • This Puella Magi Madoka Magica wishboard to be put up at Otakon 2011, where convention-goers can write their wishes down on pieces of paper mounted on the board. Maybe not quite marketing per se, but a strange promotion in context nonetheless - whoever was behind displaying it either hasn't watched the show, or they'd know what making a contract with Kyubey entails, or it's some very Black Comedy.
    • Then there's this poster to raise awareness of training guide dogs featuring Kyoko Sakura. Even putting aside that they used a character that has absolutely nothing to do with service dogs (Sayaka would've been a better choice), the poster is to be displayed in elementary and middle schools. While it's a for a good cause, they probably be shouldn't be tying it into a series that is not kid-friendly.
    • It's Japan. Convenience stores like Seven-Eleven and Lawson's regularly run cross-promotions with such family friendly series as Detective Conan, Puella Magi Madoka Magica and, yes, Evangelion. "Kid-friendly" has a very different, but more entertaining, meaning there than it does in the West.
      • Although in this case Madoka is a Seinen series, meaning it's aimed at adults even in Japan. And it's easy to see why - how many Magical Girl series can you think of that feature decapitations?
    • Speaking of decapitations, there was a reversable plush of Charlotte that transforms from the cute form to the evil form that ate Mami, just like the Popples!
  • Fight Club deals with modern society's repression of the masculine instinct, with pain, adrenaline and physical reality replaced by vapid consumerism and technology, with Tyler's whole philosophy revolving around rejecting the artificial, emasculating pleasures of modern living and embracing the harsh but fulfilling existence of our ancestors. In light of all that, one can only imagine the sort of rant Tyler Durden would give upon finding out that there's a video game based on Fight Club.
    • With Fred Durst as a Guest Fighter!
    • When queried about this, author Chuck Palahniuk said, "They can do whatever they want with my book as long as the fucking check clears." He and David Fincher have talked about turning the movie into a musical, and were only about 50% joking when they did.
  • The Pokémon bop bag. Perfect for those who hate Pokemon.
    • I will see your bop bag and raise you this article by Smosh with 14 such occurrences. The DS and Umbrella make sense, with the popularity of the games and anime, but the toilet paper roll? The surgical mask? The maxi pads and condoms?
  • A recent commercial for Mazda cars was a cross-promotion with... The Lorax. I shit you not. This has already been a target for Internet Backdraft not just because of the blatant greenwashing in play, but also for the tragic irony of a car company promoting something that's absolutely famous for its Green Aesop. The commercial probably would have been less ridiculous if the car it was advertising was either electric or a hybrid (which works in context of the story), but this is a wholly gas-run car. Because we all associate that with being environmentally friendly.
    • Yeah, there's around 70 companies that have marketing tie-ins with a film that preaches against consumerism.
  • For several years, Harlequin published a successful line of Extruded Book Product romance novels set in the world of NASCAR.
  • Back in the late 1990s-early 2000s, Disney sold a lighter with the main six from Recess on it. Granted, the show has a HUGE Periphery Demographic, but it's still a piece of merchandise you wouldn't buy for the target audience.
  • Here's a weird product from Thomas the Tank Engine: A Thomas The Tank Engine Toddler Urinal. Justified, since most kids who watch Thomas are toddlers, but still, how many parents use toddler urinals anyways?
  • Toxic Crusaders was a Saturday morning cartoon based on The Toxic Avenger, an R-rated horror movie about a rather violent Anti-Hero. The creator of the cartoon actually pitched this as something that would be the hottest thing since the Ninja Turtles., which it was not.

Parodies of this phenomenon

  • Spaceballs milked this trope for every joke it could get, including Spaceballs the Bedsheets, Spaceballs the Toilet Paper, and, of course, Spaceballs da Flametrowah! ("The kids love that one...") The gag even extended to home video releases with the VHS case being branded "Spaceballs the Home Video" and the DVD menu opening with, well, guess.
    • Thing is, though, Mel Brooks actually agreed for there to be very limited merchandising of the film, as per a request by George Lucas. So, this may have been an intentional Take That.
  • Though milder than the Spaceballs example above, Rocky III has Rocky do all sorts of endorsements and product placement while he was reigning heavyweight champ, from the logical (Wheaties, Rocky-brand boxing gloves) to the more absurd (Rocky-brand dinner plates? WTF?) Paulie doesn't like it one bit and destroys a Rocky-themed pinball machine.
    • Rocky pinball machines exist outside Rocky III—and presumably did before the film was made.
  • An episode of The Golden Girls mentions Dorothy's previous less than amazing Christmases. She mentions one year, she received soap in the shape of the Seven Dwarfs. When Blanche asked her about it, Dorothy says, "What kid wants to play with soap? And after a couple of baths, they looked like Seven Suppositories."
  • The Mockumentary The Compleat Al has a scene where "Weird Al" Yankovic is presented with such ridiculous licensed merchandise as dress up kits and (to his horror) edible underwear.
  • Don't forget the amazing array of Krusty-Brand products ranging from home pregnancy tests ("May cause birth defects") to contracts ("Hey hey! They're binding!") to facial hair removers (which are "probably" supposed to make your upper lip bleed, according to Johnny Unitas).
    • In "The Last Temptation of Krust" Krusty realizes he's lost touch with what audiences find funny and ultimately becomes a stand-up comedian who launches several tirades against his former sponsors. And then he's back to endorsing a two-lane gas-guzzling SUV, having realized that selling out, not comedy, is his true calling in life.
  • A deleted scene from Best in Show has Gerry Fleck, who has a birth defect of two left feet, endorsing a shoe line made entirely of left shoes. They end with an expert in the field who says "Take it from a professional: these shoes are really different."
    • Another Christopher Guest film, Waiting for Guffman, has a scene where Corky St. Clair shows off his collection of odd movie merchandise, including a Remains of the Day lunchbox and My Dinner with Andre action figures.
      • On a similar note, The Simpsons features a "My Dinner with Andre" arcade game. Naturally it's played by Martin.
  • Saturday Night Live had an ad for Philadelphia action figures and a video game, made by a company that apparently just didn't care because it warped the whole thing into a sci-fi/fantasy concept. There was also an ad for a fast food joint, KCF Shredders (they specialized in an "extreme" foodstuff consisting of nothing but lettuce and mayonnaise in a bag), that noted their kids' meals currently had How Stella Got Her Groove Back toys.
  • In Watchmen, Ozymandias has an action figure line planned using the main characters, all of whom are deconstructed superheroes, at best antiheroes and at worst mass-murdering psychopaths. However, official ones are being released as a movie tie in—it's not clear whether this is tongue-in-cheek or whether they're just milking all they can out of it.
    • Also, this fan video claiming to be an unaired 80's ad for an Ozymandias action figure.
    • Some of the other real life tie-in movie products include Nite Owl themed coffee, lunchboxes and blue condoms with the tagline: "We're society's only protection!". No joke.
      • The Simpsons has done this several times (including the Krusty products mentioned above), but the best is Milhouse asking Alan Moore to autograph his Watchmen Babies in: V for Vacation DVD.
    • Watchmen seems like a popular target for these parodies, possibly because of Alan Moore's famous loathing of such cash-in products. To wit, Saturday Morning Watchmen.
  • Relic ends with various attempts to exploit the stories of the Museum Beast with things like cartoons and action figures ending in failure. Considering that the Museum Beast was a monster which ate people's brains and brutally killed children, this is not surprising.
  • Naturally, The Onion satirized the hell out of this with the headline:

"80 Billion Tons Of Jar Jar Merchandise Now 70 Percent Off!"

  • In the Babylon 5 episode "There All the Honor Lies," Earthforce opens a gift shop in the station with Babylon 5 merchandise: clothing, model ships, space alien masks, human masks (for space aliens!), Londo Mollari dolls, John Sheridan "Ba-Bear-Lon 5" teddy bears; the works. Neither Ivanova, nor Sheridan, nor Londo like it at all.
  • The old FPS game Blood had a secret level set in a small shopping mall. One of the stores had a nice display of Blood action figures, including little shotgun-wielding crazed cultists and scythe-wielding ghosts. Take in mind this game came out before the whole "Pandering to the Base by selling accurate-likeness toys/Feelies in direct market shops" thing was all the rage in the marketing world.
  • The Chaser's War on Everything did a stunt where they tried to sell Shrek-branded beer and sex toys to kids, just to see what people would be willing to buy for their children if it had the Shrek logo on it. They managed to sell Shrek-brand heroin (of course the heroin wasn't actually heroin, but no-one needed to know that) -- "You might want your mum to carry it for you."
  • When asked by a reporter if there will be action figures based on The Expendables, Sylvester Stallone replied that there will be figures that don't move, just float face down in the water, and that kids will love it. Hot Toys are actually going to do action figures based on the film, but as with most Hot Toys collectibles, they will most likely be high-end, expensive products that kids won't find fun.
  • Law and Order: The Coloring Book
  • Schlock Mercenary brings us the Plasma Cannon Safety Coloring Book.
  • A bit of Memetic Mutation centres around an exaggeration of this trope in conjunction with Kenner/Hasbro's love of making figures of everyone and everything in the Star Wars universe, no matter how minor or squicky. There are pictures of a fan's custom figurine of the burned corpses of Owen and Beru - as in, a few little bits of disconnected black/red debris. Other such parody figurines exist, including more complete skeletons and their burned-out home.
  • Batman: The Animated Series: After Selina Kyle (as Catwoman) helps Batman to foil a criminal plot, a friend tells her that she wouldn't be surprised if (in-universe) they started making Catwoman dolls. As if Catwoman is a heroic figure, when she's morally ambiguous at best.
  • In The Legend of Korra "The Spirit of Competition" the pro-bending announcer decides that the sight of Bolin throwing up a large quantity of noodles creates the perfect opportunity to advertise Flameo Noodles.
  • Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt has in-universe examples, with everything from dolls to panties featuring the titular girls' likenesses. Panty Really Gets Around on the show and jumped at the chance to get her name on a product, and Stocking has a Sugar and Ice Personality and questions all the baubles that get made of her. Knowing Gainax's casual attitude towards licensing, it might be a big in-joke.
  • Full Frontal Nerdity mocked it here.

Shawn: It's like expecting teenagers to drink non-alcoholic beer for the flavor.


  1. ...What? Just because your child is simple doesn't mean we have to dumb down education.
  2. Just in case you haven't seen the movie, she implicitly marries a general... whom she fought alongside. D'oh.
  3. The dolls themselves are extremely Off-Model, but that's another story...