For the most part we have seen a healthy appetite for upscale, female-centric best-sellers being transferred to the Big Screen in recent years. This particular period piece had a lot of societal discussion surrounding it, with a number of black voices suggesting that the story of a white writer adapting the collected stories of the black maids in her area was not as agreeable as many regarded it in the press. A popular novel was being debated as potentially racially insensitive. It would prove to be viable for selling overpriced food and kitchen appliances however.
Charges of racism are somewhat of a challenge when trying to sell your product. Well, that was certainly not the kind of thing people wanted to hear in the weeks leading up to the release of the film – unless you are in the movie promotion business. Yep, all of that advance negative publicity would prove to be – well, something of a cash-cow. The Help was barely edged out as the #1 film this past weekend, and that was with a smaller screen roll-out than most of the other debut titles.
Despite the box office success the controversial tone surrounding the movie would be a bit of a turn off for those companies seeking a partnership with the film. After all, even with a small segment of the country opposing the film’s content seeing your brand attached to a controversy is not good for business. Unless you are selling books, it seems. On the weekend of the film’s release both Barnes & Noble and Amazon had the Kathryn Sockett novel as the #1 selling title. Interesting that despite a best-selling pedigree the book was given a new cover using the film’s key art, even though that poster was largely adapted from the original book cover.
It would make sense that when selling a female-centric story based on a piece of literature you would target female readers. (This came from a novel about the publication of a book, after all.) A bevy of magazines sported various actresses on the covers in the weeks leading up to release. It was a cagey if not expected move to include a number of African-American centered periodicals to stave off a bit of the social critics, however not all were successful in this goal. When Entertainment Weekly featured three of the principals on their cover it was pointed out by at least one source (MovieLine) that this had been the first time in nearly two years since a black actor had been featured on the front.
Food is a major player in getting the word out. Part of the promotional tour for the cast included numerous visits on set with well known and lesser known personalities with cooking programs. Hosts such as Paula Dean had shows dedicated to the movie and provided recipes and anecdotes which would tie in to that theme of uplift from comfort foods.
Anyone else getting on board seemed intent on going with the periwinkle-and-goldenrod color scheme. The social awareness website TakePart.com was involved with a number of interactive contests tied to the release. Staging what they bill as “The Help” Social Action Campaign, the site petitions for a story submission that will earn the winner a trip to New York City, plus an inspirational interview will gain the winner tickets to a Broadway show. To go with this they also had to feature a variety of “inspirational recipes” from noted chefs and cookbook authors.
Despite some of the unease there are a number of companies willing to wade into the controversial waters. Of course when incorporating corporations you are bound to lose a bit of that genuine emotion when you get into promotions. After all, when you are relying on the feelings evoked by delicious care packages delivered by loved ones it strikes as odd that you might expect to glean those feelings of down-home, hand-made baked goods from pre-packaged processed foods. Famous Amos Cookies stumped for the movie and has a scholarship contest on select boxes.
Another option to evoke the soothing feelings of the movie can be found in the bottom of a cup (and not a shot glass, gentlemen.) Starbucks Coffee chains featured the soundtrack to the film in their shops, and the caffeine-induced branding did not stop there. The Republic of Tea Company has created a special blend as a tie-in with the film. It is flavored after caramel cake – but their choice of using “black tea” as the base could be viewed as an insensitive move by some. (I do tire of the hypersensitive racial interpretations. Maybe a decaf blend would tamp down the controversy a bit?) And any ladies wanting to sit back and sip the soothing flavor need to do so with a special mug also created for the film.
Lastly, when you have a movie based in the early 1960s and set in a proper Southern township, while featuring old fashioned sensibilities, what better way to capture that sense of time and place than splurging on gourmet foods and expensive kitchen appliances? Well the cable retail giant HSN is there for your throwback dreams.
The shopping portal dedicated program hours to the film and amid showing trailers and behind-the-scenes clips they offered an assortment of “beauty, home decor, designer fashions and jewelry created in the spirit of “The Help””. So what could you get to evoke the small-town and quaint atmosphere? How about an electric grill for $160?
Or you could get a fashionable pump, stylized with some of the iconic coloring from the film. ($150)
And there could be no better way to savor the tastes of lovingly created homemade dishes than to have FedEx deliver premade comfort food in the form of a chocolate cake ($60), or a sampler of down home biscuits – for $40 – delivered to your door.
Nothing can soothe the soul better than those delicious products which contain the special ingredient of love, delivered with satisfaction and comfort – plus shipping and handling.