Behold the Lorax of yesterday: Mustachioed moralist. Enraged environmentalist. Seussian symbol in the '70s screed against greed.
Behold the Lorax of today. He's still all that. But now his orange image is on a Seventh Generation diaper box. His name is on an IHOP breakfast item. That's him in an ad for a Mazda SUV. The gas-powered vehicle even gets a certified seal of approval from the Truffula trees, the ones the Lorax says he speaks for.
As "Dr. Seuss's 'The Lorax' surpasses the $100 million mark in its third week since the March 2 film release, the furious furball is promoting a raft of products — and some criticism.
"Outrageous perversion of one of the great books of all time," writes a North Carolina man on a pledge website for the nonprofit Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a Boston-based coalition of educators, health care professionals, parents and others that aims to reduce child exposure to corporate marketing. This group is calling for a boycott of Lorax-promoted products.
"Save the Lorax, shun the stuff," echoes a Seattle-based national website for parents with more than a million members, momsrising.org.
And cable TV satirist Stephen Colbert couldn't resist the irony, breaking into rhyme on a recent segment:
"This cashtaculous sellout is not quite enough; I'm demanding more branding of Loraxian stuff."
Makers of children's literature and films have long recognized the marketing potential for their creations — think Disney. The term 'toyetic' refers to the merchandising potential of children's books, TV shows and movies. In promoting "The Lorax" through more than 70 corporate partners, Universal Studios is continuing the tradition of toy tie-ins and other merchandising.
But since the Lorax was an anti-consumer purist in the book, this 'toyetic' is ironic.
And if anyone knows irony, it's an English lit doctoral candidate like Omahan Andrea Comiskey Lawse.
Lawse has used "The Lorax" in her composition classes and said she found the Mazda ad "perverse" because it features the literary hero hawking a polluting gasoline-run vehicle.
Other parents have said they can live with the marketing tie-ins because in their view, Lorax is spreading an environmental message. IHOP, for instance, gives out tree seeds. And others, of course, aren't even thinking about the tie-ins.
The company's spokespeople have said that they worked hard to find partners with a green message.
To some of the book's faithful fans, the most troubling tie-in is the 45-second Mazda television spot.
In the ad, a blue CX-5, the carmaker's crossover vehicle, rolls through a land of colorful Truffula trees and smiling animals. The spot ends with a voice reminding viewers to "Do see Dr. Seuss's 'The Lorax'" in theaters this March."
Mazda has noted that the vehicle gets 35 miles per gallon, considered to be good gas mileage even in smaller cars.
"That's the kind of car we think the Lorax would like to drive," a Mazda rep said to some Virginia schoolchildren in a Washington Post story about a promotion urging children to read books and visit Mazda dealerships. For every Mazda their parents test-drove, the carmaker pledged to chip in $25 to their school library.
In "The Lorax," Seuss tells a dark, unsubtle tale of how corporate production, personified by the greedy Once-ler, and human consumption — represented in demand for the Once-ler's "Thneeds ... a Fine Something-That-All-People-Need!" — wreak devastation.
The 1971 book wasn't an instant hit. Seuss biographer and Dartmouth University English professor Donald Pease has said the allegory was a hard sell and that fans missed "the zany, wild nonsense ... of his preceding books."
But when the environmental movement seized upon the story, sales improved. And a generation later, the movie has further helped book sales.
The book has been criticized on both fronts: by business (the hardwood flooring industry responded with its own morality tale, "Truax,") and by some environmentalists who saw it as too dark. The 2012 movie features an all-star cast, luscious graphics and some Hollywood specialties: a love interest and car chase.
Opinion on the movie's cross promotion ranges from outrage to acceptance of a possibly greater good of publicizing the story's pro-environment message.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood falls into the first camp. Josh Golin, a campaign strategist for the nonprofit, said the group wanted to raise awareness about how the Lorax was undermining his own message. He said it's particularly harmful for children who are not developmentally able to distinguish the movie character from an ad pitchman.
That discounts the influence of parents on a child's development, said Jonna Holland, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. It can be more powerful than the media.
"Any sort of media exposure isn't harmful in and of itself if the parents are there to counteract, explain, mitigate, reinforce, etc... Basically be a parent," she said.
In targeting ads to children, she said, marketers realize the powerful pull children have on their parents and that children "still get an amazingly strong vote" even for a big-ticket item like a family car. And sometimes, marketing to kids promotes the greater good, she said, using Smokey the Bear as an example.
Julie Forsyth, who works for the National Park Service's Omaha office, got acquainted with the Lorax through the book. She said her husband and 4-year-old daughter, Reilly, have seen the film. The family printed out Lorax templates — from HP, one of the corporate partners — that remind them to turn off lights.
The tie-ins don't bother her.
If the marketing gets one more kid to see the movie "and come home with the message of protecting the environment," she said, "I don't have a problem with it."
Lawse, the Omaha English professor and wife of an Omaha green entrepreneur, is a mother who discovered the Lorax when her first-grade daughter was a toddler. Lawse hasn't seen the Lorax film yet but plans to take her now-7-year-old daughter.
All Lorax moviegoers are hypocrites to a degree, Lawse said, because it's difficult to reduce or give up consumption.
"If SUVs are going to exist," she said, "then I'd rather they were 'Truffula certified' than not. Our job must become, if nothing else and at the very least, to hold these companies fully accountable to their claims."
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"Lorax" Mazda ad