'Eat Pray Love': Parsing our feelings about all those product tie-ins
When most women finished reading the final words of easily digestible spiritual wisdom in Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love," they probably didn't close the book and think: "What I really need right now is a $359.99 Indonesian oversized bench with a cushion."
But just such a bench -- and canisters of "Eat Pray Love" black tea, and leather journals, and tunics that would look perfectly casual yet chic on that next visit to an ashram in India -- are all for sale as part of the marketing blitz surrounding the release of "Eat Pray Love," the movie. World Market has devoted an entire department to products tied, both vaguely and directly, with the New Age-y rom-com. The Home Shopping Network has done a similar push. And plenty of travel agencies are trying to capitalize on what already was a phenomenon, and could become an even bigger one, by offering packages to Italy, India and Bali to women seeking to reconnect with their inner music.
As someone who enjoyed the book but isn't necessarily a diehard eat-pray-lover, even I initially found the commercialization of Gilbert's best-seller a bit troubling. What was supposed to be a story about shedding pettiness and material concerns, about regaining a sense of self after a difficult divorce, about building a life of quiet happiness and peace, has now become an opportunity to sell us bracelets, body cream and gelato makers. Could other women be interested in buying these products, I wondered?
Preliminary evidence suggests the answer is yes.
Liz Allen, the senior vice president of marketing for World Market, says many of the chain's "Eat Pray Love" products are doing brisk business. While she could not quote direct sales figures, she said items like the leather journals and a set of $4.99 Rosewood prayer beads are moving quickly off of store shelves.
"We've been working on this for almost a year with Sony," Allen said of the movie marketing tie-in. "I can't imagine a more perfect fit for who we are and what we're about and our customer demographic."
In a press release issues yesterday, Yahoo also reported that (not surprisingly) searches for "Eat Pray Love" are up 956 percent this month, which ncludes attempts to find information about the book, the movie soundtrack and travel. But the Web site also reports a spike in search terms like "eat pray love gifts," "eat pray love merchandise" and "eat pray love perfume." ("For the woman who wants to smell like incense, red wine and authentic Neapolitan pizza" ... okay, I made up that slogan, but it kind of works, doesn't it?)
So clearly at least some consumers are not only fine with all this, they're loving it.
I asked Allen, who has read Gilbert's book, if it feels strange to be selling "Eat Pray Love"-related yoga mats to the masses given the book's themes. She says she understands why the consumerism may not sit well with some who see the text as a Bible for the modern woman. But given World Market's pre-existing focus on products from around the globe, she thinks this is, more than anything, an opportunity to allow anyone who loves the book and movie to continue relishing the experience.
"We're not overly concerned about [backlash]," she says. "Customers can simply choose to participate or not."
Which got me thinking. Movies in other genres regularly bathe in exactly the same kind of product tie-in swimming pool that "Eat Pray Love" has waded into. Within the past year alone, we've had all kinds of "Iron Man 2," "Toy Story 3" and "Avatar" merch pushed in our faces, and it didn't raise so much as a portion of one of my eyebrows.
But when "Sex and the City 2" teamed up with Macy's and Lipton, that bugged me, even though that franchise is about as overtly commercial as you can get. Is there some part of me -- and some part of other women -- that rejects the idea of female-oriented movies spawning so many products? Or is it simply a matter of knowing when to say when?
The more I thought about the "Eat Pray Love" shopping experience, for example, the more I felt that Sony might have been better off developing a single partnership with World Market -- perhaps with fewer products -- and leaving it at that. Something about the whole Home Shopping Network association pushed the "sell, sell, sell" element too far.
Then again, If someone wants to buy a journal, or even that Indonesian oversized bench, who am I to judge? Didn't "Eat Pray Love" teach us to live and let live, after all?
Or should I just stop thinking about this, eat a slice of pizza and meditate? You tell me by weighing in with a comment.
| August 13, 2010; 10:45 AM ET
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