Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling 2006 memoir launched a self-discovery movement that could best be described by its full title: Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.
Although Sony Pictures has simplified the title, the ongoing search for "everything" remains an integral part of the movie release Friday -- especially if "everything" includes the slew of merchandising items, from the "I Deserve Something Beautiful" lotus petal necklace (Dogeared Jewels and Gifts, $72) to the "Only True Love Remains" organic tee (Signorelli, $45) to the official prayer beads (World Market, $4.99).
The film might be a call to action for women to live their lives passionately, but it's also a call for them to purchase the tastes, smells and luxuries that Julia Roberts enjoys onscreen through her travels. It serves as a fragrant reminder that movie merchandising, once the domain of films for teens and kids, has matured for the adult female audience.
But rather than just selling the adult equivalent of Transformers toys, the bigger task is creating an event movie that builds excitement and leads to that much-needed big opening weekend for Love.
"It's absolutely to drive box office and generate buzz," said Mark Owens, president of Norm Marshall and Associates, a global product-integration and marketing agency (which has not worked with Love). "What the studios are really looking for is a partnership that is going to drive viewership of the film."
Along with an entire weekend extravaganza devoted to the movie on the HSN shopping network -- one of the campaign's biggest components -- there's a 21-day trip to Love locations being given away by STA Travel, trumpeted by Borders bookstores; a specialty tea line from the Republic of Tea; a Love-branded clothing line from Sue Wong; a fragrance collection from Fresh; signature T-shirts from Signorelli; and jewelry from Dogeared Jewels and Gifts.
One rival studio marketing honcho said Sony "has done a clever job of putting a thematic umbrella over the movie's promotion." The exec added, "It's not how many Eat Pray Love prayer beads they are going to sell; it's about getting messages out about the movie that money cannot buy."
Along with Roberts' star power and female-friendly themes of soul-searching and empowerment, the movie is rife with spin-off possibilities thanks to its sectioning by idyllic location: Italy (Eat), India (Pray) and Bali (Love).
The exotic locales proved a natural fit for Cost Plus World Market stores, which placed prominent special sections in its 263 locations featuring items split into the specific countries. Sony receives a percentage of the sales for the 11 items it licensed, but the displays also are meant to push people to see the movie.
Shoppers can pick up the tunic Roberts wore onscreen in India ($19.99), Love-labeled Pinot Grigio from Italy ($9.99) and a replica day bed like the one Julia reclined on in Bali ($359.99).
"It brings the experience home," said Liz Allen, svp, marketing at World Market stores. "You can work your way through Eat, Pray and Love right through the stores."
And then, presumably, the customer could head to the megaplex.
Love is World Market's first foray into the movie-marketing business.
"We were looking for tie-ins," Allen said, "and it's a win-win for us because it's so on brand with what we carry in the store."