Hunger Games Items Just in Time for Giving: MisGuided Merchandising or Brilliant Branding?

The Movie Marketing Gamemakers have clearly decided that The Hunger Games is bound to be their meal ticket (pun most certainly intended) next year, a fact evidenced by big promotions starting this week with the 100 days countdown to film release March 23. The stunning new poster, with its catchphrase “The World will be watching” is both a reference to the ever-present cameras in Panem, and a bandwagon appeal from moviemakers for viewers to go see the “big” movie “everybody” will be going to see. It should not, then, be astonishing the number of items that have now been rolled out in the hopes that readers will snatch them up for themselves, or that that friends and family will purchase mass quantities of this stuff for all the Hunger Games readers on their lists. Follow me after the jump for some thoughts on the humor and horror of everything from nail polish to water bottles sporting the flaming Mockingjay pin.
When I first saw the shiny new poster, I was again reminded of the fantastic (and chilling) metanarrative at play in this novel, and particularly in this forthcoming film adaptation. The Gamemakers in Hollywood are sparing no expense to make sure their Girl on Fire is a winner at the box office, and they are, in the process, creating the very phenomenon Collins critiques in her riveting novel. The poster, with Katniss staring up at a row of posters displaying the “stock images” of herself and Peeta, is lovely, but self-fulfilling, as, of course, it’s a poster, which will be reproduced and displayed ad infinitem in cineplexes and other venues (I notice several folks whose facebook status pictures are now the poster). The layers within layers here are fascinating.

The self-fulfillment of Collins’s cautionary tale continues with the reams of marketing and tie-in items being promoted. After a complex legal struggle, it looks like Hunger Games nail polish will soon be available. The “colours of the capitol” line now has shades whose names are reflective just of the Capitol, rather than the original, cutesy names. Of course, I like nail polish as much as the next person (currently sporting some glittery blue stuff picked out by the four-year old), but the marketing of this product specifically to Hunger Games fans is fascinating. Clearly, this reflects the desire to get any tie-in possible, but the name and focus change also shows that the marketing folks saw how easily this thing could blow up in their faces. Thus, they renamed the pink “primrose” shade as “dress me up” to shift focus onto the Capitol glam-masters and away from little Primrose Everdeen, who is lucky to have a hot meal, much less a fabulous manicure.

Similar tiptoeing may be called for with the bottled water company slapping Hunger Games Logos on their bottles. Really? Did they read this book (yes, silly question, but as a teacher, I am contractually obligated to shout that a certain number of times each year). I just can’t see myself chugging down a big old bottle of this stuff marketed with the story of a girl who nearly dies of dehydration. Of course, when people actually go to the movie, they’ll be chomping on big buckets of popcorn and slurping down sodas, all in containers with that fiery Mockingjay.

Speaking of food, there is also the Hunger Games Cookbook. While this is clearly an “unofficial” book, the variety of responses on amazon reviews are not surprising: ranging from the blissfully delighted to the utterly horrified. I’m just wondering if the book features tasty treats like Greasy Sae’s wild dog stew or raw eggs and pine bark trail mix. The author does appear to focus mainly on the Capitol foods, and to be fair, for a book called The Hunger Games, food is a big focus point. I am interested to see if there is an “official” such cookbook.

I wonder if companies will try to connect with the audience with more of this “be like the Capitol” angle. I can’t really see everyone lining up to be like the people who delight in watching at least 23 young people die brutally every year, but then, I doubt most viewers will see just how cleverly Collins has wrapped her package of social criticism. I have already seen one man sporting a beard like Seneca Crane’s (too short to be a beard, really, more manicured stubble, but then, I am something of a beard aficionado).

Perhaps even this glammy, uber-merchandised experience will lead more people to read the books and to thus look at our world in a more careful way. I am hopeful that astute viewers (and readers, of course) will look for ways to make this movie’s popularity into a chance for thoughtful reading and even more thoughtful choices. Instead of buying the nail polish, perhaps filmgoers will, like the students at several schools across the country, start canned food drives. Personally, I’d love to see groups like Samaritan’s Purse or World Vision pairing up with Hunger Games fans to buy “Lady” the goat for needy families in the world’s real District 12s. Considering the fuss currently being kicked up over whether or not the officially licensed Chocolate Frogs are made with fair trade chocolate, perhaps such hopes are not unfounded. But, in the meantime, I wonder how many more peculiar tie-ins we’ll see. I have a family member who owns a Burger King franchise, and I’ve let him know in no uncertain terms that if he sells Hunger Games kids’ meals, I will stop speaking to him, no matter how many nifty toys he sends me.

So what do you think? What other awful or wonderful Hunger Games items have you seen or expect to see? Thanks to James and Deborah for the tips!


  1. Would we really want a nail polish–a vanity item–named after a murdered child used as a pawn by a ruthless, power-mad, every bit as bad as the Capitol revolutionary??

    I can understand excitement over the film, even if I’m not sure I’ll see it, but all this Capitolistic marketing is distasteful to me. The irony + cognitive dissonance = complete brain cramp.

  2. File this right along with the stories about people who buy replications of Tolkien’s ring to be married with and the ones who choose the old Police song, ‘I’m on Fire,’ for their first dance as a married couple. It’s from the perspective of someone who is stalking a married woman.

  3. Yeah, I’m kind of on the “some of this seems in bad taste” side. Now, the food drives and giving of goats to needy families–that’s brilliant, and exactly the kind of thing that makes sense after reading these stories.

    I’m guessing the cookbook doesn’t contain a recipe for mixing the little drink that makes you vomit so you can eat more.

    Wanting to be like the Capitol mystifies me, but then some of the Slytherin and Death Eater self-identification mystifies me, too. It’s one thing to do corny wizard rock songs from dark-side perspectives; it’s quite another to identify yourself as a possibly (unremorsefully) evil person.

    Renee said: “…people who buy replications of Tolkien’s ring to be married with…”

    What the…. HAHAHAHA! “One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them/In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie.” There aren’t words! That is too awful.

  4. Having just finished Mockingjay not three hours ago – still reeling – I find my ire flared at all of this. Thank you for the insightful commentary. Because of course Collins’ point is that we are all the people of the Capitol, able to sit by and watch our own Games being warm and fed while the struggling and starving fight for the right to live in the privileged world of the few and wealthy and celebrity-statused. Our own Gamemakers are perfectly content to please the people with anything they demand – even stories where the Gamemakers themselves are the villains (why do corporations make so many shows and movies about evil corporations?) – just so long as we get all our needs and desires from them.

  5. So is Collins just laughing all the way to the bank? Give me a moment here, I am having a very hard time digesting this. I am so disappointed in her choices here. I know I am idealistic, but Ms. Collins, how can you kill your baby so? I cannot even fathom how the contentious issue was titling the pink polish and not the product itself. As if proudly displaying our Capitol-ness with a cosmetics line makes total sense! I guess I misunderstood your point Ms. Collins. Clearly we are to celebrate how shallow and self-absorbed we have become and not seek to grow and change. While I had hoped the youth would grasp your message in the books, a message I thought I understood and identified with, I now worry they will follow your example instead. Enjoy your wealth Ms. Collins, I am not sure I could.

  6. I could be wrong, Jessica, but my sense is that Ms. Collins probably has no control whatsoever over the merchandising of her story. Moviemaking is a big expensive industry–lots of money in, lots of money out, lots of risk. The marketing departments are going to push this tale in any way they can, quite probably without actually reading the book. They’re seeing it from a sales perspective, not as social commentary. It probably works well on those whose focus is Team Peeta and Team Gale rather than the critique of our own society.

    But I’ve got to wonder what Collins thinks of all this, and how strong the irony feels to her.

  7. @Jenna, @Jessica – even if the author has something to do with the franchise being overused, my opinion is – let her do it, let people buy the stuff, use it, see the film, read the books. If they get the books message – it will hit them that much harder. If they don’t… well – no harm done.

  8. Indeed, Jessica, it is highly unlikely that Collins has any say whatsoever in the marketing techniques and products, but, even these may work for her ultimate goals. Remember, the character in the story who represents Collins is NOT Katniss, but Cinna, the subversive image-maker who feeds the Capitol citizens just what they want while undermining everything the Capitol stands for.

  9. I am aware of the power of the movie industry. However, JK Rowling had and continues to have influence on who gets to use her brand and how. After that example, I have a hard time believing Ms. Collins just handed over the rights and reins to publishers, marketers and movie studios. But for argument’s sake, let’s say she did. Did they also buy her silence? A young Billy Joel signed his fortunes away, but he wrote a couple of great (and angry) songs about it.

    If indeed she is hoping the mass merchandising will carry her message to a broader audience, well she is right about that. I just wonder which message will sing the loudest? Her original one? Or her hypocritical one? I find it interesting that you draw a comparison to Cinna. That begins to make sense; he was a leader of District 13 – Capitol version 2.0! Lucky for him that he managed to disappear before Katniss picked up their stench.

    I am not begrudging Ms. Collins’ right to make millions. But I am not buying her innocence either. No one who could write that series would enter into a contract with eyes shut. Yes, I am an unabashed idealist. I am a teacher who gave up income and prestige to do what I love, what can I say? And the thing that gets me the most rattled is the commercial branding our youth. This topic hit me on two fronts. Thanks for hearing my rant.

  10. Well, I have a friend who is a New York Times Bestseller author, and she doesn’t even get to always decide her cover art or title! I’m sure even Rowling does not have absolute say in the legion of items that are really film tie-ins, not book ones.

    I am interested in your take on Cinna, Jessica, which seems to cast him in a more sinister light. (My students and I generally find him the most endearing character after Peeta, and I even have a few anti-Peeta folks; go figure.) Since he dies (by nightlock purple pill, I ‘m guessing) before Coin comes into her glory, I have to wonder if he would have been in cahoots with her. I tend to think not.

    But he is largely absent from the third volume, present primarily through his art, and Collins, too, seems quite “hands off” in her approach. Does this absence make either artist an accessory to Capitol corruption? There’s the rub, no?

  11. Having only read book 3 once (over a year ago), I cannot exactly remember when in the timeline Coin takes charge, so I cannot really speak about Cinna’s allegiance without doing some rereading. However, regardless of motive, Cinna manipulated Katniss from the start. Just as the Capitol subjugates the districts by taking away free will, Cinna pushed Katniss into the role of Mockingjay – without her consent – through his art, at the behest of District 13. The most powerful theme, for me, was Katniss finding her own voice and freedom. Free from Snow, free from Coin, and yes, free from Cinna.

    For what it is worth, this realization made me sad, because I loved Cinna as well. But I loved Dumbledore, too. And then we realized his gamble. I like to think Cinna thought he was working for the greater good, Dumbledore certainly thought so (and was). But manipulating children to fight on your side of the battle is not something to be proud of.

    “Accessory to Capitol corruption?” I can think of many provocative comparisons in an effort to stir the pot, but I really don’t know that I want to open that can of worms. I just feel a little vomit in my throat when I consider her initial message, the current one, her profits and her silence.

  12. Jessica, it seems to me that you are imposing something from outside of the text onto Cinna. I think you’re ascribing a too-negative role onto a character under which that role grates. The fact is that Katniss was the Mockingjay from the end of the first book, whether anyone liked it or not. Cinna’s work isn’t intended by the text to be read negatively. Even in Catching Fire, there was nothing Katniss could have done to forestall rebellion; President Snow would have had her killed regardless. By making her into the symbol of the Rebellion, Cinna virtually guaranteed that District 13 would need her, and in so doing saved her life. It was the fact that she was the Mockingjay that she was rescued from the Quell Games in the first place. Otherwise, as was pointed out in book 3, President Coin would have taken Peeta and left her to die.

    Additionally, I also happen to know that in many cases, promotional marketing rights are signed away to the publisher in some book contracts, and even more often they are included in any film adaptation contract. J. K. Rowling had veto power over her own merchandise only because of her clout – the marketers were very keen to make sure to please her because one word from her would turn scores of millions of people off from any marketing campaign. A single word of disappointment from her over the films and they would have tanked as fans rallied around her. That’s a special circumstance that no other contemporary author has ever enjoyed. The Hunger Games might be bestsellers, but they don’t sell like the Potter books. It is highly likely that Collins has no control – and just as likely not much awareness of what they’re doing beyond generalities and what she runs across in the stores herself. The way you frame the situation, it sounds like she’s intentionally contradicting her own message to make a buck, and I think that’s patently unfair given the nature of the system we have in place.

  13. Under the absurd category …. Victoria Secret fur underwear… As a tie-in for the final book.

  14. Oh, alright, I just put this on my to-read list. The irony intrigues me. And, I want to be novel-literate before the movie-craziness launches.

  15. Suzanne Collins does not likely benefit from the sale of this nail polish.
    That is more likely Lionsgate who benefits. Further more, I am intrigued about the shift Lionsgate seemed to have with the company about this polish. The were set to go forward with it, then seemed to have a shift in attitude until they were sued. They only went forward after a threat of lawsuit and a shift in focus of where these nail polish colors were supposed to be derived. We don’t know what went on behind closed doors in that shift of attitude. For all we know Collins did complain when she found out, but is without power to do very much. For an author to cut off support for a movie because of the poor marketing from some typically short sided marketers might have been foolish. The movie gets the books message out to at least some people even if there will always be those who miss the finer points. I don’t see how one can assume Collins of horrible intent without more information. She might have been the reason the polish was cancelled to begin with until the lawsuit forced a compromise. She is an intensely private person and it would be out of character for her to suddenly start opening up to the media now. She has rarely talked to it before.

    JKRowling is virtually unparalleled in the amount of control she was given for her movies. While part of that is her being smart and savvy, part of that is also the power she carried in order to make those demands. Very few authors have that kind of power when they sell their movies.

    I suspect there will be more instances of this irony in marketing. We were all prepared for it and there will always be those who don’t get the point of the books. I can’t attest to the truth of the following article but I recommend people go to: This is potential irony for Lionsgate as well. Perhaps someone more knowledgable about the things this article discusses can tell us if Lionsgate is really turning themselves into the capitol.


    The comments on this post disgust me. Everyone is actually excited and ready to buy these to wear their color to the movies. at the time I posted this link, there wasn’t a single negative comment on the whole post (74 comments at the time). I’m sort of dumbstruck.

  17. Hi
    I think JK Rowling had the control because she had not completed the series when the movies started getting made.She could have refused to sell the movie rights for the subsequent books. No producer in his right mind would have let go such a gold mine.Also I heard she held out for long on the movie and merchandise rights and gave in only after the 4th book.
    Suzanne Collins does not have that advantage, she probably sold the entire series to them.But in all fairness she has more control on the movie itself as she is doing the screenplay and did pick the main actors.

  18. Rochelle, you are so right. I am also dumbstruck at the vapidity of so many of these comments. But I find that true of web/facebook comments in general. One of the reasons I was so delighted to find this website is that both the posts and comments are written by adults who seem to actually think (not to mention spell whole words and punctuate actual sentences). Curiously refreshing!

  19. Rochelle and Mary Ellen,

    I’ve seen a number of threads like that one on facebook. The one linked two here is the first I’ve seen that had no negative comments about dressing as Capitol citizens (until I added one :p ). I’ve seen four or five other, and at least some of the commentators had the decency to point out the problem with this sort of marketing.

    Then again, I think fandom has a long history of identifying with the wrong side. I mean, how many people dress up like Darth Maul or seen fanfic where Snape is a good guy – much gooder than in the books? There should be a study on the psychology of identifying with villainy in stories. Darth Vader is at least understandable, since he had a fall from grace and struggled against it, but when you identify with the Death Eaters or Voldemort or Saurman or dressing like the Black Riders, it’s rather like saying, “You know, Satan really had a good thing going in Paradise Lost. Too bad it didn’t work out. I’ll dress up like him next Halloween!”

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