Teens flip for burger phone
Demand soars on eBay for the retro device shown in the indie movie hit Juno
Prime placement in one of the year’s most talked- about movies is transforming the hamburger phone into an unlikely pop icon.
Just as teenage fans of Napoleon Dynamite donned Vote For Pedro Tshirts in 2005, hamburger phones, which are shaped like fast food’s most venerable staple, have become the hippest way for young people to signal their affection for Juno, the indie sensation starring Halifax actress Ellen Page and directed by Montreal’s Jason Reitman.
According to eBay, sales of the retro phones jumped 759 per cent in the month following the movie’s release, with interest expected to spike even more now that Juno has been nominated for four Academy Awards.
“ It works like an inside joke or an inside connection,” says Debi Andrus, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Calgary. “ It’s a way of showing you belong to this group.”
The hamburger phone earned a cameo in Juno because of screenwriter Diablo Cody’s girlhood affection for the retro handset, which is also mentioned in her 2005 autobiography Candy Girl.
In the film, the title character uses her bedroom “ hamburger phone” — which technically looks more like a cheeseburger — on a number of occasions, complaining in a pivotal scene that it’s “ really awkward to talk on.” Despite the celluloid slight, Juno’s use of the phone has created a groundswell of demand as young people take to the Internet to find versions of the product, most of which are being sold by companies with no affiliation to Juno distributor Fox Searchlight.
“ With big- budget films, [ studios] know how the merchandising is going to play out well in advance,” says Andrus.
“ But because indie films tend to draw anti- establishment types who aren’t as responsive to the merchandising machine . . . they don’t always know what the audience is going to grab onto.”
To a generation weaned on wireless, a corded phone has a strong retro appeal; that element, and the handset’s hip movie tie- in, is leading teenagers such as Brittany Wallace to want one of their own.
“ Seeing a hamburger phone just in a mall, it may not have struck me as something cool,” says Wallace, an 18year- old Juno fan from Kitchener, Ont., who recently bought one of the handsets for $ 10.
“ However, in a movie, it makes it popular. And even though many people hate to admit it, popular is, in the end, better.”
Sharifah Mabayeke, a 15- year- old from Toronto, chalks up the phone’s appeal to it being “ sort of weird and random.” “ I really do like retro style,” says Mabayeke. “ It seems pretty cool, like the old Mickey Mouse phone or the ones that look like lips.”
On the social networking site Facebook, there are now groups dedicated solely to discussing the phone, with such names as “ Sorry, I’m on my hamburger phone — Juno” or “ Juno’s hamburger phone is the cheese to my macaroni.”
Fox Searchlight didn’t return requests for comment. It is known, however, that the company gave Juno hamburger phones to select members of the press as part of the film’s publicity campaign.
“ It looks like Fox Searchlight has worked fairly hard to get this movieinspired item to take off,” says Gigi Johnson, a lecturer at the Anderson School of Management Entertainment and Media Management Institute in Los Angeles.
Although skeptical about whether or not the phone’s appeal has grown organically, Johnson says its kitsch factor is in step with a popular culture in which everything from lava lamps to beehive hairdos have recently enjoyed a return visit to fame’s 15- minute party.
“ This makes me think more about the Toy Story nostalgia phenomenon,” says Johnson. “ Kids had never heard before about Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, etc., and the movie reintroduced these toys back to the modern world again.”
Actors Ellen Page ( top and above left) and Michael Cera in the film Juno. Official Juno hamburger phones ( above right) were given to select members of the press as part of the movie’s publicity campaign.