Teens flip for burger phone

De­mand soars on eBay for the retro de­vice shown in the indie movie hit Juno

Vancouver Sun - - Travel - BY MISTY HAR­RIS

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.”

DOANE GRE­GORY

VAN­COU­VER SUN FILES

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.

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