Pretend Profits

D’oh! Fictional brands are finding real success

Venessa Wong


Last year the office-supply retailer launched a Dunder Mifflin paper line, a tribute to the fictional manufacturer from the long-running NBC series The Office. It was a risky bet: The show, now in its final season, has lost much of its cultural relevancy (in November only 4.1 million viewers tuned in, a series low). And America’s office-supply industry is in sharp decline, too, with brick-and-mortar store sales falling an average 3.6 percent annually during the last five years, according to market researcher IBISWorld. Nonetheless, Quill, in a licensing deal with NBCUniversal, has built Dunder Mifflin into a million-dollar brand. It’s the site’s third-best-selling product. Last month, Quill announced it will expand Dunder Mifflin beyond reams of paper to include markers, sticky notes, tissues, disposable cups, storage boxes, and notepads. Here are some other notable brands that began in the world of make-believe — and a few that outperformed their inspiration.

Duff Beer

Homer Simpson’s favorite brew has spawned a number of rogue spinoffs, leading to several legal battles over the trademark. Duff Beer is offered by German beermaker Eschweger Kloster-brauerei. Colombia-based Duff Sudamerica first marketed Duff Beer in 2009, then changed the name to DuH Beer after being sued by Fox. In August regulators ordered the company to cease production of DuH as well.

Willy Wonka

Playing off the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, candy company Breaker Confections licensed the Willy Wonka name to market treats originally imagined by children’s author Roald Dahl. In 1988, Willy Wonka’s parent company Rowntree’s was bought by Nestlé for $4.5 billion. U.S. sales of Wonka candy and gum in the 52 weeks through Nov. 4 totaled more than $392 million, according to Symphony IRI Group.

Bubba Gump Shrimp

Since its founding in 1996 with a license from Paramount Pictures, the seafood brand that made Forrest Gump’s title character a multimillionaire in 1994 has opened more than 30 restaurants worldwide. Menu items include Lt. Dan’s Drunken Shrimp and the Run Across America Sampler. Bubba Gump Shrimp generated $200 million in sales in 2009, and Landry’s bought the chain for $120 million in 2010.

Mighty Ducks

Walt Disney founded the NHL team the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1993, a year after its film The Mighty Ducks. In 2005, Disney sold the franchise to Henry and Susan Samueli for $75 million. The Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, the first championship for a West Coast NHL team since 1925. Forbes estimates the Ducks’ worth at $192 million.

Holiday Inn

First opened in 1952, Holiday Inn got its name from the eponymous 1942 movie musical starring Bing Crosby about a country inn open only on major holidays. The chain now has more than 1,200 hotels; an additional 2,100 Holiday Inn Express facilities operate worldwide. Their combined gross revenue in 2011 was $10.4 billion.


Tiger Electronics released a licensed version of the gadget used by Macaulay Culkin in the 1992 film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York for about $30 each at 11 major retailers. Briefly a hot item (Tiger doesn’t release sales figures, but it reportedly had to pull ads early because of short supply), the Talkboy was soon relegated to the ash heap of outdated analog toys.

Nike MAG Sneakers

In 2011, Nike released 1,500 pairs of these futuristic light-up sneakers, based on Marty McFly’s hover-board-riding kicks from Back to the Future Part II. Auctioned for charity on EBay, the shoes raised $4.7 million for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.


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