NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- If you're not using Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch or Effie in your business marketing strategy -- or worse, if you don't know who these people are -- you're missing a powerful opportunity to gain customers by capitalizing on The Hunger Games, a hugely popular pop culture trend reaching far beyond its original market of young adults.

Today's release of a movie based on books by Suzanne Collins has fans worldwide in a frenzy about the world of Panem, the dystopian version of North America in which the characters live. Following in the footsteps of the Twilight saga, the popularity of the YA reading material has extended its reach far beyond its initial demographic, reaping rewards for Scholastic ( SCHL), the publisher of the book series, as well as Lionsgate ( LGF), the studio that brought The Hunger Games to life. Both stocks hit 52-week highs within the past week as pre-sale tickets set records.
The Hunger Games, based on books by Suzanne Collins, arrives in theaters today.

A host of other large companies are also reaping the rewards of The Hunger Games, so why shouldn't small businesses also profit? And, with a phenomenon so big, it doesn't have to be limited to the obvious booksellers or T-shirt retailers. Even companies that don't have a direct connection can profit if done correctly.

"Typically small businesses have ridden these waves with merchandise, and if that is your product line you need to get those products on the shelf rapidly and promote their arrival via the channels you use for all of your marketing," says John Nolan, an adjunct professor of marketing at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management.

But there are other ways to leverage The Hunger Games, even if a company does not have products related directly to the movie. "A business can attempt a news-jacking strategy, create products with names inspired by the film or create unofficial products to cannibalize the success of the film," Nolan says.

Nolan points to nail polish company China Glaze, which created a line of polishes with colors inspired by the movie. Nearly a dozen fashion designers created their own variations of a dress worn by heroine Katniss, Nolan says. There's also The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, which serves up recipes to some of Katniss and Peeta's favorite dishes.

Whatever a business decides to do, they should incorporate several marketing strategies at once to maximize exposure, cross promoting the efforts through Web site, social media, sales calls, press releases and marketing literature. "All of these methods are for a business to gain publicity and sales by capitalizing upon a current popular trend," Nolan says.

Of course, The Hunger Games is simply an example. Whether it's Linsanity, Tim Tebow or The Walking Dead, harnessing pop culture can be a great way to add traction to your business with proper marketing.

Here are three examples of businesses using The Hunger Games in their marketing strategies:

1. Walk Like "A Katniss Everdeen"
Since The Hunger Games was filmed in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, tourism officials in Asheville, N.C., are promoting movie-inspired travel packages.

Visitors can choose a Movie Star & Survival Package focusing on movie-specific "Districts" or take a "Walk Like 'A Katniss Everdeen'" hike.

The tourism division is also promoting a contest in which a winner will be invited to a "Free Hunger Games Survival Getaway." The winner will be announced April 11.

2. Train Like a Tribute
The parent company to New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Sports Clubs, Town Sports International ( CLUB), is promoting "Train Like a Tribute" Hunger Games-inspired workout classes offered for the next four weeks to coincide with the release of the movie.

The class, free to members and nonmembers, puts together cardio and strength-training exercises that would resemble skills "crucial to survival in the Hunger Games arena," including archery, tree climbing, speed work and strength training, Town Sports says. Exercise names include "Katniss Kickbacks," "Sprint to the Cornucopia" and "Peeta Presses."

It's an offshoot of Town Sports' newest small-class training model, Ultimate Fitness Experience, or UXF, called a "comprehensive, body-changing workout combining a metabolic, anaerobic conditioning program with compound strength training to increase flexibility, agility, strength and endurance." Eight-session packages normally cost $299 (that's on top of a member's regular monthly fee or for nonmembers who just want to take the class), but to promote the kickoff, the company is offering a special promotion of $150 for members and $200 for nonmembers.

The Ultimate Fitness Experience is "designed to get the most of out of your fitness level in a short amount of time," Town Sports CEO Bob Giardina says. And, although there's a heck of a lot more at stake, " The Hunger Games really has the same philosophies."

3. The Mockingjay.
New York City-based bar consultant and spirits expert James Moreland created The Mockingjay cocktail, which will be featured in two of his client restaurants -- Toscano's on the Upper East Side and Lido in Harlem. Inspired by the luxury and excess-centric inhabitants of the Capitol of Panem, the drink is a combination of Frangelico, sour cherry macerate and cherry brandy.

Since The Hunger Games spans a diverse audience, Moreland thought the drinks would be a fun way to spice up the menus at the restaurants for a couple of days while the movie kicks into high gear, says spokeswoman Katie Leggett of Deussen Global Communications.

The hope is that the innovative cocktail will draw attention to the restaurants and increase patrons' awareness of them, she adds.

Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor.


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