'Surf's Up' paddles out with tie-ins

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With summer blockbusters "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," "Shrek the Third" and its own "Spider-Man 3" monopolizing most of the big-name promotional partners and retail shelf space, Sony Pictures had to dive into fresh waters to come up with its own splash for "Surf's Up," which opens nationwide today.

The second film from Sony Pictures Animation hooked up with McDonald's in the studio's first-ever promotion with the fast-food giant, which last year ended its 10-year relationship with the Walt Disney Co.

But for the most part, "Surf's Up" is riding into theaters without the big-name promotional partners typical of tentpole summer films. Its tie-in partners include Old Navy, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Baskin-Robbins, ConAgra Foods, Airheads candy, SeaWorld, the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Assn. and the Newspaper Association of America. Even without the biggest advertisers on board, Sony is believed to have put together a program valued at more than $100 million in media, packaging and point-of-sale displays, sweepstakes and other marketing support.

"Everything is so crowded this summer that to really stand out in the crowd you have to do different types of promotions and find alternative distribution points that aren't already taken by 'Spider-Man,' 'Shrek' and 'Pirates,' " said George Leon, executive vp worldwide consumer marketing at Sony Pictures. "We weren't going to be able to get into Wal-Mart. It's just too crowded with the big threequels. The grocery store shelves are totally packed with cereals from 'Spider-Man,' 'Shrek' and 'Pirates,' so we had to do something alternative and take over the freezer area. There is just so much clutter in the promotional and marketing space that we had to find alternative venues to get our marketing message across, and we had to look for unique and different partners than we would typically go after."

For its global Happy Meals promotion on the heels of its tie-in with "Shrek," McDonald's is running TV, print, radio and online media, along with in-store support. ConAgra's Kid Cuisine, Act II popcorn and Crunch 'n Munch brands are supporting the movie with TV and online ads. Air Heads is making a 'Surf's Up'-themed candy bar, running a sweepstakes and supporting the movie with TV ads and in-store displays.

All of the tie-in partners are tapping into the surf, sun and fun themes of the movie, Leon said. Old Navy has licensed the property for a line of "Surf's Up" kids' T-shirts and flip-flops and is supporting the film in-store and online.

Baskin-Robbins has created two "Surf's Up"-flavored ice creams for the month of June: Penguin Swirl and Splish Splash, along with a "Surf's Up" sundae, and the company is launching a new line of smoothies tied to the film. It is running TV ads, hosting a sweepstakes and featuring in-store support.

The National Frozen and Refrigerated Foods Assn. is running a "catch the cool wave" tie-in with "Surf's Up"-themed refrigerator and freezer sections in supermarkets and grocery stores.

Build-A-Bear is featuring "Surf's Up" animated star Cody as its character of the month and supporting the tie-in with TV ads, online and in its stores.

Anheuser-Busch's SeaWorld, whose penguin experts consulted with Sony on the making of the movie, is promoting the film in its Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio parks with signage and Cody penguin characters walking around the venues.

SeaWorld also provided Sony Pictures with penguins for publicity events in the top 12 U.S. markets as well as the movie's premiere in Los Angeles. There, two penguins walked down a blue carpet. The amusement company also provided travel packages to SeaWorld parks for on-air sweepstakes tied to the movie.

Sony Electronics staged an in-store promotion at Sears, and the Newspaper Association of America is running co-branded newspaper ads encouraging kids to read.
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