Cheesy marketing exhibit helps Dis connect

'Ratatouille' tour added 'weapon'

NEW YORK -- To promote "Ratatouille," the Walt Disney Co. teamed up with experiential marketing company the Becker Group to feature outdoor movie-themed exhibits at food and culture festivals around the country that includes a 25-foot inflatable cheese slide, an Eiffel Tower replica and a stage show.

It is Disney's fifth marketing partnership with Becker since it first hired the company in 2001 to promote "Pearl Harbor" through a memorial tribute mall tour that included photographs, war medals, videos of survivors and other memorabilia.

It partnered with Becker again in 2003 for a "Haunted Mansion" exhibit that made its way to New York's Grand Central Terminal on Halloween. To promote "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in 2005, Becker orchestrated a holiday-themed snow globe exhibit that was featured in 11 Taubman Malls nationwide. And last year, Becker helped orchestrate a 40-venue, six-month tour of three life-size replicas of the animated auto in Disney/Pixar's "Cars."

Becker and Disney say the exhibits reach millions of people, especially when they're placed in high-profile venues. According to Becker, the exhibits are more effective than traditional ads, with about 45% of visitors likely to go see a film after interacting with the exhibits, up from roughly 34% beforehand.

"When people have an emotional connection with the brand or interact with the brand in a unique way prior to a film coming out, they'll have a greater commitment to go and experience the film," said Eddie Newquist, president of creative for the Becker Group.

Disney director of national promotions David Sieden described the Becker exhibits as "an additional weapon" in the studio's marketing arsenal. "It's just a neat new marketing alternative for us," he said. "It's a tangible way for consumers to touch and feel our films before they come out.

Sieden added that with local radio promotions and media coverage, the exhibits are "extremely valuable in terms of building excitement and awareness on a local level. I think they're very complimentary to the rest of a more traditional campaign."

For the "Ratatouille" promotion, Becker orchestrated a 10-city tour that runs through this month. Among the food festivals that have hosted the Ratatouille Big Cheese Tour are those in Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, New York, Washington and Seattle. The exhibit also appeared in San Francisco, Pixar's hometown.

"I would expect us to reach in the neighborhood of 10 million people at food festivals, cultural festivals and other special venues," Newquist said. "The concept was that we wanted to target food festivals and not only introduce people to the spirit of the film but give them a sense of the story line."

To do that, Becker uses the slide in the shape of a giant cheese wedge as the centerpiece of the exhibit, along with the Eiffel Tower replica that houses a screening tent showing nine minutes of the film introduced by director Brad Bird. The live stage show features a set that looks like the kitchen from the movie, with live actors dressed as waiters explaining how Pixar developed the story and the animation and a real chef who gives a cooking demonstration. The exhibit also features interactive games for kids and video game demonstrations.

The exhibit even has its own promotional partners -- Samsung, Intel, General Mills' Chex and Young Chef's Academy -- some of which also tied in with the movie.

While most of Becker's entertainment work has been with Disney, it also ran a snow globe holiday exhibit for Warner Bros. Pictures' "Happy Feet" and put together a touring museum exhibit on robotics hosted by the animated characters from 20th Century Fox's "Robots" that is expected to run through 2009. It also has partnered with the History Channel and Discovery Channel to promote shows.