When it comes to marketing movies to kids, fast food wasn't to Disney's taste. But 20th Century Fox sees nothing wrong with a Big Mac.
The News Corp. studio has struck a partnership with McDonald's for five of its major movie releases through 2010, beginning with the summer sequels "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."
Such movie tie-in deals, which encompass advertising commitments, in-store promotions and online campaigns, have become increasingly important to Hollywood studios as they try to hold a lid on marketing costs. Advertising expenditures for TV campaigns can exceed $10 million per picture.
"One of the net results is that it can impact your marketing spend, but it's not the driving factor," said Jeffrey Godsick, Fox's executive vice president of marketing. "The value of these types of partnerships is that it gives us a very broad audience and helps eventize a movie."
With some 58 million customers a day passing through the food chain's global doors, Fox can reach potential moviegoers with in-store promotions -- that appear on cups and Happy Meal items -- whom the studio would not otherwise reach with traditional media campaigns.
In turn, consumer magnets such as McDonald's are able to draw customers by offering the movie-related trinkets packaged with their food items. "We can provide the biggest blockbusters of the summer to all of our family customers," said Cathy Nemeth, vice president of global marketing for McDonald's.
Although details are still being finalized on three additional Fox movies, the pact with the chain is expected to include director Wes Anderson's animated comedy "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which will be released in November, and James Cameron's sci-fi action thriller "Avatar" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," both coming out in December.
The deal is exclusive between Fox and McDonald's only in the weeks preceding and following release of the films. At all other times, the studio and fast-food giant are free to make tie-in arrangements with others.
McDonald's previously had a 10-year Happy Meals partnership with Disney that ended in 2006 when the Burbank studio wanted to distance itself from fast food and its links to childhood obesity. At the time, Disney had launched a healthful-food initiative to promote better eating habits among children and announced it would ban foods with trans fats from its theme parks. In 2008, Disney eliminated McDonald's at its parks altogether.
McDonald's spokesman Walt Riker disputed that Disney ended the partnership over concerns with its menu, insisting that the deal "simply ran its course. . . . We were the first to say we were not interested in renewing it because we wanted more freedom to work with other studios." For instance, McDonald's has a continuing partnership with DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. and has cross-promoted such films as "Monsters vs. Aliens," "Shrek the Third" and "Kung Fu Panda."
Riker also said that major changes to the McDonald's menu -- adding more healthful items such as salads, apple slices and yogurt parfaits and eliminating the "super-sizing" of drinks and fries -- were introduced beginning in 2003 when new leadership came in and made it a priority.
Fast-food tie-in programs nonetheless continue to be popular with Hollywood studios. This month, Paramount Pictures announced a three-picture promotional agreement with Burger King for its big event summer movies "Star Trek," "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra." The companies had previously collaborated on the first "Transformers," "Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."