May 18th, 2006
Why Hollywood Studios Can't Kick the Junk-Food Habit
By T.L. Stanley and Stephanie Thompson
Disney-McDonald's Deal Ends, but Movies Still Rely on Fast-Feeder Marketing Pacts
Business-page obituaries of the deal between Walt Disney Co. and McDonald’s have maintained that the studio found the children’s obesity debate surrounding the fast-feeder too hot to handle. But the truth is fast-food marketers are still on the Hollywood A-list.
Promotional pacts reap hundreds of millions of dollars for studios annually—a marketer like Pepsi can pony up $30 million for a single tentpole movie—so any thoughts that studios are about to altruistically kick the sugar and fat habit are little more than wishful thinking from the nation’s food nannies.
“We have not shied away from discussions to any clients because they make food that may not be the world’s healthiest,” said one agency executive who forges entertainment deals with marketers. “No one selling to moms is saying ‘Don’t talk to Drake’s cakes or McDonald’s.“‘
While Disney’s 10-year exclusive pact with McDonald’s—valued at $2 to $3 billion in promotional value and royalties—lapses at year’s end, executives at both companies said they will continue to work together on kid-targeted promotions on a project-by-project basis. As recently as a week ago, Disney executives were in discussions with McDonald’s about future film releases, said executives close to the situation. That’s hardly a denouncement of the fast-feeder. In addition, Disney continues its relationship with McDonald’s for its theme parks.
At the same time, recent deals show food companies aren’t changing menus to health and wellness foods when it comes to film tie-ins. Kellogg Co.’s program with “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown,” for example, featured Honey Smacks and Keebler Chips Deluxe, despite the company being sued earlier this year by the Center for Science in the Public Interest for marketing junk food to young children.
Other up-and-coming matchups include Wendy’s PepsiCo and Crunch ‘n Munch with Dreamworks’ “Over the Hedge”; M&Ms, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s with “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest”; and Burger King and KFC with Warner Bros.’ “Happy Feet.”
In a few cases, nutritional and advertising guidelines have affected marketing approaches. But those standards have been set by food marketers, not studios. General Mills recently announced it would no longer advertise to children under age 6 (a tack taken already by PepsiCo, Kraft and Unilever), and has severed ties to Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. altogether.
So there may be more of a balance. Giorgia Butler, director-promotions for youth ad agency and marketing consultancy Geppetto Group, said that “in every area of entertainment from music to gaming to film to TV, there is a health element involved,” whether it be Cookie Monster eating vegetables or scenes in the Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” where kids are entreated to dance.
But a retreat? Hardly.
“Studios won’t walk away from those categories,” said Mitch Litvak, president of The L.A. Office,which provides marketing information to both brands and entertainment companies. “They’ll shift from being kid-targeted to mom- and adult-targeted.”