Gearing up to be the most brand-busy movie of all time, Threshold Digital Research Labs’ US$50-million CGI film Foodfight boasts a rolling cast list of 40 to 50 branded character icons, including Twinkie the Kid, Mr. Pringles, M&Ms and Chester Cheetah. But despite all the brand power, Larry Kasanoff, chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment and TDRL, says the flick is entirely product placement-free. ‘No one paid us to be in this movie, and we didn’t pay anybody to be in this movie. It’s not a big commercial.’
Rather, advertising icons have become such an integral part of the fabric of popular culture that when Threshold looked more closely, it saw movie stars. ‘In a digital world, we don’t think there’s a lot of difference between George Clooney and Mr. Clean,’ says Kasanoff. ‘We cast these icons because they’re funny and they work.’
Foodfight takes place in a supermarket at night, when everyone leaves and the lights go out. The aisles become city streets, the displays are buildings, and the brands come to life. In this Marketropolis, an original character named Dex Detective must rescue the supermarket icons from the evil Brand X, who threatens to take over the store. But Brand X isn’t the only foe Dex has to contend with. Banished to the discount aisles, nefarious Professor Plotnick is a scientist who genetically engineers monstrous prunes to help further his diabolical marketing plans.
At press time, Threshold was in negotiations with a distributor and expected to announce details shortly. The prodco already has ambitious plans to customize the flick for each territory in which it screens by incorporating the region’s favorite indigenous brand icon. The number of localized flicks will be nailed down in the upcoming 14 months.
About eight months prior to the release of the film (tentatively scheduled for summer 2002), Threshold will roll out an on-line prequel webisode called Foodfight: The Pre-Expiration Date Adventures of Dex Detective on dedicated website www.foodfight.com. Participating brands will also have an opportunity to pay Threshold to create and run web shorts featuring their icons. The company”s ancillary plot includes a live theatrical show and merchandise, and Threshold will also try to out-license some of its own food products like Dex Detective’s Cinnamon Sleuth Cereal.
Cross-promos should be a cinch now that the brands are on-board, but Kasanoff says the timing was tricky. ‘Now that the signing process is essentially done, we’ll start talking to various brand groups to see if they want to be involved in cross-promotions. We waited until now because we didn’t want to be creatively beholden to any brand,’ he says. ‘There’s no quid-pro-quo here.’
So what’s the final payoff? The brands get incredible exposure that goes a long way to cementing kid brand loyalty. ‘Foodfight is a great way to extend and further develop the personality of our Mr. Pringles character,’ says Mary Blair, a Pringles marketing specialist at Proctor & Gamble. Specifically, she says the movies will give kids a chance to interact more with the icon.