Miramax spies potential in kid promo market

The studio: Miramax/Dimension Films. The film: Spy Kids, the studio's first foray into kid flicks. The promotional mission: To generate high levels of exposure for an unknown property, timed with a March 30, 2001, release. Sound like Mission Impossible? KidScreen takes out its decoder pin to unravel the secrets behind Miramax's first-ever kid promo--one that earned a 2001 Golden Marble award for Best Overall Promotion.
November 1, 2001

The studio: Miramax/Dimension Films. The film: Spy Kids, the studio’s first foray into kid flicks. The promotional mission: To generate high levels of exposure for an unknown property, timed with a March 30, 2001, release. Sound like Mission Impossible? KidScreen takes out its decoder pin to unravel the secrets behind Miramax’s first-ever kid promo–one that earned a 2001 Golden Marble award for Best Overall Promotion.

According to Lori Sale, senior VP of worldwide sales for Miramax/Dimension Films, the studio’s newness to the genre was its greatest hurdle when it came to executing the Spy Kids promo. Her game plan? Hit the big leagues. And in terms of kid flick marketing, that meant QSR.

Every film settles its QSR based on the personalities of the two companies, says Sale. Miramax’s meeting with Taco Bell lasted 10 minutes, with both parties agreeing that the chemistry just wasn’t there. The next meeting with McDonald’s was just as quick, but for the opposite reason–the companies meshed instantly. ‘We followed their lead,’ says Sale, with McDonald’s offering advice and validation at every turn: McDonald’s food appeared in the movie, with franchise owners and operators appearing as extras. Running in 14,000 locations from March 30 to April 18, the QSR promo marked the first time McDonald’s had offered toys in both Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals (a new menu addition targeting kids eight to 10), and it was the best-performing Happy Meal campaign of 2001.

While juice mega-brand Hi-C had never partnered on a feature film promo before, the Houston-based company leapt at Spy Kids’ empowerment theme–one that matched the brand’s ‘You can do almost anything’ motto. Known for its on-pack programs, Hi-C saw the commitment Miramax was putting into the film–a big budget, with sequel plans–and decided to explore new avenues, including an AOL partnership that leveraged the on-pack promo on-line and drove traffic between the Miramax/Dimension site and the products.

From March 1 to May 31, the promo ran on 130 million boxes of Hi-C, and packaging featured a Hi-C Spy Kids Gadget Making Contest. The contest’s 20 finalist gizmos were posted on for kids to vote on, with film director Robert Rodriguez himself selecting the grand prize winner from the top five. The winning device will appear in Spy Kids 2, due out next summer.

Although the Spy Kids deal was a mutually beneficial partnership, Hi-C is quick to point out that its first film promo brought to light how much the juice company’s product could bring to a theatrical release. The experience has rocketed Hi-C into the feature film biz, evidenced by a partnership with Warner Bros. for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone this month.

Despite her studio’s inexperience with kid promos, Sale knew she needed core partners that could cross-promote–’not just logo soup.’ RadioShack, Payless Shoes and Isuzu rounded out the partner portfolio, with each sub-promo tying to one or more of the partners. RadioShack’s RC Spy Mobile (modeled after Isuzu’s Axiom) was the second prize in Hi-C’s sweepstakes, with the grand prize offering a chance to be in the sequel. McDonald’s Spy Kids Ultimate Spy Game–in which kids took secret spy codes printed on the insert of Happy Meal/Mighty Kids Meal toy bags and entered them at to win prizes–featured Isuzu’s Axiom as a prize.

But even with the power of cross-promotion, the Spy Kids promo challenged some of its partners. ‘The hardest part was the timing,’ says Sonja Duran, event marketing manager at California-based Isuzu. ‘It generally takes four to six months to build an integrated campaign,’ but lengthy contract negotiations meant program development couldn’t get underway until late October 2000, effectively giving Isuzu two months to pull its campaign together.

While development time was less than ideal, the timing of the promo itself couldn’t have been more perfect for Isuzu, with the Axiom coming out at the same time as the film. Although Duran can’t directly relate any sales figures to the popularity of the movie or the campaign, several auto retailers noted that their customers referred to the film’s Spy Mobile when looking at the Axiom. The carmaker’s multibillion-dollar effort launched in January and ran until May, featuring six giveaways at McDonald’s and in theaters, as well as a US$500,000 Truck and Trailer cross-country campaign.

Beyond timing issues, some partners experienced setbacks related to campaign component fall-through. And while many a property owner might leave its partners to sort out such problems on their own, Miramax’s Sale stepped in to iron out the wrinkles as needed.

Payless Shoes–the film’s exclusive footwear retailer–was originally working on a CD-ROM initiative for in-theater distribution, but some of the project’s principals bailed out last December. ‘Lori reacted to our need,’ says Chad Smoak, Payless’s brand manager for kids during the campaign and now the retailer’s marketing and promotions manager.

Sale introduced Payless to Frank Kohler, president and founder of the Tooned-In school lunch menu program, based in L.A. with partnerships in school districts across the U.S. Basically, it’s a take-home lunch menu listing what will be offered to kids in school cafeterias on any given day during the month. Coupons, free posters with purchase, and a Spy Kids merch checklist featuring Payless Spy Kids shoes and other gear ran in March, with four million menus circulated among 300 school districts.

The Payless program featured two styles of Spy Kids shoes (with the athletic version coming in as the number one-selling kids shoe during the movie’s run), in-store signage in just under 5,000 locations across the U.S., and an FSI distributed to approximately 40 million homes.

Looking towards Spy Kids 2, all the original partners have signed up again, with the exception of Hi-C, whose deal with Warner Bros. precludes another film promo at that time. The sequel’s summer release date, coupled with the fact that Spy Kids is now a known entity, necessitates a different strategy. In-school lunches aren’t a factor this time around, but back-to-school retail will be a key element, one that Miramax didn’t get to capitalize on last time. Licensee tie-ins have become an equally important factor, with 25 on board at press time (as opposed to only four for the original film). ‘The relationship between studios, licensees and retailers has been over-hype and under-deliver,’ says Sale. ‘We felt that being new to the kids business, it would be critical to under-promise and over-deliver, which is what we did. Now that we have experience under our belts on what licensees need in terms of materials and support, we are better prepared to work with them and to be a great partner.’

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