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From greenhorn to evergreen – Shrek’s theatrical promo climb

arketers who passed on DreamWorks' Shrek pitch may have been feeling a little green in the spring and summer of 2001 following the film's release. Their post-pass nausea may not rank up there with the E.T./M&M fiasco - in which the candy company declined to participate in the 1982 film, essentially handing relative newcomer Reese's Pieces a big sales boon on a silver platter - but they must have felt more than a twinge of regret after Shrek scaled box office/video sales heights to become DreamWorks' top-grossing film to date.
October 1, 2002

Marketers who passed on DreamWorks’ Shrek pitch may have been feeling a little green in the spring and summer of 2001 following the film’s release. Their post-pass nausea may not rank up there with the E.T./M&M fiasco – in which the candy company declined to participate in the 1982 film, essentially handing relative newcomer Reese’s Pieces a big sales boon on a silver platter – but they must have felt more than a twinge of regret after Shrek scaled box office/video sales heights to become DreamWorks’ top-grossing film to date.

It was a daunting task convincing marketers to take a gamble on the green ogre, according to Anne Globe, head of marketing and promotions for DreamWorks Consumer Products. ‘At the time, most people who hadn’t heard of Shrek weren’t sure that the character would have mass appeal because he was a big, green, ugly ogre,’ she says. To garner widespread consumer interest, DreamWorks’ promotional arm knew it had to hit hard.

‘Our strategy was very heavily targeted at the family,’ says Wendy Ryding, head of promotions. The thinking was that venues kids and families would frequent during the lead-up to the nationwide release of the film needed to be fully exploited, so the traditional promotional partnerships (retail, fast food and packaged goods) were all sought. Key retail outlets – Burger King, Baskin-Robbins, the Kroger grocery chain and Chevron gas and convenience stores – took a gamble on the newbie property’s ability to net them some summer green. Meanwhile, the studio lucked into an opportunity with Heinz, which had just launched its green ketchup a year earlier and was happy to tie in with Shrek to refresh the product for spring 2001.

For an untried concept, creativity is key, so while each element of the program had its own strengths, all played up the very things that made Shrek so unique. Baskin-Robbins, for example, capitalized on Shrek’s ‘ick’ factor, creating four kid-appealing products tied to the movie and dedicating its annual free scoop night to the new products. It also worked with radio stations to give away free tickets to special screenings where ice cream samples were on offer (see ‘Norm Marshall and Baskin-Robbins scoop up a winner for Shrek,’ page 96).

Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain with more than 2,400 stores, featured a program in which customers could cash in loyalty points for free tickets to see Shrek. It also conducted an integrated campaign with TV, radio, shopper’s guides, circulars and in-store signage. Although DreamWorks had partnered with Kroger’s California chain Ralph’s on The Road to El Dorado and Chicken Run, this was the first time the grocery giant had participated in a national promo with the studio.

Chevron developed an on-site promotion that reached families filling up for their summer roadtrips, particularly key as the movie was released the week before Memorial Weekend. ‘The thinking was that people were taking driving vacations and hopefully coming through a Chevron within that time period,’ says Ryding.

American Licorice Brand, meanwhile, featured a special edition of its Sour Punch candies with four-color on-pack detailing. It also conducted a sweepstakes offer and promoted the candy through in-store signage and FSIs in kids publications including Nickelodeon Magazine, Sports Illustrated for Kids and DC Comics. The sour candy angle jibed with the movie’s personality. ‘It’s an irreverent brand positioning, which fits very well with the character,’ says Globe.

Heinz added a 10-second tag featuring custom animation of the characters to an original spot promoting its green ketchup. Burger King, naturally, featured Shrek toys in a four-week Kids Meal promo, advertised with one TV spot and plenty of in-store signage.

The integrated strategy clearly paid off. Through its promotional partners, DreamWorks was able to reach kids in more than 41,500 retail outlets. The promotions helped propel Shrek to a US$267-million domestic box office take, and the film remained in theaters for more than 29 weeks. At the time, it was the biggest promotion DreamWorks had ever conducted. ‘The type of thing that we hope for – and that was realized beyond our expectations – is to develop a character that has a place in pop culture,’ says Globe.

With a Shrek sequel slated for the summer of 2004, DreamWorks is on the greener side of the marketing fence this time. Though no details about the follow-up campaign were available at press time, the studio is hoping to line up original partners for a second helping, as well as chasing down some new ones.

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