Who wins when movies partner with food companies to create marketing promotions? Not you!
Case in point, Minions. Yes, you may adore these oddly-cute, yellow creatures and their movies. But you’ve probably seen Bob, Stuart, and Kevin (the lead Minion characters) in many places other than the movie. Yep, they’ve been plastered on all kinds of food products. And if you’re anything like me, you may end up feeling a bit stupid when you fall for one of these food marketing tricks! (Yes, more on that later.)
Why do big entertainment companies like to market their films via food?
Obviously movie companies want to make more money off their new releases, but how exactly do food tie-ins work into this formula? Well there are several angles that these entertainment companies are interested in:
- Upfront licensing fees: About two years before a movie’s release, entertainment companies sell licensing rights for their upcoming releases. Blockbuster franchises like Minions, Toy Story, Star Wars, and The Avengers literally cost food and beverage companies millions with the price tag increasing exponentially based on the size of the category, how relevant it is to kids, and whether the tie-in is exclusive.
- Guaranteed packaging impressions: They say awareness is half the battle when it comes to marketing. After all, how can someone be interested in a product or a movie if they don’t even know about it? And that’s where these promotional tie-ins come in handy. By affixing the movie property to the packaging of popular brands, entertainment companies gin up hundreds of millions of impressions for their new film releases.
- Free advertising: In large kid-oriented food categories like fast food, cereal, yogurt, and fruit snacks there’s a lot of competition to secure an exclusive tie-in with a big movie property. Oftentimes one of the requirements is for the brand to not only deliver packaging impressions, but also commit to TV and online advertising to support the promotion.
What food and candy brands are partnering with Minions?
Without a doubt Minions will be one of this year’s biggest blockbuster releases. And with the growing popularity of these curious, yellow beings, they are plenty of brands that want in on this action. Here’s a sampling of some of brands that are spending big bucks to share in Minions mania:
- Dinners: Kraft Macaroni and Cheese dinners and single-serve, microwaveable cups
- Cereal: General Mills’ cereal brands launched “collectible” Minion toys in specially-marked boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios, Banana Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms, Golden Grahams, Trix. They also introduced a special edition Minions banana berry cereal.
- Yogurt: General Mills’ Go-GURT featuring Minion jokes on each tube.
- Fruit Snacks: General Mills’ Fruit Gushers, Fruit by the Foot, Fruit Roll-ups, and a special edition Minions fruit snack.
- Cookies and Crackers: Nabisco Cheese Nips and Honey Maid grahams
- Candy: Mike ‘n Ike, Tic Tacs, Haribo, Pez, Kinder, and a number of other smaller candy brands
- Desserts and Baked Goods: Jell-O Minions Jigglers mold set, Hostess Twinkies, and “fruit” freezer bars
- Beverages: Mott’s apple juice
- Other Snacks: Mott’s applesauce
- Fresh Fruit: Chiquita bananas
And of course, no blockbuster movie would be complete without a huge fast food tie-in. McDonald’s won the bidding wars for rights to the Minions franchise and has rolled out a series of promotions as part of their McDonald’s Minions Mania:
- 10 “collectible toys” for their Happy Meals.
- “Instant Win” game that features many smaller prizes (mostly free food) as well as 4 winners of a $250,000 giveaway (one per week during the Minions promotion). Of course, to play you need to collect Minions game pieces which are available on select menu items including the Egg McMuffin, Sausage McMuffin with Egg, Egg White Delight McMuffin, medium fries, large fries, Big Mac sandwich, medium McCafé Iced Coffee, large McCafé Frappés, large McCafé Smoothies, large McCafé shakes, large lemonade, large premium orange juice, premium salads, and 10-piece or 20-piece Chicken McNuggets.
- Limited edition food items are also part of the tie-in. In the United States McDonald’s is offering Minions Go-GURT Low-Fat Strawberry-Banana Yogurt, while other countries are featuring a Banana-Chocolate McFlurry, Minion potato cakes, and in Australia, fresh bananas.
Interested in seeing a sampling of these products and the advertisements that feature them? Then check out these slideshows:
Slideshow of Minions Food Product Tie-ins:
Slideshow of Minions Food Product Ads:
So how much are all these promotion efforts worth?
Universal Studies recently shared that the Summer 2015 summer release of Minions reached almost $600 million in promotional value. 1 That’s some serious green—or yellow in the case of Minions! And while not all the promotion dollars were food-related, the lion’s share of Minions’ $600 million haul was thanks to food companies.
So what’s in it for them? Why are food companies willing to lay out such serious money?
Why are food companies so interested in movie tie-ins?
Food marketers are always looking for ways to grow their brands. It turns out that movie tie-ins can help in several ways:
- Borrowed interest is a marketing term that essentially means capitalizing on another brand’s popularity. Even well-recognized brands may want to boost their cool quotient. For example, when I worked on LifeSavers candy, the aging hard-roll candy brand was desperate to appeal to younger users. What was one the attempted fixes? A tie-in with the then über-popular Sega game franchise and its characters, Sonic and Tails. Do these promotions always work? No. But marketers are constantly at work trying to keep their products relevant and interesting.
- In-store displays are a form of instant nirvana for food companies. Getting outside your traditional location in a store and making your way on an end-of-aisle, action-alley, or front-of-store display can double, triple, or even quadruple sales for some brands. But retailers don’t give away this space. Rather, they charge huge fees for this privilege. In fact, sometimes money alone can’t even buy these displays since the competition is so fierce. So what can make the difference in negotiating for this lucrative display space? Strong mega-event or themed promotions such as movie-ties since every retailer wants to look like they’re part of these blockbuster flicks!
- Hijacking consumer behavior is yet another powerful way these movie tie-ins work. Food, beverage, and candy purchases can hardly be described as “rational” purchases these days. Consumers are constantly manipulated and tricked into buying processed foods by food manufacturers’ storytelling. So how do these movie promotions hijack folks? By planting emotional, non-rational stories in the mind’s of consumers (oftentimes kids) that convince them they must buy. Here’s a sampling of how some of these stories play out in a person’s head:
- “Oh, how cute!” Rather than thinking logically about whether we’re hungry or are trying to avoid additives in processed foods, we see some cute Minions cookie, and we bite the hook.
- “This won’t be available long. I’ve got to buy it now.” Limited time offers create a sense of urgency and derail more logical thought processes when it comes to food choices.
- “I have to have them all!” This is a favorite strategy of food marketers, especially fast food companies like McDonald’s who churn out Happy Meal toys in collectible series. Cereal company often use this as well for instant, in box offers. How many times has your child asked for 4, 5, or 6 boxes of cereal so they could try to get them all.
- “I’ll be popular if I have this.” Food companies try to trade on the cool-factor of movies with kids. Unfortunately, showing up at school or a playdate with the latest and greatest toy can be a powerful source of status for kids.
Think you’re too smart for these food marketing tricks?
Sadly, many of these marketing tactics prey on kids, but even adults fall victim. And while you may be thinking to yourself “I’m too smart to fall for one of these tricks,” if you honest with yourself, you’ll probably remember a time when you bit the hook on one these promotions.
But don’t feel stupid. Even a relatively savvy consumer like me who knows all the tricks, tools, and traps Big Food likes to play occasionally gets caught. Yep, in fact Minions scored one on me this summer, and it was that incident that inspired this blog post. Here’s what I fell for:
Yep! Tic Tac totally got me. My son and I were on our way home from visiting my mom, and we stopped by a drug store to pick up some graduation cards. After selecting the cards we wanted, we stepped up to the register and passed a free-standing display for Minion Tic Tacs. All I can remember thinking was, “How cute! Those Tic Tacs look EXACTLY like little Minions. How clever is that?”
BOOM! I was caught in their trap. The rational side of my brain totally checked out, and my emotional brain ran amuck.
What particularly irks me about this incident was how it caught me totally off guard. And when it finally hit me what I had done and looked at the ingredient label, I was even more mad at myself.
Why? It’s not that I’m against having an occasional processed food treat. It’s that promotion tie-ins like these cause us to drop our defenses. I didn’t buy these Tic Tacs because I wanted a treat. In fact, there are organic, breath mint alternatives like VerMints that I’d much prefer. I bought these Tic Tacs for a whole host of other, irrational reasons.
And while I don’t think these processed ingredients in these Tic Tacs will do much harm to me, for some unsuspecting child or adult who has sensitivities to artificial colors like Blue 1, Red 40, or Yellow 6, even a handful of these Tic Tics could ruin their day. And I can promise you—the rules behind most of these food promotion deals assure food companies will precisely match the colors of characters like Minions. This may seem innocent enough, but it almost guarantees the use of potentially harmful artificial colors in licensed food products.
So Who’s Winning and Losing?
The Biggest Winners:
- Entertainment companies are raking in promotion dollars and increasing their profits from screenings of their movies.
- Food companies are selling more processed foods and making more profits by creating enticing junk food and promotions that hijack our rational senses.
- Food retailers also reap increased sales and profits from these movie ties-ins from both food and non-food promoted purchases.
The Biggest Losers:
- Consumers of all sorts are buying and consuming more processed foods thanks to movie tie-ins. Kids are especially vulnerable to these tricks. In fact due to tactics like these there’s a growing movement in many countries to restrict all forms of predatory junk food marketing directed at kids. To date, however, there’s no sign of relief in the United States.
- The environment is already hit hard by the unsustainable agricultural practices that are part and parcel of the processed food industry. Although many people refuse to acknowledge this issue, what is undeniable is the heap of garbage that’s accumulates from all these movie tie-in promotions. Any parent who has watched their child clean up their room can attest to a veritable truckload of old, unwanted toys and junk that accumulates over the years.
What can you do to avoid these food marketing tricks?
While I hope my personal story attests to the fact that any of us can fall victim to these tricks, here are my thoughts on how we can all avoid falling prey to these food marketing tricks.:
- Focus on being more aware of these promotions.
- Then “just say no” when you see a processed food movie tie-in.
- If you’re in love with Minions or some other movie character, try to find a simpler, more nutritious way to express or share that interest. These Minion bananas on Pinterest seemed pretty darn cute AND easy to me.
- And if you’re going to indulge, consciously make it a decision to treat yourself and act by cutting back on sugar or processed foods someplace else during your week.
What’s your opinion of these movie promotions?
Are you sick and tired of these promotions? Or do you find them a fun way to occasionally indulge? Have you ever been duped by one of these food tie-ins and bought something without even really thinking about it? We’d love to hear your opinions and stories! Please share them in the comments below.
I came to your site. I have a marketing class. I needed information on the promotion of cereal.
Hi Cynthia! Sorry I didn’t respond to your comment. I haven’t been actively blogging these days, so I’m only on checking comments every 2 or 3 months. Thanks, Bruce