Dreamworks Animation always longed to be considered a peer among Pixar’s voluminous track record. While they boasted a smash franchise with their Shrek series they had yet to prove they could be considered a sure-bet when releasing an animated title appealing to masses and critics alike. When Kung Fu Panda was released in 2008 the studio had found its footing as an impressive animation choice as they drew raves, they drew crowds, and the title was a global smash. As a result cast appearances at the Cannes Film Festival beamed across the globe have become ritual.
The release of the sequel was assured to have an enormous push behind it – taste be damned! This kicked off last November when a Po character balloon was featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Not content to let such an audacious prop sit on the shelf Paramount also employed the balloon this month for a 6 city tour leading up to the opening weekend in Los Angeles.
For the New Year Paramount sent out a swag package late in December that was as extensive as it was unnecessary. Did they really feel the need to build awareness for a sequel to a $600 million film? However members of the press received an impressively-sized Chinese take-out box adorned with the film’s graphics. Inside was a collection of logo emblazoned items including bowls, chopsticks, placemats, stemware, hats, party blowers and even a bamboo steamer. While an impressive haul, it basically amounts to a dim sum.
In February another unique promo opportunity arose. The Atlanta Zoo is the only U.S. zoo that houses pandas, and they were blessed with a newborn to the extremely rare family of the species. Dreamworks has worked in conjunction with the zoo in the manner of donations to conservation efforts. So it was of little surprise when voice actor Jack Black arrived in Atlanta for a public naming ceremony, and in front of a panda-clad group of kids he opened an envelope to reveal the name of the new arrival; I’ll alleviate the tension, it came to be named “Po”. Jack was even allowed to go backstage and meet the panda cub, wearing studio-sanctioned scrubs.
Following the growing trend of studios using social media Dreamworks has a multi-pronged effort in that field. The social gaming site “Cityville” has its first movie tie-in by offering “residents” a chance at installing a drive-in theater on the property. Doing such will aid virtual land barons in earning an exclusive Po statue in that environment. So, by participating in a promotional program you get the privilege of gaining a promotional item.
The film’s FaceBook page offers almost has as many distractions as found on the movie’s official website. One special event involves what they tout as FaceBook’s first ever virtual parade. This allows fans to choose an outfit and then your image will lead a march involving the profile pics of all your friends. The result, based on your own expectations, falls somewhere short of a mammoth parade balloon.
Promotional partners abound across a number of sectors. Given this is an all CGI animated release there is no surprise to see a few technology companies on board. AT&T for one will have film graphics displayed in their phone stores. Hewlett-Packard, and Intel, are doing cross-promotions with the title, and this is due mostly to the fact that those companies outfit the animation studio with hardware. Also giving heavy promotions is Best Buy. The retailer will have numerous point-of-sale items in their locations, and their ON Network will be showing behind the scenes videos, shown in stores and online.
Now one of the themes running through the storyline of the “Panda” series is that of the lead character Po wrestling with his body image and his love of food. That constant health struggle has manifested itself in the marketing of the movie in the form of contradictory food product tie-in promotions. One of those which surely had heads turning was that involving the agreement with House Foods America. It is said to be the first time that a motion picture has had a licensing agreement with a brand of tofu.
Children are also going to be urged to partake in other panda-approved healthy choices. Sun-Maid Raisins will have packaging with the movie’s graphics, as well as offering up a contest with the winner flying to Atlanta to meet the real-life Po at the zoo.
Also found is the fruit-infused Hint Water, which has used its popular natural watermelon flavor to help stump for the family film.
But just as Po exhibits a weakness for consumables that are less than optimum for balanced nutrition, so may fans of the drop-kicking panda. McDonalds will be tempting the tummies of impressionable eaters with a line of toys in their Happy Meals. Also drawing attention will be the General Foods line of cereals, which is revisiting a lost promotional tool as they offer a line of movie-themed toys in boxes of many of their cereals. Eight “spin-fighter” toys can be collected.
Another health risk is the line of AirHeads confections, rounding out the possibility that your tyke may be inspired to emulate the titular fighter by partaking in some of the aerobic workouts while sporting a more rotund physique.
There are of course numerous toys in all manner of distraction which have flooded into stores, with every character having various permutations on shelves. One in particular has an initial feeling of unease. The “Jumbo Kung Fu Wrestler” is an over-sized plush toy in which your young one can use to duplicate many of the onscreen fighting moves. It seems like a decent idea at first; the kids can practice becoming a kung fu master.
However this also comes to mean that your tyke – who clearly is a fan of the film – is basically becoming violent towards their beloved character.
However on further thought this may actually be sensible. Considering the studio is working to both encourage kids to consume sugary treats while also lecturing to eat more healthy choices the kids may feel internal conflict. Being made to feel self-conscious after being tempted with sweets surely will cause a spike in anxiety. Maybe working out that aggression towards the source of that paradox in a healthy fashion will at the very least get them emotionally fit.