This particular column was almost a daunting task. With such a remarkably huge promotional and licensing surge it was a chore to winnow away select portions. This is interesting, considering the initial Cars film was met with a share of skepticism. The seventh Pixar release was regarded as the weakest attempt at the time, and when measured up against the other Pixar releases on a number of levels it fails to meet the company’s high standards. However something phenomenal happened on the way to mediocrity.
While the title is not among the studio’s most impressive, from a marketing perspective it was a monster. Since its release in 2006 the original Cars has been a financial success story. The licensing from that lone title has brought in dollars like few films ever, averaging a stunning $2 Billion dollars annually. It was with an eye towards that kind of windfall that a sequel to the middling title became inevitable. The marketing rollout has been, to put it mildly, overwhelming, and the production has placed a premium on the global markets as a result. The plotline carries the now familiar characters on a world tour — surely a result of the focus on international territories. The early posters even highlighted this atlas-spanning plotline.
The global appeal is also reflected in an unlikely place – the soundtrack. The music from the first film enjoyed some robust sales, boosted largely by the huge hit from Rascal Flats, remaking “Life Is a Highway”. For the sequel’s recording you get another country singer, Brad Paisley. However you also find performers from various spots on the map; British crooner Robbie Williams, the Japanese band Perfume, and French performer Benabar.
Domestically, if you set foot inside most retail outlets you will likely spot a massive amount of tie-in products growing like kudzu on shelves. To date over 300 different items have been branded to the movie, and that figure will swell as the year rolls on. Everything from non-automotive items such as musical instruments to fishing poles and bicycles bear the characters and graphics from the film. To their credit these are often not simply bikes adorned with kitchy plastic add-ons; they at least go the distance and give original paint schemes so your kid can ride like Mater.
One indicator of how massive this push has become is in the exclusivity arrangements. While many a film release will garner either one department store outlet being the exclusive source for promotional items, or one store being privy to handling select items, “Cars 2” was simply too big to be contained by one retailer. As a result Wal-Mart, Target, Toys-R-Us, and K-Mart all lay claims to selling objects from the movie that are found only at their portals.
Once inside the stores this onslaught will have you finding ideas that make perfect sense, while others trend towards licensing for the sake of just getting your logos on any product willing to pump your brand. Rayovac for example makes perfect sense. With a glut of toys needing to be powered up in order to occupy the attention of your tyke branding batteries, and setting up displays inside the toy departments, seems a masterstroke of commercialism.
Less so would be the tendency of slapping the “Cars 2” brand on just about anything to do with humans under the age of 12. There is actually a variety of different “training potties” to be found licensed to the film, for example. And to extend that theme, Kimberly-Clark uses their Huggies brand to sell “Cars 2” baby wipes. I may be stretching credulity here, but I find that when you are marketing towards those who have yet to master the evacuation process you may also be up against drawing in those who have yet to process a passion towards movie characters. I would think when cleansing your toddler’s hinder there are issues a tad more important than having a Disney-approved cheek-cloth.
There is actually one product sector where you can see the sheer force of this brand take effect. While all manner of toys and products have been inundated with anthropomorphic vehicles, the surprising number of board games branded to the film illustrates the reach of Pixar’s marketing arm. First of course you get the expected players here, such as Monopoloy, or Memory, and Sorry!
Add to that less likely players, such as Trouble (with a pop-o-matic Mater), Connect Four (with characters printed on the checkers), and the truly obtuse Tire Fishing Game. This would be the traditional fishing simulator that normally has plastic fish turning in a pond and making themselves prone to a small hook. Now however what you get are small tires (?) opening their mouths (??) in order to be caught. Ah, what the hell; at least it has smiling cars on the box.
And if that is not enough, there is also a “Cars 2” Operation game. For this go-round the traditional set up has gotten a transformation as well. Instead of removing body parts from a bemused-looking patient with a glowing snot-box, your child is removing auto parts from an excited-looking Mater with a glowing crankcase. What has me wondering is this: After decades of a game that may have inspired countless kids to possibly explore a career involving internal medicine are we now grooming the next generation to become technicians at Jiffy-Lube?
Probably the biggest way you can get a feel for the might of the “Cars” brand is in the influence it carries with the corporations. Normally you get companies flexing their might and imposing their will on a campaign for maximum exposure. (For example, “Thor” had scenes set at 7-11 convenience stores. You know, just like the Norse legends.) With this production however you find companies actually going to bat for the title, even going so far to adjusting their methods so as to be included on the bandwagon.
State Farm has extended itself, and not by just running commercials with exclusive animated content (courtesy of Pixar). They have gone so far as to actually fabricate life size versions of the automotive characters and having them travel the nation selling the film. The “Agents on a Mission” cross country tour stopped in major cities to allow fans the chance to pose with the vehicles, and kids could sign up to become “agents”. This was sort of a nebulous recruitment; the tykes likened themselves surely to the secret agents depicted on screen, not as indemnity brokers.
And helping with these impressive mock-ups was another marketing partner, Goodyear Tire Corporation. They had to fabricate special tires to fit the unique sizes and requirements of these vehicles. But they did not stop there. To get the true sense of the “Cars 2” marketing heft note how willing this stalwart American company has been willing to alter itself to fit into the “Cars” universe. It was a wry gag that the lead character, “Lightning McQueen”, riding on a set of Lightyear brand tires, a note to both the corporation and another Pixar character.
Goodyear Tire has been more than accommodating to this alteration of their corporate name. For promotions of the movie they have turned their corporate website over, touting the benefits of “Lightyear tires” from the site. And yet, they were still more compromising. In a sign of fealty to the film, the company went so far as to rechristen their most iconic element. For a time their trademark dirigible is flying with completely new graphics on behalf of the film. Now consider the power a kids cartoon holds over the marketplace when you see the Lightyear blimp flying over your home.