LOW ANGELES Jerry Seinfeld has said in interviews that he has considered advertising as an alternate career, and now he's getting a taste of it with DreamWorks' Bee Movie.
Seinfeld not only co-wrote, produced and stars in the animated family-friendly comedy, but assumed a marketing role in its Nov. 2 release. Along with McDonald's, Brach's candy and other partners—the comedian will contribute tens of millions of dollars in marketing value.
Seinfeld has been on a non-stop promo tear that has seen him bungee jumping across the Croisette at the Cannes Film Festival and breaking the fourth wall to deliver a plug directly into the camera on NBC's sitcom 30 Rock. He's also lending his voice to a Happy Meal toy. "He's always been a good marketer," said John Miller, CMO of the NBC Universal Television Group. "He seems to really enjoy the business side, and especially for this project since it's very dear to him, and he's a profit participant."
In addition to Seinfeld's support, McDonald's is planning to offer six Bee Movie toys, one with Seinfeld's voice, and ads will stress the better-for-you Chicken McNuggets, Apple Dippers, juice and low-fat milk options. Brach's, meanwhile, is planning a "made with real honey" tie-in for its Candy Corn.
Both promotions come as watchdog groups continue to criticize fast-food and entertainment links. Despite the fruit tie-in at McDonald's, Commercial Alert managing director Robert Weissman calls such deals "an important part of the advertising deluge that is drowning children."
DreamWorks execs declined comment.
Though Seinfeld is, of course, a hugely successful TV performer and stand-up, his ability to translate that success to movies is untested. But Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm Media by Numbers, Los Angeles, said the recent success of family-friendly movies, and Seinfeld's marketing, will boost Bee Movie. "Its prospects are really strong," Dergarabedian said. "It's a solid all-family movie but can cross over to an older audience that wants a Seinfeld fix."
Seinfeld is no stranger to pumping brands, having practically pioneered the practice on his top-rated sitcom. Entire shows were sometimes built around brands like Kenny Rogers Roasters, Pez and Junior Mints, the result of creative decisions and not business partnerships. Because he and his show were TV's 800-pound gorillas at the time, Seinfeld was able to use brands in a way unequalled before or since (without a sizeable media buy from the marketer, that is).
One brand to benefit from Seinfeld's largess is Cinnabon, which is getting positive mentions in the film and the trailer for free. The comedian has been using references to Cinnabon in his stand-up routine for the last few years. He's obviously devoted: "I don't even want to eat it. I just want to smash it into my face," he says during his bit. "I don't want to buy it. I want to marry it. This is my wife, Cinnabon, and these are my kids, Oreo and doughnut hole."
No wonder, then, that he'd include a similar passionate outburst for his character in Bee Movie. The lines about the pastries show up in trailers, such as the one shown on Oprah recently, and the Cinnabon package is clearly visible in TV spots. Focus Brands, the Atlanta-based company behind the cinnamon rolls, is thrilled with the free exposure. The company made cameos in TV and films before, including a recent episode of NBC's The Office, but doesn't support such appearances with off-screen media or promotions at its 600 mall, airport and train station stores.
Executives at the company, contacted by the studio about nine months ago, were able to read pages of the script that included brand references. They haven't seen the film, so they aren't sure about the extent of their scene. "We knew Seinfeld was a fan, and we're glad he thought of us for the movie," said Karen Gailey, a Cinnabon representative. And since no one involved can resist bee jokes, she said she hopes the exposure will "create a buzz among audiences and entice them to visit a local bakery."
As brands in the recent past have learned, this kind of exposure can turn to gold. Interstate Bakeries Corp.'s Wonder Bread, an iconic brand in bankruptcy at the time, scored $4.3 million worth of exposure from its non-paid appearance in Talladega Nights, which included star Will Ferrell wearing his Wonder Bread racing uniform during his extensive promotional whistle-stop tour.
Seinfeld, who's been slightly camera shy since his sitcom wrapped in 1998, has gone to great lengths to hype Bee Movie. As for the Cannes stunt, he told the crowd, "No desperation here. . . just good advertising."
He made a rare guest appearance in prime-time TV, on 30 Rock, plugging Bee Movie during a scene with series star Alec Baldwin. "Having Seinfeld on 30 Rock gave us a great hook to promote the season premiere," Miller said. "If he hadn't been promoting Bee Movie, would he have been available? We don't know."
There's more symbiosis between the network and Bee Movie, with NBC securing exclusive rights to air the animated flick on its network and cable channels. In the run-up to the release, NBC is airing 20 live-action behind-the-scenes Bee Movie shorts from Seinfeld and DreamWorks. These "pod busters" are part of NBC's strategy to provide more original content in show breaks, an idea many networks are testing. "This is a new way of doing business," Miller said. "It's a way to hold people through the breaks."