Sony Orchestrates Smurfs Revival

By Robert Marich
   July 29, 2011—As Sony Pictures rolls out The Smurfs movie to theaters today, a clear picture emerges for PG-rated family film’s promotional tie-ins, starting with a McDonald’s Happy Meals, and also its lofty ambitions in licensed merchandise.
   The Smurfs – whose trademark color is a rich blue -- represents a marketing challenge for Sony Pictures because it is an established kids property – dating back to 1958 – but is not a leading family brand anymore.
   “I feel the same fondness for the Smurfs as I do for the recession…of 1981,” jokes Thom Forbes in a Media Post article. “I didn’t like either 30 years ago and I have not been looking forward to their imminent return.” Still, the new movie’s fortunes will depend on children nag their parents to take them to the cinema, overcoming parental indifference.
   A Wall Street Journal article by Michelle Kung says that Sony spent three years enlisting 200 business partners to revive the property, which is owned by its creator in Belgium. The goal is to revive and re-launch the property much like Alvin and the Chipmunks experienced when a 2007 film from 20th Century Fox boosted the kids franchise about a singing trio. Sony acheived spectacular success reviving the Spider-Man franchise.
   Says the WSJ article uncovering some success, “U.S. ports received 79 shipments last month of Smurfs-related toys, apparel and other merchandise, according to Panjiva Inc., which tracks imports. While that represented a 19-fold increase from the same month last year, it was far below the 421 shipments of Cars 2 merchandise imported the month before its theatrical release in June of this year.”
   Meanwhile, back in promotional tie-in land, “the global McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion will be brought to life on McDonald’s interactive, online experience for kids – Stage M,” says a McDonald’s press release. “The action-packed site has been Smurf'd to feature exciting new content that motivates and encourages them to be a friend of the planet. A new music video featuring Smurf characters uses colorful animation and fun tunes to teach kids about the environment. Online components also include kid-friendly activities and games focused on sustainability and augmented reality applications that allow parents and kids to Smurf-ize themselves.”
   Sixteen different Smurf action figures are also stuffed into Happy Meals. McDonald’s press release also quotes George Leon, executive vice president, Sony Pictures Consumer Marketing, and Kevin Newell, McDonald’s executive vice president and global chief brand officer.
   But reaction is mixed. The Media Post article notes there is an “I Hate the Smurfs” page on Facebook.
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