SeaWorld jumps on a movie's bandwagon, hoping
Apr. 11--With their quaint, rolling gait and always
impeccable black-and-white attire, SeaWorld's penguins
are the quintessence of cute.
But how are they as marketing partners?
The San Diego marine theme park will find out in June
when Sony Pictures Animation releases its
computer-animated movie "Surf's Up," with more than a
dozen corporate partners to help promote it with
product tie-ins. SeaWorld will brand its penguin
exhibit with the film's theme this summer.
Corporate tie-ins with movies, DVDs, video games,
computer games and other major entertainment releases
have become an important source of additional income
for a media property and a way to leverage advertising
dollars for the property and its tie-in partners
Tie-ins often come in the form of licensing
agreements, such as Disney's now-defunct 10-year
partnership with McDonald's that helped promote such
movies as "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The
Incredibles" through Happy Meals and action-figure
McDonald's has not wasted time finding new movie
vehicles for peddling fast food to children: The chain
has also signed a "Surf's Up" deal with Sony that will
include promotions at more than 30,000 restaurants in
several countries, as well as television ads, in-
store displays and Happy Meal tie-ins, according to
Marketing Daily, an online newsletter that tracks the
media and advertising industries.
SeaWorld hopes to capitalize on the current rage for
all things penguin, including "Happy Feet," which won
the Oscar for best animated feature at this year's
Academy Awards, and 2005's documentary, "March of the
Penguins," which also picked up an Oscar.
"Surf's Up" incorporates a "mockumentary" style in its
tale of how penguins invented surfing. In the film, a
documentary crew goes behind the scenes during the
Penguin World Surfing Championship, where the film's
hero, amateur penguin surfer Cody Maverick, hopes to
ride the waves to stardom.
SeaWorld entered into an "asset exchange" agreement
with Sony rather than a straight licensing agreement,
said John Sartorius, vice president of retail
marketing for SeaWorld's St. Louis-based parent
company, Busch Entertainment Corporation.
As part of the tie-in, SeaWorld will run "Surf's Up"
movie trailers in the park, offer penguin-themed toys
and merchandise, and participate in a "Win a Trip to
SeaWorld" sweepstakes. SeaWorld will also take some of
its penguins on the road, attending media events to
promote the movie as well as the film's premiere in
Although the movie features a cold-weather rockhopper
penguin, SeaWorld will take warm-weather Magellanic
penguins -- which can be transported in a pet carrier
-- to "Surf's Up" media events.
"Each has its own handler, and we can transport them
by van or in the cabin of an airplane," said David
Koontz, a SeaWorld spokesman. "We often bring them out
during a flight to walk around so everyone can say
'Hi.' If you want to see the faces of 137 people on a
Boeing 737 light up, just have a penguin walk down the
Along the way, SeaWorld gets to promote its three
marine theme parks and the Busch Garden Conservation
Fund, which supports species research, animal rescue
and rehabilitation, and conservation education.
"It is a perfect opportunity to showcase what we do in
conjunction with a penguin movie," Sartorius said. "We
care for more penguins than anyone else in the U.S.
through our three SeaWorlds, and this gives us a
Although tie-ins are now a business staple, some
marketing experts caution that there is little
evidence that they drive consumer decisions to buy a
Some tie-ins have provoked a little head-scratching,
such as Verizon Wireless' two-year deal in 2002 with
AOL Time Warner's New Line Cinema to promote the last
two installments of the "Lord of the Rings" movie
Wireless technology appeared to be an odd fit for
J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, a no-tech world of
hobbits, wizards, elves and orcs who decidedly did not
use cell phones, said James Oakley, a Purdue
University marketing professor.
"I think it debatable whether it is worth it for some
companies, and sometimes it is just a matter of 'if I
don't do it, one of my competitors will,' " Oakley
said. "It's like naming rights for sports stadiums:
There is no hard evidence it adds value, but companies
fork over tens of millions of dollars for the
opportunity to have a stadium named after them."
San Diego's Jack in the Box acknowledged that it had a
less-than- stellar response to its tie-in last year
with IDT Entertainment's computer-animated film,
The fast-food chain offered toys linked to the
children's tale of a father and son and two legendary
baseball teams, but the movie ultimately was not a
good fit for the company's menu, which caters to adult
tastes, Jack in the Box spokesman Brian Luscomb said.
"They were good toys, but it didn't really drive foot
traffic," Luscomb said. "We don't do tie-ins often
because the licensing fees can be very expensive for
the value you get out of it."