When You're too Late for the Product-Placement Deal

Warner's Wrapped 'Fool's Gold' but Found a Willing Partner in Tropical Smoothies Cafe for Unique Marketing Support

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NEW YORK -- The paragraph is barely five lines long, buried in a May 7, 2007, story in Advertising Age on the popularity of gourmet meats in delis and grocery stores.

Tropical Smoothies Cafe created the Mango Mojito smoothie and the spicy Jerky Turkey wrap to help promote Warner Bros.' 'Fool's Gold.'
Tropical Smoothies Cafe created the Mango Mojito smoothie and the spicy Jerky Turkey wrap to help promote Warner Bros.' 'Fool's Gold.'
Tropical Smoothies Cafe created the Mango Mojito smoothie and the spicy Jerky Turkey wrap to help promote Warner Bros.' 'Fool's Gold.'

The detail was enough to catch the eye of an executive at Warner Bros, and for Tropical Smoothies Cafe, a national smoothie and gourmet-sandwich chain that began in the Southeast in July 1997, it was a stroke of luck.

With Warner Bros. set to release the romantic comedy "Fool's Gold" Feb. 8, the studio and the all-natural-foods cafe reached a marketing-sponsorship agreement with some unique aspects. The movie already was complete by the time WB reached out to the chain, so product placement was not an option. And, said Barbara Valentino, Tropical Smoothie Cafe's director of marketing and communications, money hasn't changed hands.

Contest tie-ins
Instead, more than 3,000 people have registered to win an all-expenses paid trip for two to Los Angeles, courtesy of Warner Bros., to get a tour of the studios. In addition, Warner Bros. is hosting a contest on Hollywood.com, where consumers can submit their best tropical recipes, to be judged by Eric and Delora Jenrich, the chain's co-founders.

In turn, the Destin, Fla.-based company created two limited-time menu items, loosely based on the personas of two movie's characters, played by Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson. Customers can order a spicy Jerky Turkey wrap, then wash it down with a cool Mango Mojito smoothie.

"It was really a unique situation," Ms. Valentino said of the unexpected phone call from Hollywood. "They've been awesome to work with compared to other studios in the past. They've been incredible gracious to work with."

Despite Warner Bros. launching a national campaign, Tropical Smoothies has tried to capitalize on the partnership by bringing it down to the local level. Ms. Valentino said the chain is working with radio stations and movie theatres in its markets to further promote the movie and the product, letting customers win free dinners at its cafes or sample smoothies at the movies.

Movie's tropical theme
"The overall [theme] is tropical and they have these great healthy [products]," Nicole Sedita, Warner Bros.' VP-national promotions, said of the attractions of working with Tropical Smoothies. "The entire movie is spent in the tropics, and the [actors are] in bathing suits, so it's a nice fit. We thought it could be something fun, and we could try to [create] some sort of special products that we could theme to the movie [to] drive up the awareness and profile of Tropical Smoothies Cafe."

The chain, which began as a single store in Destin in 1993, prides itself on making all-fruit smoothies and meals with high-quality products. Tropical Smoothie's biggest presence is in Virginia but has stores from Nevada to New York. The chain by 2010 hopes to increase its units to 830 from 260.

"The movie was done when they approached us, but we're hoping that a relationship with Warner [will] lead to [product placement] in the future," said Ms. Valentino, whose company relies on word-of-mouth advertising to help supplement its smaller advertising budget. "We're [witnessing] how powerful the opportunities become when you align yourself with a brand like Warner," she added. "This is [our] first opportunity to do something with [them] and we're hoping to do more in the future."

More deals expected
With the ongoing writers strike, that might not come for some time. But Ms. Sedita, who said the two are working on promotional developments for the Feb. 8 release date, confirmed that this would not be a one-time deal.

"We feel that the relationship has been mutually beneficial, so we'll look for other opportunities for future partnership," Ms. Sedita said. "That could include anything ranging from product placement to another promotion, because they've been just fantastic to work with, and we like to keep those kinds of relationships going."
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