CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- McDonald's appears to be upping the ante in its often high-stakes kid's-meal showdown with rival Burger King. The fast-food giant, which has been working primarily with animation studio DreamWorks SKG since 2007, has inked a deal with 20th Century Fox that could help the studio, in turn, add much-needed marketing dollars to its promotional efforts.
The first two movie tie-ins will be with the much-anticipated sequels "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs." "Night at the Museum" grossed $571 million, while "Ice Age: The Meltdown" (itself a sequel) took in $678 million.
"Strategically, we decided that we wanted to be with the best studio and the best properties in the business," said Cathy Nemeth, global VP-marketing at McDonald's.
The nonexclusive deal goes through 2010 and will include three more movies, which will be announced later. Ms. Nemeth said "The Talented Mr. Fox," an animated film starring George Clooney slated for November, is being considered. She added that McDonald's met with "all of the studios," including Paramount, which released the hit "Star Trek" this week, and Warner Bros., set to release "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" in July, and looked at all the potential promotions before partnering with Fox. Fox is releasing several kid-friendly films next year, including "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" and "Ramona and Beezus."
McDonald's exploring a Paramount partnership is interesting, as the studio is partnering with Burger King this summer for three movies that have blockbuster written all over them: the aforementioned "Star Trek," "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra." Burger King last year also partnered with Paramount for hits including the box-office blockbuster "Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
Under heightened scrutiny
As the biggest and most-profitable kid on the block, McDonald's is under heightened scrutiny for any properties targeted at children because of prior menu concerns and childhood obesity. The marketer is careful to select movies with educational, moral or exercise-related themes. In 2007, the chain built a website for its massive "Shrek the Third" partnership that promoted exercise. Later that year, with "Bee Movie," a website encouraged children to make environmental commitments. The chain's "Night at the Museum" Happy Meal will drive traffic to a website with historical information about the characters.
For Fox, the deal offers the inimitable force of McDonald's marketing mix, and another pass at the 58 million pairs of eyeballs in its 31,000 restaurants in 118 countries every day. "McDonald's is an incredible partner," said Jeffrey Godsick, exec VP-marketing at Fox, noting the chain's immense traffic and positive brand associations. Working with McDonald's, he added, "can certainly help 'event-ize' a movie," and it lends "immediacy and pop-culture relevance to the McDonald's brand."
Mr. Godsick added that Fox has found the Golden Arches to be an innovative partner, on projects from promotional websites to 10-second spots that are being built for the "Night at the Museum" sequel.
And movie studios, like consumer brands, love the opportunity to see their marketing dollars stretched. With the box office going gangbusters this year, studios are vying for cash-strapped audiences needed to fill seats at theaters for their tent-pole movies. Blockbusters such as "Night at the Museum" and "Transformers" aren't made on the cheap, after all.
Free to partner with other studios
Another important part of the Fox deal: It leaves Mickey D's free to pick other opportunities at will. Before the DreamWorks deal, McDonald's was tied to a decade-long partnership with Disney. While that DreamWorks partnership brought the chain "Kung Fu Panda" and "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" last year, McDonald's also partnered with Warner Bros. for "Speed Racer" and "Star Wars: Clone Wars." While both were box-office bombs, McDonald's was at least able to make lemonade out of "Star Wars," with bobblehead toys from all the previous movies. And enthusiasm for the toys seemed to boost U.S. store traffic during the promotional window, according to some analysts. McDonald's has said it will continue to partner with DreamWorks.
Overall the chain has been pretty successful in aligning with the biggest kid-friendly movies of all time. Among the top 50 worldwide box-office takes, McDonald's developed Happy Meals for "Finding Nemo," "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe," "Shrek the Third," "The Incredibles" and "Kung Fu Panda."
"Our customers expect McDonald's to be associated with top brands, and they understand we do it in a fun, responsible way," said spokesman Walt Riker. "We market with purpose, we market with fun, and we have a track record to show that we deliver on both."