'Wreck-It Ralph' gives eBay starring role--for free

EBay CMO calls it a 'Nirvana moment'

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Title character Ralph and his BFF Vanellope weren't the only scene stealers in "Ralph Breaks the Internet," the latest installment of the Wreck-It Ralph franchise, which debuted last week. Retailer eBay also had a starring role—one that was an unpaid integration, according to the brand, which is now reaping the benefits.

"I would call this a Nirvana moment for marketers," says Suzy Deering, chief marketing officer of San Jose-based eBay.

In the film, eBay functions as a key plot device. Characters need to use the marketplace to buy an important item in order to return home and to their lives. The Disney film also introduces an eBay character called "eBoy," who periodically tells Ralph and Vanellope how much time they have remaining to pony up cash before their purchase is cancelled from lack of funds. By comparison, eBay's chief rival, Amazon, is barely a blur on the Internet landscape in the film.

The movie was the number one box office hit during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, raking in nearly $85 million in ticket sales, according to reports.

Deering says Disney first approached eBay about being included in the film earlier this year. The two brands collaborated on an integrated marketing campaign and merchandise in the third quarter, prior to the film's November release. Disney benefits from the exposure eBay is giving the movie via its own paid advertising. For instance, eBay is running a 30-second TV spot showcasing its starring turn. It also amped up its social mentions about the film, and has a dedicated merchandise site. In the UK the brand is running some out-of-home marketing as well.

Disney did not return a request for comment.

Deering, who declined to say how much eBay is spending on marketing around the movie, says the integration helps keep eBay tapped into cultural conversations, which is a component of its recent "It's Happening" marketing campaign. EBay's agency, 72andSunny, has helped guide the efforts. While eBay has had paid placements in movies before, many are unpaid, including "Black Panther" and "Oceans 8."

Though it's impossible to know how much engagement is related to Wreck-It Ralph versus the annual shopping bonanza of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, eBay says it is seeing "phenomenal" engagement and sentiment.

On Twitter, most consumers seem to have appreciated the effort:

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