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Summer Blockbuster Watch: 'Speed Racer'

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DETROIT ( -- Ah, summer. A season of secret identities, spandex bodysuits and the crack of the bullwhip. Yep, a raft of Hollywood blockbusters are once again embracing Madison Avenue with the hopes of box-office glory. Here's the latest in a semi-regular series from Madison & Vine that will look at the marketing partners of upcoming summer films, and how they plan to make certain that no seat goes unfilled, no eardrum unbusted and, of course, no wallet untapped. This week: "Speed Racer."
Emile Hirsch stars as Speed in Warner Bros.' 'Speed Racer.'
Emile Hirsch stars as Speed in Warner Bros.' 'Speed Racer.' Credit: Warner Bros.

"Speed Racer" is zooming to big screens May 9, and befitting something about, well, speed, the movie is opening earlier than had been planned.

Warner Bros. Pictures moved up the opening date by two weeks to give the high-octane action film "the maximum playability throughout the season." The studio said it expects the picture to have "broad-based, worldwide appeal -- from adults to teens to families -- making it the perfect film to lead off our exciting 2008 summer slate."

Americans first saw "Speed Racer" on TV in 1966 as an English-dubbed version of a Japanese cartoon series that also aired in the '90s on MTV and the Cartoon Network. The new flick, with eye-popping computer-generated backgrounds and flying car stunts, stars Emile Hirsch as Speed; Susan Sarandon and John Goodman as his parents, Mom and Pop Racer; Matthew Fox as his rival, Racer X; and Christina Ricci as Speed's girlfriend, Trixie.

The movie's domestic marketing partners include General Mills, Yokohama Tire Corp., McDonald's Corp., Nintendo,, and Mattel, although the deals vary, a Warner spokeswoman told Advertising Age.

Much like rival Burger King with its partnership with "Iron Man," McDonald's will introduce "Speed Racer"-themed toys that go with the fast-food chain's Happy Meals. But while BK gets an in-movie mention in "Iron Man," there's no product placement for the Golden Arches in "Speed Racer." "This is a great opportunity for parents and kids to all enjoy Speed Racer together as Warner Brothers reintroduces a property that parents are familiar with, updated to the interests of today's kids," said Rebecca Anderson, marketing manager, McDonald's USA.

Mattel, meanwhile, has no product placement in "Speed Racer" but is the master toy licensee for the movie, a spokeswoman said. The toy maker will start advertising its Hot Wheels brand of toys with the "Speed Racer" logo this week, mostly on children's TV programming. WPP Group's Y&R, Irvine, Calif., handles the campaign. The toy line includes a helmet with roaring car sounds and phrases from the movie; a foot-long Mach 6, Speed's car; and race-track sets.

"Speed Racer," written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, marks the brothers' first writing-directing collaboration since their "Matrix" trilogy. "Speed Racer" also reunites the brothers with producer Joel Silver (via his Silver Pictures banner), who also worked on "Matrix."

Here's a look at some of the picture's pit-crew partners:
The premiere will get some added fuel from millions of cereal boxes.
The premiere will get some added fuel from millions of cereal boxes.
General Mills, which had a similar partnership with "Spider-Man III," assembled the partnership in-house, said Andrea Stein, manager-global promotion at the marketer. "We could see 'Speed Racer' was going to be a breakthrough revolutionary film that was also family friendly, which matched up well with our consumer target."

What General Mills gets: Entrance into the summer's first family-friendly property -- and a really fast car. Although Ms. Stein said she had not yet seen the movie, the company submitted artwork for a Cheerios race car. "So there should be a Cheerios race car," she said. Ms. Stein was unaware of any other cameos General Mills products might have in the movie.

What "Speed" gets: "Hundreds of millions of impressions" by way of signage on General Mills cereal boxes, such as Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms, Golden Grahams, Reese's Puffs; on Fruit Snacks, Go-Gurt Fizzix yogurt containers; Pop Secret popcorn; Betty Crocker cookies and Old El Paso dinners, Ms. Stein said. "Racer" tie-in packages arrived at grocery stores early April and are likely to be on shelves through June. The company is also promoting the movie with in-store promotions and TV spots, from Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. The spots, which plug the movie along with Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Reese's Puff's cereal, began airing in early April and will run through May.

Yokohama's Fred Koplin, marketing director in the U.S., said marketing outfit Common, Tokyo, handled the global deal for the tire maker with Warner Bros. International, marking the company's first venture with a movie. Each region of Tokyo-based Yokohama Rubber Co. is developing its own program. Mr. Koplin said the upside of "Speed Racer" is the property "resonates with so many different generations." Surprisingly there's no automaker partner.

What Yokohama gets: Increased consumer awareness of its brand across a broader audience. "The challenge we face as a small-to-medium company is we don't have as much money to activate as our peers," Mr. Koplin said. The tire maker attracted a nice crowd and excitement for almost an hour at its race paddock during this month's Toyota Long Beach Grand Prix. Cast members from the movie stopped by to visit the paddock, where Yokohama gave away "Speed Racer" posters and key chains.

What "Speed" gets: An estimated $2 million in national TV and magazine buys through May 10 from Yokohama, which has created co-branded ads tied to the movie via its agency Kovel Fuller, Santa Monica, with some footage from Warner Bros.

A video-game version of "Speed Racer" launches only on Nintendo's Wii and DS platforms May 6. Created by the interactive entertainment arm of Warner Bros., the Nintendo-only fit was chosen not only because of the short game development time frame, but also of the family action theme of the film. A "Speed Racer" game for PlayStation 2 is planned for the DVD launch later this year.

What Nintendo gets: A highly anticipated movie property that fits snugly into the game maker's family-friendly fun and action core brand value. It also gets another reason for consumers to buy the Wii Wheel accessory (a mock steering wheel that holds the remote). The "Speed Racer" game will be the first third-party game that's compatible.

What "Speed" gets: Nintendo's Wii platform is still white hot even after more than 20 million sold. That rub-off buzz will boost the movie's cachet, although early reviews of the game are mixed. Still, it's good timing, as car-racing games are just beginning to launch on the Wii system. Mario Kart is prepping for an imminent launch with a bundled Wii Wheel. The DS is second in hardware sales only to the Wii, with now more than 65 million total sold worldwide. Both platforms are popular with not only kids and tweens, but also the desirable non-gamer demographics of family, female, and older generations.

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Contributing: Emily Bryson York and Beth Snyder Bulik

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