Surprise Star Emerges in Will Ferrell Nascar Comedy

Wonder Bread Gets Crucial Sponsorship in Brand-Heavy Summer Flick

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LOS ANGELES -- When Ricky Bobby is in the bush league, his race car sponsor is a fictional mom-and-pop marketer called Laughing Clown Malt Liquor.
Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Wonder Bread star in the Nascar-approved comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."

After he hits the big time he trades up to Wonder Bread, which gets superstar billing in Sony Pictures' upcoming Nascar-based comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," starring Will Ferrell.

The small but iconic marketer will have screen time and co-promotions with the summer movie that put it in the same pack with big-spending behemoths Sprint and Nextel, which will pony up tens of millions of dollars to hype the farce racing into theaters on Aug. 4.

Since Nascar is so brand-heavy, Sony executives had a wide field to pick from when hunting for promotional partners. With that benefit also comes restrictions, meaning that the film couldn’t tie in with marketers that compete with Nascar sponsors.

Interstate Bakeries Corp.'s Wonder Bread, which has been in bankruptcy since 2004, didn't pay to be integrated into the movie and isn’t an official Nascar sponsor.

The deal illustrates a few truisms in Hollywood: marketers can bring valuable assets to a film without having a massive media budget, and creative decisions can sometimes lead to a brand integration and partnership that would’ve never happened on its own.

It was important that Mr. Ferrell's character graduate to a real-world brand as he goes from an unknown to a celebrity racer, and filmmakers wanted the all-American Wonder Bread. Nascar executives, who consulted on every level of the movie from script to specific racing scenes, agreed.

It's a significant coup for the outsider brand. Though it's the top-selling bread in the U.S., Wonder spent only $668,000 on media in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence. But it's a staple in 25,000 stores, making it attractive as a movie-tie-in partner. The marketer will use those venues, print ads, its website and public relations to spread the "Talladega Nights" message.

"It's an instantly recognizable brand," said Mary Goss Robino, Sony's senior VP-global marketing partnerships. "It's a feel-good product that will get the movie into grocery store aisles and Wal-Mart, which is perfect positioning."

Staying in character

Meanwhile, Mr. Ferrell is spreading the gospel of Wonder Bread by appearing in character and in costume at high-profile events such as the recent "MTV Movie Awards." He and the rest of the cast, which includes John C. Reilly and Sacha Baron Cohen, will appear at the Nascar Nextel Cup races in Chicago in July and at other major racing events as well.

The marketing campaign and partnerships for the August release are built around the Ricky Bobby character. In a rare move for a Hollywood star, Mr. Ferrell will be prominent in marketing partners' ads, sweepstakes and events.

Talent issues are among the stickiest for studio executives trying to promote a film. A-list stars often refuse to appear in promotional materials and ads for co-marketing partners. Some will concede only if they're in character and not representing themselves personally, thus keeping their own endorsement opportunities open.

Mr. Ferrell, who conceived the idea of a comedy with him as a professional Nascar driver, has been particularly cooperative for "Talladega Nights."

"Every campaign treats Ricky Bobby like he's a real Nascar driver," said George Leon, Columbia TriStar's executive VP-worldwide consumer marketing group. "Will Ferrell really got that marketing position and ran with it."

Custom ads from Sprint Nextel

For instance, Sprint Nextel, in the first entertainment promotion since the companies merged, are developing a media onslaught that includes TV, print, direct marketing, online, radio, in-theater and outdoor. The spots are custom-created with Mr. Ferrell and dedicated to the movie, unlike traditional marketer messages with film clips tacked onto the end.

The marketer, which is pushing the entertainment content available for its phones, also is using its heavily trafficked 1,900 Sprint stores and Nascar races to hype the movie.

In the drive to be authentic, the film highlights the close relationship between Nascar's brand-loyal drivers and their sponsors and takes it to a comedic level.

"It's art imitating life," Mr. Leon said. "It's a colorful look at the world of Nascar without making fun of it."

It was important to be respectful of the 75 million Nascar fans, who are extremely loyal to sponsor brands, Mr. Leon said.

The movie comes from writer-director Adam McKay, who also created "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy." Like that Will Ferrell comedy, "Talladega Nights" is tongue-in-cheek, with over-the-top moments such as Ricky Bobby autographing a baby's head and his "bitter rival," a Perrier-sponsored French driver played by Mr. Cohen, giving TV interviews from his bathtub.

It's all in good fun, said Sarah Nettinga, director of film, TV and music entertainment for Nascar Digital Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based division that barters deals with Hollywood.

Nascar's entertainment push

Nascar has made it a priority over the last several years to push into popular entertainment, shepherding high-profile integrations into films such as Disney's "Herbie: Fully Loaded" and creating TV series like "Nascar Drivers: 360" for FX.

Ms. Nettinga said the involvement with "Talladega Nights" will likely boost the sport by drawing in Will Ferrell fans.

"The point is to see if we can get a bigger fan base for both," Ms. Nettinga said.

Sony executives wanted a complement of exposure from the marketing partners that would span paid media such as TV commercials, radio and print ads, in-store signage, websites, racetrack promotions, and in-theater spots.

There are some heartland-favorite marketers linked to the film, with many of them being first-timers for such a promotion. Checkers and Rally's, drive-in burger joints with 800 locations, will splash the movie all over their media and venues.

The gatekeepers (i.e., mom and dad) are targeted by with Country Crock, Nascar hot dogs and Winnebago, and car enthusiasts are covered as well, by brands such as Discount Tire, Victory Wheels and the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Looking to fire on all pistons, the studio teamed with Nascar licensees to create movie-themed merchandise, a rarity for a PG-13 comedy. Among the products in the "Talladega Nights" line are Ricky Bobby bobble heads, car-seat covers, license-plate holders, die-cast cars, play sets and collectibles intended to cover everyone from young kids to adults. The merchandise will sell at Nascar tracks around the country and at Wal-Mart.
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