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Volume 20 No. 42
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‘Turbo’ offers outlet for revved-up marketing

Cutting a marketing agreement with a movie studio can be the most painless deal in sports. Just ask Sunoco, Firestone or Verizon.

Those companies collectively spend millions on their sponsorship of the Izod IndyCar Series, but the exposure they will get in DreamWorks’ newest animated film, “Turbo,” which opens this week, cost them next to nothing. It only required marketing commitments that give “Turbo” enough impressions to justify featuring Sunoco fueling stations, Firestone tires and a Verizon-branded car in the film.

Driver Tony Kanaan poses with the Turbo character and his Sunoco/Turbo-themed race car.
Photo by: Getty Images
“I don’t know if I would say this was luck because we all take our position in motorsports seriously, but sometimes these opportunities present themselves and they can be great for your brand,” said Drew Kabakoff, Sunoco’s director of brand marketing. “It’s too early to tell what it will do for the [Sunoco] brand but it’s been exciting for employees and customers.”

Kabakoff and others this week will begin getting a sense of the value their DreamWorks partnership delivers. “Turbo” opens in theaters Wednesday, and Box Office Mojo expects it to gross more than $300 million worldwide.
It’s only real box office competition in the children’s animated film genre comes from “Despicable Me 2,” which took in $142 million its first weekend after opening July 3.

DreamWorks, which made the “Shrek” films, developed the idea for “Turbo” in-house more than two years ago. The studio wanted to tell the animated, children’s story of a snail that dreams of being a great racer who is fast enough to win the Indianapolis 500. But to tell that story, it needed the rights to animate the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the big screen.

Randy Bernard, who at the time was IndyCar’s CEO, jumped at the idea because he saw an opportunity not only to expose the sport but also its sponsors. He traded rights to feature the Indy 500 in the film for exposure in a movie that could be seen by more than 20 million people worldwide. He also told DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg that the film really needed to feature sponsors because they’re integral to the Indianapolis 500.

Katzenberg balked.

“He said, ‘No way. I’ve never allowed sponsorship in my movies in the past,’” Bernard recalled, recently. “I said,

‘You can really use this to capitalize in the marketing.’”

Katzenberg remained firmly opposed to the idea until he attended the 2010 Indy 500. He looked around at the sponsor logos emblazoned on cars and saw corporate signage around the track. He realized the film needed sponsors to be authentic.

“He found me after the race and he goes, ‘Hey, I get it. This will be the first movie we have with sponsorship,’” Bernard said.

DreamWorks determined which sponsors would be in the race. Bernard asked that the studio focus on brands that are in the IndyCar Series. He and his sales team invited all of the series’ sponsors to Los Angeles for a meeting about the film. They pitched them on the opportunity and then turned over negotiations to DreamWorks, which wanted sponsors to guarantee a certain amount of marketing support for the film and a total number of impressions.

Sunoco, Firestone, AAA, Verizon and General Motors signed on for the project without even reading the script. HP, which sponsors the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car and has a business relationship with DreamWorks, committed to the film, as well.

Each sponsor received a mix of assets that included exposure in the film, movie tickets and premiere passes.
“It’s about reaching the consumers in different touch points,” said Linda Kehn, DreamWorks’ head of national promotions. “We will do our own TV campaign and advertising, but these partnerships allow us to reach out in a unique way. Going into a Firestone dealership or AAA are unique opportunities to reach more consumers than we have with our traditional marketing.”

Sunoco has been promoting “Turbo” since late May. The company, which is located on the East Coast, has 5,000 locations with “Turbo” signage and fountain cups and has plugged a “Turbo” logo into its commercials. It sponsored IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan’s car for five races this year because there will be a No. 60 Sunoco car in the film.

Firestone launched a promotional offer in May around the film. The tire manufacturer’s service stations began offering consumers who bought four Firestone tires a $50 “Turbo”-branded MasterCard, four movie tickets and a concession voucher. It put “Turbo” signage in the stations and put a “Turbo” logo at the end of its TV commercials.
It complemented those promotions with two sweepstakes. The first, which ended April 30, offered a trip to the Indianapolis 500. The second, which ends in August, offers a trip on a DreamWorks cruise line. More than 600,000 people entered the two sweepstakes, making it the company’s most successful sweepstakes effort, said Phil Pacsi, Bridgestone and Firestone vice president of consumer marketing.

Stores also reported significant traffic for the “Turbo” ticket offer. Said Pacsi, “We don’t have our numbers in yet; there’s a redemption process. But the reaction we’re getting in the stores is a lot of people are coming in and asking about the promotion. That’s very exciting.”

Verizon allowed DreamWorks to reach a very different audience. The company promoted “Turbo Racing League,” a kids game that’s available on smartphones. AAA is selling discounted “Turbo” tickets at its branches, and General Motors developed a 30-second animated television spot that has been translated into a variety of languages for international promotion.

Sunoco, Firestone and General Motors also promoted the film with “Turbo”-themed displays at IndyCar races, but the emphasis and the value for DreamWorks was really away from the track.

“It’s a big initiative for all of these brands, and that’s why they’re taking it beyond the racetrack,” said Kasey Coler, IndyCar’s vice president of marketing.

IndyCar is trying to capitalize on the film, as well. It developed a sticker book that will be handed out at more than 230 theaters in markets ranging from Los Angeles and Chicago to San Francisco and Charlotte. The book includes stickers of “Turbo” characters, Will Powers’ No. 12 Chevrolet and IndyCar logos. More than 500,000 will be given out, and they all direct recipients to a microsite that IndyCar launched with games and information on the film.

Series executives have high hopes for the film. The series is hosting its second full staff meeting of the year at a movie theater this week. More than 300 IndyCar and IMS employees will gather to get a recap on this year’s Indy 500 and an update on plans for speedway improvements. Then they will watch the movie.