I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to the November 17th opening of Happy Feet. The previews are excrutiatingly adorable, and I’m fairly certain that those animated penguins singing and dancing will put a smile on the face of even the most staunch curmudgeon. Just look at that little guy. It’s not possible to look at him and be grumpy.
Well, it’s almost impossible to look at him and be grumpy, but I’ve managed it, thanks to this article from the New York Times (registration required to view). I’m grumpy, I’m shaking my head, and I’m telling those kids to get off my lawn. Would you like to know why? Of course you would!
Let’s talk about branding for a minute. Big brands can be extremely powerful. I recently told you about a case of a big brand urging change for the better. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Kudos to Disney for using their weight in a positive way.
Now let’s talk about a big brand using their power in a different way. Hmmm, what shall I use for an example? Oh! I know! how about that article I just pointed you to:
A new animated movie about a tap-dancing penguin is venturing beyond the Antarctic into uncharted territory — a promotional tie-in to pharmaceuticals. Characters from “Happy Feet” appear in an extensive advertising campaign, including network and cable commercials, full-page magazine ads and online banner ads, for Roche, promoting its Web site www.flufacts.com.
Oh, Toy Box Mommy, you are saying. Perhaps you’re being unduly harsh. Perhaps this is just a public service!
The site dispenses practical advice — like how to recognize flu symptoms and how to track the spread of the disease — and notes that doctors can prescribe an antiviral medication for prevention and treatment. In a list of such medications, Roche’s own Tamiflu is at the top.
This, my friends, is licensing gone wrong. I am disappointed with Warner Brothers’ decision to allow the Happy Feet characters to be used in this way. Frankly, I have a bias against prescription drug advertising in the mainstream media at all because I foolishly believe that trained medical professionals should be selecting medications, not anyone who has a television set. But there’s money to be made in sending people to their doctors to ask about restless leg syndrome and getting a better night’s sleep. I get that.
But this? This is over the line.
According to Mike McGuire, vice president of anti-infectives at Roche, the convergence of the film’s release date and flu season led to the liaison. “We wanted to communicate the risk of flu and drive consumers to our Web site. We wanted a different way to reach our target audience, which is moms.”
And I’m sure that the hysteria promoting Roche’s Tamiflu as the only effective weapon against the avian flu—feared to be the next pandemic, and all over the news last year around this time—and the fact that the Happy Feet characters are, well, birds never occurred to anyone. They were all too busy assuming that we moms will run out and buy their products if a cute penguin tells us to.
I still think the penguins are cute. But I’m not feeling too kindly towards their creators right now.