Subway deal lets Mouse tout pics while adhering to healthy-eating mandate

Fast-food partnerships are a staple of summer movie campaigns, but Disney was left without any after embracing a healthy eating initiative in 2006 that forced the Mouse House to end its 10-year relationship with McDonald’s.

It still avoids associating its characters with junk food, but the results of a new Disney partnership with the Subway sandwich chain are prominent in the lead-up to Pixar’s “Brave” bow this weekend.

The eatery is promoting “Brave” in nearly 25,000 of its stores, online and through TV spots, making it the first Disney theatrical release Subway has hyped after helping to push the homevid re-release of “The Lion King” last year.

Deal, which is expected to extend to other films, is a potentially lucrative one for Disney, given that Subway operates more stores than McDonald’s — guaranteeing it more exposure than its previous partnership.

The “Brave” promo effort, which bowed June 1 and runs through Sept. 1 in the U.S., focuses on Subway’s Fresh Kit for Kids meals that come inside reusable “Brave”-themed bags containing codes for free tix to the pic. (Up to 500,000 tickets are being distributed.)

Separate TV spots feature custom animation, created by Pixar, of the pic’s red-haired Scottish princess Merida promoting kids’ choices of what they want on their sandwiches (a separate ad was produced for Hispanic auds as well).

Subway isn’t disclosing how much it’s spending on the “Brave” tie-in, but it’s “a big commitment on our part,” said Tony Pace, senior VP and chief marketing officer for the Subway Franchise Advertising Fund Trust.

The theme of “empowering” kids attracted Disney, along with Subway’s image as a healthy alternative to burger chains.

Disney stresses that its Subway pact is not a direct result of its recent Magic of Healthy Living Advertising guidelines that cuts back on the types of fast- and junk food marketing on its various platforms. Instead, deal is closely tied to Disney’s nutrition guidelines set in 2006 that limits how the company’s characters and brand can be used when it comes to fast food partners.

While Disney and McDonald’s had promoted carrots, apple slices and low-fat milk with Happy Meals, the chain still made most of its money on fattier burgers and fries, forcing the Mouse House to cut its ties with the company.

Over the years, McDonald’s has promoted films like “101 Dalmatians,” “Pocahontas,” “Toy Story,” “Cars” and California Adventure’s launch of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” was the last film co-marketed by the companies.

End of the deal also meant McDonald’s had to pull out of Disney’s theme parks.

“How (Subway) touches families in a healthy manner really intersects with our strategy, as well,” said Don Gross, VP of global promotions at the Walt Disney Studios. “They share our interests in reaching families in an interesting and positive manner.”

Although deals with quick-service restaurants enable studios to get their marketing campaigns in front of millions of potential moviegoers, Disney didn’t feel the pressure to find a new chain after it parted ways with McDonald’s.

“Clearly Disney has not worked in this space for quite some time, but it hasn’t hurt us promotionally,” Gross said. Instead it found other brands to promote its pics.

Hilton Garden Inn, Visa Signature, Target, the Republic of Tea and tourism org VisitScotland also have aligned around “Brave,” ponying up considerable coin for TV, print and online ads, along with in-store exposure.

“For us, we just look for partners that strategically align with the campaign of the film,” Gross added.

Disney already has started discussions with Subway about future film promotions — Subway already had a connection with Disney’s ESPN and ABC as an advertiser.

The amount of exposure Subway offers proved too attractive to pass up: While McDonald’s earns more in revenue, Milford, Conn.-based Subway operates 24,899 stores in the U.S. Worldwide, the company has 37,000 outlets in 100 countries, ranking it only behind Yum! Brands’ KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

For Subway, “Brave” and other Disney films gives the company a chance to reach out to a new consumer after its marketing efforts have primarily focused on the male audience with its sports-themed campaigns.

“It adds another dimension to our brand,” Pace said. “Disney’s got a lot of power with parents, moms and kids. We always like to expand our reach and bring people into the fold that we don’t normally speak to.”

The companies aren’t likely to broker the kind of multiyear deal Disney had with McDonald’s as most studios have shied away from those types of overall corporate pacts in recent years, preferring the freedom to pick and choose who they associate their films with.

At the same time, brands don’t want to be stuck with a studio that may shift its focus on the type of films it wants to make.

McDonald’s found that out when Disney strayed away from traditional family fare and pumped out pics like “The Alamo,” “Hidalgo,” “King Arthur,” “The Village” and “National Treasure” in 2004, which didn’t prove Happy Meal-friendly. Disappointments like “Treasure Planet” and “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” also caused corporate grumbling.

Still Subway wouldn’t be opposed to working with Disney in the future.

“We like to do things for the long-term,” Pace said. “We hope this is the genesis for something that continues for a long time to the benefit of both corporations.” But Pace added that any tie-in to an entertainment property should have “a linkage to our brand. We don’t want the message about Subway and the message about the entertainment property to be separate.”

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