Toy Story 3’s Steady and Unlikely Trail of Promotion

The last big animated hit at the box office was DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon, which has taken in over $400 million worldwide since it opened last March. A mixture of great reviews, happy early audiences, and a relentless merchandising campaign spearheaded by Wal-Mart turned the movie into a big success. However, this week, a new animated movie is seeking ticket sales, the highly anticipated Toy Story 3. Not surprisingly, its makers seem to be using the same strategy as Dragon’s backers did, in featuring the film in a couple of high-profile commercials. Whereas recent flop Shrek Forever After used the same cliched trailers and McDonalds promotions in order to spread the word, Toy Story 3 is serving up interesting commercials that manage to boost two different products/services to consumers.

Somehow, this commercial for the Visa debit card introduces you to the movie’s central characters, makes you want to see more of them, and makes you want to use your Visa debit card to buy official merchandise at a local toy store. I adore the attention to detail put into this. At the very beginning, the toys are standing on top of a display for the probably fictional “Red Herring” board game, which advertises itself as “a game of skills and scales”.

A major plot point in Toy Story 3 is the toys’ accidental arrival at a rowdy preschool. In this commercial for Aflac insurance, scenes from the movie are used to talk about job hazards. An unlikely comparison, but it is all pulled together by the company’s cute spokesduck, who appears as a “duck in a box”.

However, the best tie-in I’ve seen yet is this spot for the US Postal Service. In it, Hamm the piggybank (voiced by John Ratzenburger, who played the quintessential TV mailman on Cheers) dresses up as a letter carrier in order to inform the toys about “priority-rate shipping”. If the USPS ever makes a piggybank that looks like that, I will unashamedly buy it. The second-best part, however, is what he says to Slinky Dog.

Some might argue that this steady stream of advertising will tire audiences and make people not want to see Toy Story 3, but only time will tell if those nay-sayers are right.