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BK, 7-Eleven Adding Bulk to Hulk Redux

April 20, 2008

By T.L. Stanley

Hulk smash. Universal happy.

The Big Green Gamma-Ray'd Guy will be back in what's billed as a special-effects-filled popcorn event movie, reminiscent of the old TV show but with major updates. Tie-in partners include Burger King, 7-Eleven, Kmart, mall retailers, grocery store brands Pringles and Sargento, Airheads candy and Hasbro toys.

As part of the push, Hulk will appear on a tricked-out custom motorcycle that'll be built during a cable TV show, on hacker-fighter software in Best Buy and other big box stores, and as a role model for strength training in GNC, which is an entertainment tie-in newbie.

Still to be determined: if audiences will embrace the do-over of 2003's disappointing big screen Hulk. Devoted comic fans are a tough sell and, as Universal Pictures and Marvel Studios found, so are promotional partners who remember Ang Lee's angsty version from five years ago that opened huge at $62 million, but quickly sank as negative word spread. It ended up with a disappointing $132 million in the U.S., and less internationally, on a hefty $150 million budget.

In pitching the current incarnation of the famous superhero, second only to Spider-Man in Marvel's trove of popular characters, studio executives went to great lengths to tell potential partners how this Hulk would be different—and successful.

"We know the Hulk from 2003 didn't satisfy the fans, and we had to acknowledge that," said Stephanie Sperber, executive-vp, Universal Studios Partnerships. "We emphasized the passion that fans still have for this character and that this is the movie people have always wanted."

Key points of difference: Hulk, played by Edward Norton, is more clearly defined as a hero, which is both partner and merchandise friendly. He has a high-profile nemesis in The Abomination (Tim Roth), and he's in love (with Liv Tyler), which is intended to draw in the female audience. Even the name has been tweaked—it's The Incredible Hulk, giving partners like 7-Eleven an outsized hook for themed products. The Incredible Gulp, anyone?

Partnerships around the film, launching June 13 amid a schedule stuffed with tentpoles and action fare, spread from mass market to niche, aiming for hard-core fanboys, families, adult men and gatekeeper moms.

All offer a mix of media support, from network TV and radio to online, in-store, print, sampling and coupons.

For its part, Burger King will target families and kids with six Hulk toys in kids' meals, dedicated TV ads, in-store signage in 7,500 locations and online promotions. The fast feeder is digging deep into Hollywood this summer, as it has done in the past, with back-to-back Iron Man, Hulk and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull programs.

"Our kid demo looks for the flavor of the month; they don't stay too long on any one property," said Brian Gies, BK's vp-marketing impact. "Summer is a really fertile time to speak to that target and keep them interested in our brand."

7-Eleven, fresh off a bundle of Reggie awards for its innovative Simpsons programs last summer, is "Hulking it up" with movie-themed Slurpees, fresh sandwiches and sweets in its 5,500 stores. There will be nearly 6 million Incredible Gulp and Slurpee cups, with detachable mini-action figures on the straws.

Like BK, 7-Eleven links heavily with entertainment-like videogame Halo 3 and another buzzed-about superhero flick Iron Man to speak to its core male 18-34 demo. The options for themed product, like a green Radiation Rush Slurpee and a remade Hulk, drew in the retailer.

"The studio very much wants to distinguish this movie [from the prior film]," said Stephanie Hoppe, 7-Eleven's senior director-marketing. "And we know our core consumer is very interested in Hulk. It'll help us enhance our products."

Partners appealing to adult men include Kmart, which has created an Incredible Dad program that ties to Father's Day, with gift cards, MovieCash and Hulk merchandise contests. EAS Myoplex, a nutritional supplement sold at GNC and similar retailers, will incorporate the Hulk into nearly 1 million packages and run a contest to give away a custom chopper to be built on an episode of CMT's Chopper Challenge. The Incredible Hulk will have extensive integration in that cable show, including film footage.

There's a great deal of curiosity around the film. Its first promotional trailer quickly became the most downloaded in Universal's history.

A revival of a franchise is rare but not unprecedented. The iconic Batman movie series was nearly killed off after the poorly received Batman & Robin, yet director Christopher Nolan resuscitated it with Batman Begins. This summer's Dark Knight, the next installment, is one of the most anticipated action films of the season.

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