While Thor was #1 at the box office this past weeked (don't miss our Brandcameo product placement review of the film), perhaps a bigger product placement story involves another golden ticket.
The 40th anniversary of the release of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the June 1971 adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic starring Gene Wilder, was the greatest reverse product placement of all time. But what few know is that Wonka was also to be one of the first big corporate product placements.
Other fictional film entities have become real life brands via licensing deals. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. is a chain of restaurants inspired by Forrest Gump. Consumers can now buy Brawndo, "the thirst mutilator" from the film Idiocracy. There is even a Rick's Cafe today in Casablanca.
But 1971's Willy Wonka launched an entire candy empire.
Based on Dahl's 1964 book of the same name, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Quaker Oats signed up to a $3 million deal to finance the 1971 film version in exchange for creating a candy bar tie-in related to the film. But, according to one of the film's producers, at the last minute, the bars were pulled from distribution on account of a production snafu. But Wonka remains one early version of corporately-funded filmmaker.
Quaker subsidiary, Chicago-based Breaker Confections, later stepped to develop the Wonka name, releasing a number of Wonka-branded candies in subsequent years after the film's release, such as the "Everlasting Gobstopper" in 1976.
Breaker Confections changed its name to Willy Wonka Brands in 1980. Eight years later it was acquired by Nestlé in part of a deal for Wonka's then-parent company, Sunmark.
Today, under the Nestlé umbrella, the Wonka candy company still produces a range of candy, from SweeTarts to Nerds, Gobstoppers to Laffy Taffy. Of course, it also makes the "perfect candy bar," the Wonka Bar, and last year moved to get more "upscale" with the introduction of a Wonka Exceptionals chocolate line, with a nod back to the movie that inspired it:
The Wonka Candy brand still makes extensive use of the "golden ticket" for marketing opportunities; in 2010, Wonka gave away a number of round-the-world trips to consumers who found a lucky ticket in tandem with its sponsorship of the Warped tour (and a pop-up store in the Toys R Us store in NYC's Times Square).
The actual Willy Wonka Factory is located at 1445 West Norwood Avenue in Itasca, Illinois. Sadly, it seems far less marvelous than its inspiration.