At 40, Wonka Candy Is Greatest Reverse Product Placement Ever

Posted by Abe Sauer on May 16, 2011 12:00 PM

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.


Joseph United States says:

Wow, that link to the image of the actual Wonka factory was a huge letdown! Being a Wonka connoisseur (my favorite will always be Runts), I envisioned something at least slightly more elaborate and interesting.

May 16, 2011 12:33 PM #

Me United States says:

Hey Abe! The book doesn't have the same name as the movie...
the book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory... NOT the name of the film. way to report the truth

May 17, 2011 09:46 AM #

S. Brady (brandchannel) United States says:

Of course; fixed! Interesting back-story to the book, btw (from Wikipedia):

The story was originally inspired by Roald Dahl's experience of chocolate companies during his schooldays. Cadbury would often send test packages to the schoolchildren in exchange for their opinions on the new products. At that time (around the 1920s), Cadbury and Rowntree's were England's two largest chocolate makers and they each often tried to steal trade secrets by sending spies, posing as employees, into the other's factory. Because of this, both companies became highly protective of their chocolate making processes. (Both have since been acquired by larger food companies; Cadbury by Kraft Foods and Rowntree's by Nestlé.) It was a combination of this secrecy and the elaborate, often gigantic, machines in the factory that inspired Dahl to write the story.

May 17, 2011 12:35 PM #

A Sauer United States says:

Yes, interesting indeed. Thanks for fixing my inability to report the truth.

May 17, 2011 01:12 PM #

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