Interstate Hopes Ferrell Does Wonders For Bread

Will Ferrell loves his all-American, squishy, white Wonder bread.

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That’s the word from Interstate Bakeries Corp. as to why the No. 1 selling bread in America ends up front and center in the upcoming Sony Pictures NASCAR-themed movie, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” set for release Aug. 4, and in which Ferrell’s character drives a Wonder car and wears a Wonder uniform.

In a six-word pitch to producers: “Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver,” the movie’s tagline is “The Story of a Man Who Could Only Count to No. 1.”

America’s favorite bread and a NASCAR-themed movie seem a perfect fit.

“NASCAR is as American as Wonder bread,” said Rich Seban, Interstate’s chief marketing officer. “His character only needs to count to No. 1, because that’s what the Wonder brand is.”

Kansas City-based Interstate, which has a cross-promotion with Sony for the movie (the parties say no money exchanged hands), has been in bankruptcy since September 2004 and could use a boost of good news. And if Ferrell’s performance during the MTV Movie Awards Thursday night is any indication, the 85-year-old brand is going to get beaucoup exposure long before the movie hits theaters.

During that broadcast, Ferrell, who makes millions playing goofy characters — think “Elf,” “Anchorman,” and “Old School” — showed up as his “Talladega Nights” character.

The movie already has several built-in fan bases – untold number of Will Ferrell fans and the 75 million people who count themselves NASCAR fans. According to NASCAR, it is the fastest-growing spectator sport in America, second only to the NFL. Major League Baseball and the NBA dispute the second-place contention.

In addition to starring in the movie, Ferrell also gets producing and writing credits.

“I’ve not seen the movie nor seen a script, so I don’t know to what extent the brand gets mentioned in the movie, but we were assured that the brand would be treated with respect and professionally and would not be disparaged in any way,” Seban said.

A spokeswoman for the NMA Entertainment & Marketing agency, which helped broker the deal between Sony and Interstate, said it has another “blue chip” client that wanted to be the race car “sponsor,” but Wonder won out. (NMA represents Dunkin’ Donuts, Sears and General Motors Corp., among others.). Executives at NMA also said they’d not read the script.

Jeff Greenfield, executive vice president at 1st Approach, a branded entertainment and strategic marketing firm in Portsmith, N.H., says not reading the script before agreeing to be involved is risky business.

“It’s always more important to protect the brand than promote it,” Greenfield says. “I’m a little surprised, no actually very surprised that no one, not the company nor their agency has read the script. This is a family-friendly, all-American brand and the movie is a comedy, and based on some of his other movies, you could run the risk of alienating some of your customers.”

Meanwhile, Nextel, the chief sponsor of NASCAR, also gets a small nod on Ricky Bobby’s right shoulder. In fact, with NASCAR being likely the most heavily product- and corporate-sponsored sport in America, “Talladega Nights” could end up being the product placement champ of all time.

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