By Hammad Zaidi | November 29, 2011

I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend. I spent mine enjoying “Thanksgiving salmon,” changing diapers and attending the heart wrenchingly depressing 50-0 massacre of my UCLA football team by USC; their most hated rival.

However, I also got to catch the incredibly well made and positive The Muppets (2011), which is going to be our focus today. Should you wonder why I’m choosing to showcase The Muppets, instead of Breaking Dawn (2011), which won the weekend with an estimated $42 million dollar Friday to Sunday box office, it’s because Breaking Dawn was down 70% from it’s opening weekend and is tracking $9 million behind the franchise’s previous film, New Moon (2010) made during last year’s Thanksgiving weekend. Furthermore, The Muppets did something that no other franchise would dare attempt; they bet their comeback on a story based on their own social irrelevance. The self-effacing roll of the dice worked, as Jim Henson’s timeless creations flopped back into the public eye. Thus, let’s examine how The Muppets mounted their comeback, and what advertising and distribution strategies they utilized to reintroduce their brand to mass audiences.

The Muppet Numbers
The Muppets, a $45 million dollar budgeted film, earned $29.5 million from Friday through Sunday, and $42 million since last Wednesday. The picture premiered on 3,440 screens, creating an ear-to-ear smiling “per screen average” of $8,576.  Tat average is especially impressive, because none of the 3,440 screens were 3D or IMAX screens, which would have boosted the returns because of their higher ticket prices.

The “Manamana” Word-Of-Mouth
Cinemascore reports The Muppets has earned an “A” rating, and 98% of viewers polled would recommend the film to a friend. Based on those numbers, “frog legs” won’t be served at the domestic box office anytime soon, because Kermit’s latest should have strong legs throughout the holiday season.

Unorthodox Marketing Campaign
One of the most amazing aspects of this film’s release was just how dynamic, risky and unorthodox its marketing strategy was.

For starters, The Muppets hosted “Monday Night RAW” on Halloween Night. That’s right, a fake frog a fake pig, and several of their fake friends, hosted a fake wrestling event on TV. Millions of viewers watched their wrestling heroes interact with the Muppets. The ingenious move allowed The Muppets to be positioned as being relevant and hip to those who find RAW relevant and hip, while the RAW wrestlers were seen as something more than just violence-hungry tyrants.  Thus, both sides increased the social reach of their coveted brands.

Secondly, Miss Piggy was recently interviewed on the E!’s late-night talk show, Chelsea Lately. During the interview, host Chelsea Handler actually asked Miss Piggy if Kermit The Frog penetrates her during sex. While the question may have turned Jim Henson over in his grave and enraged parents nationwide, it garnered valuable social media attention and endorsed The Muppets as film that’s as much for adults as it is for children.

The interesting thing to remember about the unorthodox marketing campaigns for The Muppets is that it’s a Disney release. Disney, who acquired the Muppets in 2004, is positioning them as a property that casts a much wider net than it’s previous “G” rated core audience. This, of course, is evidenced by the fact that The Muppets is the first “PG” rated Muppet-based feature film.

Disney’s “Modest Mouse” Budget For The Muppets
Disney produced The Muppets on a $45 million dollar budget; far more modest than the $286 million Disney spent producing Tangled (2010). While Muppets are clearly cheaper to craft on screen than a high-end animation like Tangled, the success of The Muppets thus far suggests that Disney may lead the way for other studios to start spending considerably less on producing their family entertainment. After all, Disney spent less than 1/6th of the Tangled budget on The Muppets, and Kermit and his gang have nearly made their budget back in the first five days of release. This, of course, leads us to learning today’s lesson: maybe it is easy being green.

Okay, my friends, that concludes today’s Muppet Show. As always, I thank you for lending me your eyes and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday. I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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