Media Synergies and the Politics of Affect in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

How to Cite

Downing, L. (2005). Media Synergies and the Politics of Affect in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). M/C Journal, 8(6).
Vol. 8 No. 6 (2005): 'affect'
Published 2005-12-01

“What if we were to go into culture tongue-first to see how things taste?” (Jenkins 5)

Released in June of 2005, Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has all the ingredients of a blockbuster success; a well known story-line, a target youth demographic, a nostalgic adult audience and a multi-million dollar synergy between media giants AOL Time Warner and transnational food corporation Nestlé. Yet, when it comes to discussing the affect-oriented components of the marketing campaign behind this film, much contemporary academic scholarship falls short of offering a substantial framework for theoretical analysis.

Defined broadly as a subjective, felt experience, the notion of affect has traditionally fought an uphill battle for scholarly recognition within media studies. Against a backdrop of objective rationality and quantitative analysis, the touching, smelling and tasting components of media consumption have been systematically disregarded in favour of the audio-visual pleasures of the filmic medium. However, as the recent cross-promotional strategies underpinning Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reveal, the tactile, olfactory and gustatory components of moviegoing are often central to global media consumption practices.

The synergised marketing initiatives between AOL/Time-Warner and Nestlé confectionary exemplify the significance of affect within globalised media consumption. Drawing on Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s classic of the same name, the recent revamping of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory explicitly utilises Nestlé confectionary as a nexus between the seemingly incommensurate realms of transnational media distribution/commerce and the consuming, sentient bodies of actual movie-goers. In direct contrast to Stuart’s 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, which offered audiences an audio-visual representation of hedonistic indulgence, the Warner/Nestlé agreement effectively ensures an edible cinematic adventure, in which audiences are enticed to consume “actual” (Nestlé) Wonka bars as part of the movie experience. The following enticement from a recent Nestlé press release is explicit in this regard: “You dreamt of them in the book, you will yearn for them in the film and now you can finally taste scrumptiously sumptuous Wonka Bars” (Drew 1).

In keeping with this cross-promotion, the majority of Wonka products seen in Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have identical wrappings to the merchandise currently being promoted in retail outlets across the United States, Canada, Europe and Australasia. In thus establishing distinct syntagmatic relationships between the film’s diegisis and its “real world” marketing campaign Warner and Nestlé have ensured a form of media consumption that moves beyond ocularcentric understandings of “spectatorship” and into the uncharted realms of the emotional and the visceral. Nestlé’s use of the enigmatic character Wonka and his extraordinary confectionary provides another palpable demonstration of this politics of affect:

Willy Wonka, the world’s most eminent chocolatier, has created a scrumdiddlyumptious selection of delectable treats to choose from. The enticing Wonka Bars tempt you in three tantalisingly tasty flavours: Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight, Nutty Crunch Surprise (the surprise is that it contains no nuts!) and Triple Dazzle Caramel (Drew 1).

In terms of media affect, the implications of this phenomenon are significant. Far from being confined to the audio-visual specificities of the filmic medium, contemporary audiences are being lured into an entertainment experience that can not only be seen and heard, but also smelled, touched and tasted. These sense-oriented marketing strategies are indicative of what John Hannigan has identified as “eatertainment”, an affective synapse of consumer activity “in which the former boundaries between eating and play are collapsed and recast into something new” (93). In offering audiences an edible cinematic experience, the Nestlé -Warner cross-promotion not only ensures a potentially novel trip to the cinemas, but also a repeat purchase scenario, whereby Wonka-themed confectionary is able to be purchased several times after just one viewing of Burton’s film.

The notion of eatertainment is certainly paying off for Nestlé. With a product placement deal in excess of nine million U.S. dollars, Nestlé’s Wonka confectionery range is given optimum exposure throughout the film. According to The Atlanta Journal, the preparation for this placement required Nestlé to produce and wrap over 110,000 fake chocolate bars; most of which were used in the scene in Mr Salt’s factory where hundreds of his employees are seen ripping open Wonka bars in the hope of finding a golden ticket for Mr. Salt’s infamous daughter Veruca (Bookman 8). In tandem with this placement, Nestlé UK also launched a £1.5m television advertising campaign replete with a “golden ticket” promotion, which promised several ‘lucky consumers’ the chance to win a golden ticket:

Everybody has a chance of finding one of the most sought after tickets underneath their Wonka Bar wrapper, as featured in the film. The lucky golden ticket winners will be treated to a trip of a lifetime to visit a chocolate factory and Warner Bros Studios in America (Drew 1).

The Nestlé/Wonka connection was forged in 1999 after Nestlé purchased Rowntree confectionary. Taking its incentive from both the novel and the subsequent 1971 film, Nestlé re-launched Rowntree’s relatively underdeveloped Wonka range and transformed it into a major brand which now has an annual income of over $121 million U.S (Jardine 8). To date, there are over two dozen products in the Wonka range and all of them manage to tie in with Roald Dahl’s earlier discourses of mischief, eccentricity and gustatory bliss. Included amongst the Wonka range are products such as Laffy Taffy, Nerds, Oompahs, and Wonka Bars, with nearly all of the existing products carrying the tag-line; “Wonka, what will he think of next?”. Discussing the evolution of the Wonka brand, Frank Arthofer, CEO of Nestlé chocolate and confections, noted that “the tag-line is intended to capture the innovation and unpredictability of the brand and further the image of Willy Wonka as an inventor” (Thompson 14). In fortifying this agenda, Nestlé also hosts a Wonka Website in which children are encouraged to play interactive Wonka games such as ‘Oompahs Outrageous Rush’ and ‘Gobstopper Gobbler”.

Of course, this is not the first time that media giants have aggressively marketed food as an integral component to the cinematic experience. In 1996, Disney and McDonalds collaborated on a $US four billion cross-promotional exercise (Howard 2). Since then, McDonalds and Disney have launched numerous “McDisney” packages, many of which have included film-specific foods such as banana-flavoured sundaes and “jungle burgers” to tie in with Disney’s 1999 animated film Tarzan. However, unlike the McDonalds/Disney agreement, in which the food operates as an indexical signifier of the film (and not vice-versa), the Nestlé /Warner promotion takes the politics of affect one step further and encourages a mutually beneficial process of signification whereby the food signifies the film and the film signifies the food. It’s a scenario that blatantly ensures a form of visceral connectivity between the audience, the film and the tangible product.

To this end, an analysis of the synergised marketing campaign behind Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reveals a persistent and efficient politics of affect in which the neo-liberal agendas of both Nestlé and Time-Warner are affectively absorbed into the sensual and desiring bodies of media audiences. Such initiatives signal a significant departure from traditional audio-visual marketing campaigns in as much as audiences are now being expected to literally swallow the saccharine-tinged marketing agendas of not one, but two, multinational corporations.

While prevailing theoretical analysis of media consumption struggles against the traditional confines of rational objectivity, transnational media networks are productively utilising the audiences’ desire to be affectively engaged in the cinematic experience. As the cross-promotional tie-in deals behind Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory clearly reveal, the contemporary media-scape is one which deliberately lures audiences on the basis of their sensuous, emotional and subjective capacities.

Author Biography

Leanne Downing