Wolverine Burgers? Spidey Donuts? What’s the Deal With Unhealthy Hero Grub?

Leslie Gornstein
Movie Talk

Burning Question: Why do summer blockbuster movies always partner with fast food companies when it comes to marketing? Why not healthier foods? — Miss M., Utah

Because most superhero movies are family movies, and kids have a weakness for chicken nuggets and fries, not carrots and hummus, at least, not during their vacations.

Fast food companies know this. Film studios know this. And hence, every summer, we are told that nobody loves a good burger more than a superhero ... even though Spider-Man looks like he's never seen a Krispy Kreme donut in his life, and there apparently were no complex carbs at all on Krypton.

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"There is no industry more quick to leverage the trending whims of its customers than fast food," notes Charlie Hopper, principal at Young and Laramore, an advertising agency that has worked with restaurant chain Steak 'n Shake. "That extends to these restaurants's ability to embrace a movie promotion and then just as quickly eject it from the store and scrub any trace of it, especially if the movie bombs."

The hero-burger complex is also a matter of simple math.

"A lot of fruit and vegetable growers would love to partner with the latest movie or popular TV show," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "But they don't have that kind of advertising budget. McDonald's alone spends about $1 billion a year on advertising and promotion."

Sure, fast food restaurants do focus ad dollars on salads or grilled chicken (which, by the way, is much closer to the official Wolverine diet. But not often in conjunction with a blockbuster movie partnership. There's too much at stake.

[Related: Hugh Jackman Reveals His 'Wolverine' Diet]

"If you need a way to sell your same burgers you've always sold, you need to find new ways of talking about them, and partnering with the latest movie achieves that," Wootan says.

Still, you should know that not every superhero franchise is going the fast-food route, or even the high-calorie route. Example? Red Robin, the casual-dining chain that recently announced a partnership with this weekend's "The Wolverine."

See Red Robin's Wolverine Burger Pitch:

The company introduced two new burgers as part of its promotion, including the Berserker, which has three Wolverine-style slashes in the bun. Yes, that burger is a diet-buster in its traditional beef-and-a-side-of-fries form. But company execs were quick to point out that it's not the only option.

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"We customize," notes Red Robin chief marketing officer Denny Marie Post. "You can have the Berserker with a turkey burger and wrapped in lettuce if you like.

"A burger can be a great choice."

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