'Napoleon Dynamite' theme draws attention of some national media
By Amelia Nielson-Stowell
Deseret Morning News
The Utah State Fair mascots promise the 150th is pretty much going to be the best fair ever.
With quirky movie icon Napoleon Dynamite promoting the 2005 State Fair with buddy Pedro on billboards, buses, radio and television, fair organizers promise the fair will stay true to their spokesman: "Sweet."
The Fairpark is to open at 3 p.m. today with a ribbon-cutting by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. scheduled at 5 p.m. near the sesquicentennial exhibit. The historical exhibit features photos, ribbons and memories from fairs past. Despite the 150th status, it's Napoleon Dynamite, not historical significance, that's perking up national attention.
"That film is such a phenomenon. This whole ad campaign has become a phenomenon as well," said Denise Stanger, fair marketing director. "Honestly, I thought it would be popular, but I didn't realize the national attention it would stir. It's taking a life of its own."
National media are focusing on the ads — from a column in USA Today to an article in AdWeek. Using similar taglines, costumes and the original actors Jon Heder (Napoleon) and Efren Ramirez (Pedro), the radio and television spots have become a particular favorite.
Napoleon starts one television commercial by revisiting fair rides that weren't so great. "In days of yore, the Utah State Fair didn't have sweet rides. Like the Scrambler, RockoPlane, the Octopus. . . . Instead, they had the box of wonders." Pedro then duct tapes Napoleon into a cardboard box and rolls him through a field, over a fence and down a set of bleachers. "This is pretty much the worst ride ever!" he whines.
Fans will recognize Napoleon's trademark pencil drawings, doodled on lined paper. They might even recognize the fair theme, "All your wildest dreams will come true," the slogan of Pedro's class president election campaign in the movie.
The ads have had special appeal to 14- to 24-year-olds, the target demographic of fair directors.
"We want those young adults and teens to get excited about the fair this year," said Rick Frenette, fair general manager. "When you've been around 150 years, you have to do something different to generate excitement. We do have a lot of the same old things, but we do have a lot of new, exciting and modern things. This advertising campaign shows we have progressed with time."
The fair's campaign is especially successfully because of the popularity of the movie in Idaho, where the movie was made, and Utah, where most of the crew met at Brigham Young University. The cult status of the movie and its characters is what drives the ads, Frenette said.
Filmed in July and August of 2003 on an estimated budget of $400,000, "Napoleon Dynamite" was a huge hit at the Sundance Film Festival and Fox Searchlight picked the movie up as its distributor. The movie opened on six screens across the United States in June 2004 and made a little over $160,000. But by the time the movie stopped showing in theaters eight months later, it had grossed over $44.5 million and played on thousands of screens across the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Spain and Iceland.
Although its theater debut was more than a year ago, the movie is still achieving widespread popularity through DVD rentals and sales.
"My goals, one, was not to screw it up because there's a certain amount of 'Napoleon Dynamite' that goes around, especially in Utah and Idaho. People feel a kinship to it. And number two, make it as funny as possible and keep it consistent as possible," said Bryan Lefler, a Bountiful resident who directed the commercials and was the story board artist and script supervisor for the film. BOWG Ad Agency in Salt Lake City conceived the idea, wrote the campaign and produced the commercials.
Lefler, who is friends with movie directors Jared and Jerusha Hess, said after the Hesses gave their stamp of approval on filming the commercial, they asked Lefler to be the director because he knows the Napoleon character. The three television spots were filmed in one day.
Excited about the national attention the commercials are receiving, Lefler said using Napoleon Dynamite as the 150th fair theme was a great idea.
"I think it's the greatest move they ever could have done. Nothing says Utah and Idaho like Napoleon Dynamite," he said, adding the ads will "definitely" attract a younger crowd. "I think it's just going to be an influx (of youth). I think it will be a big, big crowd this year."
The entertainment guide, program and poster, featuring Napoleon Dynamite dancing and holding a rooster, are even being sold on eBay. But the fair material is a small part of a growing collection of Napoleon souvenirs. "Vote for Pedro" T-shirts can be found at Wal-Mart, funtalking.com sells a Napoleon talking doll and everything from themed stickers, pens and note pads to lip gloss, wristbands and shoelaces can be found at trendy store Hot Topic.
The movie was nominated for 21 awards and won six, three at the MTV movie awards, where the film walked about with best musical performance, breakthrough male and best movie.
Lefler said he's not surprised it became so popular — there are currently over 150,000 fan club members. Actually, he said he thought it would make more money.
"I don't know why it's such a mystery to people out in L.A.," he said, referring to movie makers. "You make a product that's acceptable to kids age 4 to 90 years old. It's something that revolves around being good to friends and being good to family."
The feel-good theme and lovable characters are what made the movie a success.
"It's fun to watch in this day of war and peril. It's all about people loving each other. And I think ultimately, that's what it comes down to. . . . You can only make so many movies about killing people and the different ways to kill people. There's so much death in movies now. But the overall consensus of people throughout middle America is they want movies that are fun, where people get along or work out differences to bring about a good result."
To view the Utah State Fair ads, visit utahstatefair.com under "Napoleon's Sweet Ads."