Shrek At Baskin-Robbins: An Early-2000s Design Odyssey

Shrek.

Sure, the movie is a meme now. But when it first hit cinemas in 2001, it was a big deal. Its mixture of fairy tale subversion and dirty jokes was pretty original for its time, even if other movies (and its own sequels) have beaten that selling point into the ground with a Shrek-branded shovel.

But whenever a big movie is coming out, a company will inevitably try and cash-in. One of these companies was the fine folks at Baskin-Robbins. Norm Marshall & Associates, a product placement agency, approached the producers of Shrek with a pitch to get the green ogre into Baskin-Robbins stores. This pitch and its subsequent marketing deal would give Baskin-Robbins one of its most profitable summers ever.

And now, the slides from their presentation have made their way online, letting us all find out just how this idea was pitched to the executives at Dreamworks. (Isn’t the internet great?)

The first thing that hits you when you look at this pitch for a so-called “Enchanted Summer” is how off-model a lot of stuff looks. These slides say that this presentation is from October 2000. Shrek didn’t come out until 2001, so obviously, the marketing company had to make their plans based on early trailers and teasers.

The logo the slides use is very clearly an early version. Rather than the bouncy and squishy font that looks like it is made out of balloons, this one is hard and sharp. The addition of Shrek and Donkey staring at each other from opposite sides of the logo is odd. It makes this look like some weird version of Godzilla vs. Kong. The firey background doesn’t help with this, suggesting that this film is way more action-packed than it actually is.

The first few slides introduce Baskin-Robbins as a company, explaining how beloved they are by all. Someone obviously thought that white text on a black background was too dull, so they’ve spiced it up with some low-quality Shrek jpegs, making this feel like something out of a middle-school presentation.

The highlight of this section has to be the slide on Baskin-Robbins' “Core equities.” While they make sense, out of context, they look like a cross between a strange Dungeons & Dragon’s Monster Manual entry and a failed dating profile. Did you know that Baskin-Robbins is both “Timeless and Relevant” as well as being “Fun and Spontaneous”?

After reading this slide, I want to skip school to hang out with Baskin-Robbins and fear it like it’s some elder being that has come to bring creamy destruction to humanity.

The following slide informs us that Baskin-Robbins has many ice cream flavors, including the fact they can make “Whimsical flavor names representing popular trends,” which is fancy résumé speak for “we can do puns.”

Alongside a load of stats about how much America loves Baskin-Robbins. We get one of the lowest quality jpegs I’ve ever seen. Seriously, it looks like a third-hand account of Princess Fiona.

But low-quality Fiona is something we’ll be getting to down the line as she doesn’t get a fair (vanilla ice cream) shake in this pitch deck.

After several more slides of Baskin-Robbin stats that show the company is somewhere between John Lennon and God in the popularity stakes, we see the world’s most confusing graph. I’m sure someone knows how to read this, and it makes perfect sense if you do. But to me, it just looks like a collection of glyphs you can use to summon or ward off popular fast-food brands. Baskin-Robbins does get credit, however, as its dots look like a clown version of Mickey Mouse.

But forget the math, we want the ogre!

The post-math slide talks about Baskin-Robbins’ “Enchanted Mission.” This is also the first use of overly suspicious quotation marks that make everything sound like a strange euphemism for sex or hard drugs. For instance, Baskin-Robbins are keen to push their “proprietary treats,” which can only mean that they feature some strange DRM that causes them to instantly explode if they are placed within ten feet of a Disney movie.

Baskin-Robbins are keen to push and show off their “uniquely themed store environment.” They do this via the most early-2000s render imaginable. However, it turns out “uniquely themed” means a table topper, one standee, a counter wrap, three stickers, and a hanging cutout. It really is pretty cheap and barebones for something being billed as the best thing since sliced onions.

However, one theme that stands out in this render is the character choice. While the large standee and the table covers are Shrek-themed, the second most common character is Dragon. Dragon gets a hanging cutout and a counter wrap. The actual co-star of the movie, Donkey, is relegated to a single sticker, and Princess Fiona isn’t seen at all.

This is surprising as the Dragon isn’t really a big part of the movie. However, it did get heavily featured in Shrek’s teaser trailers, further proving that this whole pitch was cobbled together from early promotional materials. But even then, the trailers heavily featured Donkey, and Princess Fiona was shown several times, so not featuring her at all seems like an oversight. Even more so when you recall that Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy having voice roles was something the film pushed heavily pre-release, so you would think that Baskin-Robbins would want to capitalize on that.

The presentation goes on to describe what else can be expected during the “Enchanted Summer.” This includes a “Fairy tale-themed in-store experience,” which is a really fancy way to say “we put some posters up” as well as “unique ice cream products designed to draw families into Shrek’s world,” which is something they return to in later slides.

But that isn’t the focus of this slide. Oh no, this slide is dominated by an image of the proposed table tent that would sit on every single table. And my god is it horrifying.

It depicts a very strange Shrek whose face is twisted into an expression that is a bizarre combination of an orgasm, pain, and existential dread. The tent features the oddly threatening text of “Who’s my buddy?” (which is odd, as Shrek’s whole gimmick in the first third of the film is being anti-friendship). However, your eyes will be drawn to the fact Shrek is holding a mirror. While we can only presume that the intention was for the real tent to feature an actual mirror, the image shown uses a horrifically distorted picture of a child that makes it look like the poor kid’s soul is trapped within it, screaming in torment. I have no idea why of all the images they could have picked, they picked that one. But I thank them for giving me a new nightmare.

On top of this, the tent Shrek has weirdly tiny feet. Like he’s obviously leaning forward, but that doesn’t explain how small his feet are compared to the rest of his body. This image is topped off by a smattering of random vegetation at the bottom of the tent. I can only presume that this is meant to be swamp grass, but it looks oddly tropical.

After this, we get a close-up of the large standee seen in the render. This one features a much more on-model Shrek. This one is reaching out to offer you a small ice cream. But the look in his eyes radiates suspicion, almost like this ice cream is some form of test. Like he is using your reaction to this offer to work out if you’re the real you or some horrific doppelganger that has taken your form. This standee also features the world’s most early-2000s font telling you to “Shrek it out!” Which, while not fitting the movie, is a pretty good pun.

The Shrek logo seen on this standee is another early one, complete with an overly firm block font. At first glance, it looks a lot like the font used for the 2014 Godzilla film, so maybe this is an early confirmation that Shrek will be the lynchpin that holds the monsterverse together.

This slide also details what “proprietary treats” means. Though, without the speech for context, it comes across as laughably generic. I will admit to being interested in the color-changing interactive shakes. Foolishly I believed all shakes were interactive as you are interacting with them by drinking them, but apparently, I’m a Luddite. I’m guessing that in the early 2000s, an interactive shake was one you could sync to your 1st gen iPod. It is also funny to see it referred to as a “Potion.” Sure, fairytale settings often feature them as a plot-point, but in this case, it just comes across as more innuendo. If I was in a Baskin-Robbins and a Scottish man asked me to “Shrek Out” his “Potion,” I would run out of the door as fast as possible.

However, when we get to the discussion of the flavors they could offer, we see another example of this being made from early promos. As the only two suggestions are “Shrek’s Swirl” and “Dragon’s Treat.” Sure, Shrek-themed ice cream is an obvious choice, but you would think they would go further with it?

But again, the Dragon comes up. Why does the Dragon get its own themed ice cream and not the supporting character? Especially as Donkey mentions food several times during the movie, it seems like a natural fit!

This slide is paired with an image from the onions scene, which makes sense. But it does make me wonder why they didn’t do an onion ice-cream as a gimmick. I’ve seen weirder ice creams, and a big part of Shrek’s appeal was its gross-out humor, so why not go all-in with weird ice cream?

The sundae and beverage list continue the half-measures. Thankfully we do get a Shrek Swamp Sundae concept as it would be a crime if they didn’t spot and make full use of its alliterative opportunities. But the other two options are weirdly generic. While Shrek parodied fairytales, it seems that Baskin-Robbins wanted to go for more traditional fairytale options. While you could argue that the transformation shake is referencing Fiona turning into an ogre (that is a spoiler, but if you haven’t seen Shrek yet, I question why you’re still reading this), magic potions are not really a thing in the first Shrek.

The unique cakes are also pretty generic, with little thought beyond “stick a Shrek on it” however, the low-quality images on this slide show Lord Farquaad and Fiona. Or, it shows the same low-quality jpeg of Fiona used previously, suggesting that the early marketing really didn’t make much of Fiona’s involvement, to the point that she is all but skipped over in this pitch.

Baskin-Robbins ends this orgy of capitalism by suggesting what it can offer Shrek. And while most of this is the usual sensible business stuff, I will admit the comment about putting Shrek on the Baskin-Robbins website, complete with a link to the Dreamworks site, made me giggle. As a person living in the far future, this type of early internet talk does feel delightfully quaint.

We round out with the Norm Marshall and associates logo, complete with a picture of the Dragon. Suggesting that all of the Dragon promotion is because Norm just really likes the character. More power to him. If I owned a promotions company, I would spend most of my time heavily promoting side-characters that only I like.

When Shrek eventually arrived in Baskin-Robbins’ stores in the May of 2001, it was a big hit. Shrek Swirl was joined by a Shrek’d-Out Chocolate Mint flavor. The treat list also included Shrek’s Hot Sludge Sundae and Shrek Swamp Fizz, both of which changed color when you added a special powder to them.

The “Shrek it out” standee did get made and it has become quite the collector’s item in recent years. Due to this promotion, Baskin-Robbins’ sales increased by 8% in the June of 2000, their biggest increase for 20 years. And a free ice-cream night drew in 3.5 million customers, causing Baskin-Robbins to describe the promotion as an unmitigated success. In fact, Bakin-Robbins would run many Shrek-based promotions after this, creating special flavors for most of the later Shrek films, proving just how well this promotion did.

Shrek Swirl promo picture

Obviously, only having the slides means that we’re missing half of the pitch. But they still act as a fascinating look at Shrek before it was the meme bulldozer it is today. Where it was simply a quirky film with a big-name voice cast. A time where slapping a vulgar green ogre on something didn’t guarantee sales. Sure, Baskin-Robbins’ Shrek may be off-model and terrifying, but he will always hold a special place in our hearts, even if he has left our ice-cream parlors.

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