Did Visa Steal Its Latest Ad From Dustin Hoffman’s Toy Store?

Did Visa crib its latest check-card commercial, about a magical toy store filled with jugglers, from the remarkably similar trailer for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, a movie about a magical toy store starring Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman? The trailer began airing in June; the commercial last month. “A significant amount of time passed between the trailer and the ad,” says a suspicious Jeffrey Godsick, head of marketing for Fox Walden, which produced the trailer. Both feature wondrous excess, amazed children, toys that seem alive — and the same soundtrack, Danny Elfman’s “Breakfast Machine,” the circuslike theme music for Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

However strong the similarities, though, they weren’t planned. Executives at Fox Walden only got wind of the commercial when their friends started calling up, wondering if they’d orchestrated a stealth Visa tie-in. But there’s no mention of the movie in the commercial and no use of credit cards in the movie. “It’s a very successful store,” says Godsick, “but I think all of the transactions involve cash.”

In any case, the movie promoters couldn’t be more pleased. “We’re not mad,” says Godsick. “If anything we’ve done has such a cultural relevance that it’s inspiring an ad, it’s great for both of us.” He’s even contemplating orchestrating a real tie-in to promote the DVD. Visa spokesperson Michael Rolnick says he’d welcome Godsick’s call but bristles at the notion that the credit-card giant took anyone’s idea. “Our commercial has been in development for several months,” he says. “Let’s face it, it’s the holiday-shopping season. We had a commercial last year that was set in a toy store. This kid puts a toy boat on the counter and it blows up to 50 times its size. I can’t say that anyone has a trademark on ‘magical experience on toy store.’” —Jada Yuan