Geeks wooed, stars touted to build buzz

It shouldn’t be hard to open a superhero movie these days.

But when your character isn’t as well known as say, Spider-Man or Batman, it takes a lot more to get auds interested.

With “Iron Man,” Marvel Studios and Paramount had to treat the pic as if it were a brand-new property.

They not only had the character’s iconic red-and-gold metal suit and an Oscar-nominated cast as elements to work with, but also alter ego Tony Stark, the billionaire industrialist with a lavish lifestyle and lots of toys.Stark is essentially another James Bond, which Marvel and Par were only happy to talk up to appeal to the broader audience that the 007 franchise has been able to attract.

Marvel and Par’s marketing rollout started way back last summer, educating auds on the comicbook property. Its campaign could easily provide a playbook for other tentpoles — whether their main star is a superhero or not.

Court the geeks:
It’s never too early to get comicbook fans on your side. Last July, Jon Favreau and the pic’s stars Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard trekked to San Diego to take over the first day of Comic-Con and unveil five minutes of footage to a crowd of thousands, as well as show off the Mark I suit from the film.

In February, Favreau bowed the second full trailer for the pic at WonderCon, in San Francisco, saying “it’s important for filmmakers to maintain a dialogue with their audience” and “the best place to go is directly to the fans.”

Show the visuals early:
In addition to the early footage at Comic-Con, Marvel and Par were careful to keep the fanboys satiated with official photos of the Iron Man suit in heroic poses. The strategy kept unofficial on-set photos to a minimum and control of buzz in the hands of the producers.

Offer up featurettes:
In the same vein, producers provided fansites with a series of sneak peeks and promotional clips, including an on-set visit of Stark’s house hosted by Favreau, and the development of the Iron Man suits.

Appear in the Big Game:
“Iron Man” essentially launched its first trailer during the Super Bowl, at a pricetag of $2.7 million, before the spot migrated to websites immediately afterward.

Tout your stars:
This month, Downey is on the cover of GQ, Paltrow is on Vogue (holding Iron Man’s helmet) and Howard is on the front of Giant. Last year, Marvel and Par focused on building buzz around Downey Jr. “to elevate him as a major summer movie star,” the studio said, with official images featuring him or Iron Man. Paltrow and Howard weren’t revealed until 2008.

Get spots in front of TV viewers:
In February, a 90-second trailer was shown during ABC’s “Lost,” courting young males. A promo was also launched on Nickelodeon during the “Kids Choice Awards,” targeting even younger auds. Since then, five TV spots have hit broadcast and cable channels.

Tap into vidgames:
“Iron Man” elements were integrated into hit franchises “Rainbow Six: Vegas 2″ and “Guitar Hero II.”

Make online friends:
“Iron Man” hit the social networking circuit, launching MySpace and Facebook pages for the character and pic’s stars. Favreau updated fans with production news through a blog. The “Iron Man” page on MySpace has 36,444 friends; Favreau’s has 34,033.

Bring on the brands:
Audi’s R8 sports car landed the coveted role of Stark’s main set of wheels; Burger King is onboard as the official fast food partner, LG created an “Iron Man” phone and 7-Eleven has branded Slurpee cups. Estee Lauder’s also styling through its relationship with Paltrow.

To help with the marketing of the pic — especially overseas — the companies are spending heavily to promote their tie-in through TV, print, websites, in-store displays, contests and other promotions that launched in April. Favreau helmed footage for the Audi spots.

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