First film's commercial partners, and many more, are back

Iron Man, and his billionaire alter ego Tony Stark, is turning into the new James Bond for marketers.

Marvel and Paramount’s “Iron Man 2,” which rockets into megaplexes May 7, has brought back most of the promotional partners — including Audi, LG Mobile, 7-Eleven, Dr. Pepper, Oracle and Burger King — that spent considerable coin to help launch the first film in 2008.

They will spend over $80 million in media buys alone to launch campaigns that involve TV, print, radio, in-theater and the Internet to back the new pic, according to sources familiar with the efforts. Several of the ads have already rolled out around the world. The total promotional value, which includes images on soda cans and other packaging, as well as retail displays and comicbook giveaways, is expected to easily exceed $100 million, with some efforts running through the end of September.

The Hershey Co.’ Reese’s brand, Royal Purple motor oil and Symantec’s Norton software are also partners.

The promo deals around the first pic were notable because advertisers typically shy away from tentpoles that have yet to prove themselves with moviegoers or feature characters that aren’t well-known with audiences.

While comicbook readers were aware of Iron Man, Marvel and Paramount Pictures, which handled the marketing of the pic and the promo partnerships for the first film, knew the character wasn’t as popular as Spider-Man, the X-Men or the Incredible Hulk — especially overseas where a brand’s association with a film property can really pay off for both the studio and the advertiser.

But marketers bet on the B.O. performance of other studio pics that featured Marvel’s characters and wound up winning a jackpot of exposure for their brands and products when “Iron Man” went on to earn $318 million domestically and another $267 million overseas.

“This was not a hugely recognized superhero character,” Bob Sabouni, senior VP of business development and promotions for Marvel Entertainment told Daily Variety . “These partners got the mystique of the Marvel brand the first time around and took their faith in that. They were pretty well rewarded and are now stepping up their game and creating even better programs.”

The new crop of deals are also a coup for Marvel, considering the company took back control of brokering promo deals for its slate of films from Paramount after the first “Iron Man” bowed. Par’s LeeAnne Stables, executive VP of worldwide marketing partnerships, attracted most of the partners to the franchise. Par is again distribbing the pic.

Brands started approaching Marvel to return for the sequel even at the pic’s premiere, quickly establishing Iron Man and Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., as the next James Bond — a cool, charismatic character that loves to show off the latest products to hit the market and one companies are only eager to associate their wares with.

“A lot of our partners have latched onto Tony and are doing campaigns around living the billionaire lifestyle,” Sabouni said. “They find Tony just as appealing as Iron Man.”

For example, 7-Eleven is launching the “Live Like a Billionaire” sweepstakes and Oracle trying to demistifying its mostly corporate products by promoting Stark as the “IT Super Hero” in its ads. Motor oil maker Royal Purple has assembled a Stark Motor Racing Team, made up of professional race car drivers who are wrapping their cars with “Iron Man” signage. Stark owns a racing team in the film.

And because the Iron Man character is now well-known to global auds, deals are even more valuable to Marvel because each partner is upping the amount of marketing dollars they are spending around the sequel.

“All the partners are creating things that have not been done before,” Sabouni said.

That includes 7-Eleven launching its first two-month-long campaign to promote a film, that starts this month and will include collectible cups, straws, exposure on the company’s in-store TV network, and sweepstakes. It’s also using “Iron Man 2″ to buy its first TV spots to promote a film. The convenience store has been leaning more heavily on entertainment properties over the last several years to get more consumers into its stores.

The partners, overall, are also helping Marvel target separate demos: Burger King will push the pic via separate adult and kid-targeted TV spots and its ClubBk.com site, with its international campaign running for seven weeks, while Land O’Frost lunchmeats will target women with its effort, which includes ads in Ladies Home Journal and Family Circle, and themed TV spots, and Oracle is focusing on the mobile crowd, with ads in airports, on airlines and in hotels.

Naturally, many of the partners have products that are integrated into the pic.

Audi, alone, has five of its models shown off in the film, with Stark driving an R8 Spyder sports car. Audi will also buy TV spots on broadcast and cable channels, as well as in theaters, over the next month, which is rare for the company when it comes to tie-ins.

“The ‘Iron Man’ franchise and Audi have a mutual goal of progression through innovation, and the film franchise is the perfect vehicle to display our automotive advancements,” said Scott Keogh, chief marketing officer for Audi of America. “‘Iron Man’ was a blockbuster hit that launched Audi’s first sportscar, the R8. We expect the sequel to have a similar fan reaction and see it as a perfect platform to launch our newest sportscar, the R8 Spyder.”

Stark and other characters also use an LG Mobile phone and flat-screen TVs and other products from LG Electronics. Only LG’s mobile arm was a partner on the first pic.

Jon Favreau returns to helm the sequel that stars Downey, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, John Slattery, Mickey Rourke and Samuel L. Jackson.

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