Promotional partners to roll out tie-in campaigns

With the release of films featuring Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, all roads are leading to next summer’s launch of “The Avengers” — and Marvel Studios is keen to bring its promotional partners along for the ride, offering the opportunity for the brands to appear not just in “The Avengers” but other comicbook hero pics down the line.

A little more than a month before Paramount and Marvel unleash “Thor” on May 6, Acura, Dr. Pepper, 7-Eleven, Visa and Burger King are prepping to roll out TV, radio and online campaigns that tie in their brands with the god of thunder’s first outing at the megaplex. Walmart is a major retail partner.

All but Acura and Visa had backed previous Marvel releases in some form (“Thor” will be 7-Eleven’s eighth teaming with a Marvel superhero).

Honda’s luxury brand had been looking for projects that could get Acura in front of more moviegoers through the branded entertainment arm of ad agency RP&, a division of RPA, and its exec Steve Rossmann, a former Gersh agent. When “Thor” offered an automaker the chance to serve as the official wheels of spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D, Acura was quick to lock down its first film partnership.

“Getting to be the official car of S.H.I.E.L.D sold it for us,” said Susie Rossick, Acura’s national advertising manager. “To have that role in the film and in future films was attractive to us.”

S.H.I.E.L.D, the secret government org that recruits Marvel’s superheroes as a crime-fighting force, made cameos in the two “Iron Man” pics and “The Incredible Hulk.” The group will play a larger role in “Thor” and future films, guaranteeing any automaker appearances in multiple franchises for years to come.

Acura especially gravitated toward a pairing with S.H.I.E.L.D due to the org’s image of being advanced and innovative, aspects with which the automaker likes to associate itself.

The design of Acura’s own shield-like front fascia on its vehicles and corporate logo was a coincidence, but didn’t hurt seal the deal.

Car partners are “someone you need to spend a little more time thinking about,” said Bob Sabouni, senior VP of business development and promotions for Marvel, which had previously landed Audi to serve as Iron Man’s preferred carmaker. “It’s something that gets noticed. You have to have the right car.”

As a result of its deal, Acura’s lineup of recently redesigned sedans and SUVs gets roughly two minutes of screen time in the pic, a considerable amount of exposure when it comes to product placement.

In return, Acura will help Marvel and Par promote “Thor” through the launch of a micro website that recruits consumers to become S.H.I.E.L.D agents, play games and design their own agency vehicle. It’s also buying TV spots, print ads and installing signage and offering customers early screenings at its dealerships.

Acura is also touring a series of events like Chicago fanboy fest C2E2, Florida’s MegaCon and the New York Auto Show with recruitment booths that will feature a S.H.I.E.L.D agent car with weaponry like a sonic canon.

In order to pull off the concept of turning each of its films into a chapter of an overall universe, Marvel said it needed to broker deals with brands that were “like-minded” and could be “dedicated to a plan” that embodies the characters and messaging of the films in programs “that is smart for both of us.”

Sabouni said Acura has “bought into the concept and is having a lot of fun with it.”

Separately, Dr. Pepper is buying TV, radio, online ads and setting up in-store displays to promote the six character cans it is producing for “Thor.” It’s targeting males with its core Dr. Pepper product and females with its diet and cherry varieties.

Burger King will have toy-filled kids meals worldwide, backed by TV and online ads. Visa Signature cardholders get exclusive movie ticket offers at Fandango.com, a move that Par and Marvel hope will help sell more tickets to the pic but also puts the film in banks, where studios can’t normally market.

Meanwhile, 7-Eleven will offer up 10 different cups and other exclusive merchandise, as well as a Slurpee smartphone app at its stores, and a three-minute behind-the-scenes video on the making of the movie, produced by Marvel. It’s buying radio and online ads to tubthump the products to its core Slurpee buyer that tends to be male and under 24.

“Action-hero fans index high with Slurpee-lovers,” said 7-Eleven VP and chief marketing officer Rita Bargerhuff.

Naturally, Marvel is creating exclusive digital comicbooks for its partners to distribute individually or providing some with exclusive footage.

“It’s always important to give your partners a little corner of the movie,” Marvel’s Sabouni said. “We’ve learned how to do that over the years.”

Doing so helps giving the bad news that a partner’s products will be destroyed on film a little easier. In scenes, a 7-Eleven store and Acura’s vehicles are obliterated by the villainous Destroyer.

“They definitely have allowed us to play a little bit more,” Sabouni said.

Acura approved the destruction “because there wasn’t anything wrong with the car,” Rossick said. “They weren’t the reason things were blowing up.”

Given the amount of marketing coin Par is spending to promote “Thor,” the pic doesn’t necessarily need to generate more awareness with ticket buyers. But the ad efforts that promo partners are launching will help consumers learn about elements of the “Thor” characters and S.H.I.E.L.D org that they may not be familiar with.

Dr. Pepper’s ads will stress Thor’s strength, speed and ability to fly, for example.

“We provide activities that allow fans to engage in ways that are meaningful and fun, thus building more anticipation for the movie’s release,” 7-Eleven’s Bargerhuff said.

Ads from partners start Friday and run through July 6.

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