Plane repainted in 'Real Steel' promo push

DreamWorks Pictures’ “Real Steel” takes to the skies today through a unique promotional partnership with Virgin America, marking the airline’s most high-profile tie-in with Hollywood to date.

Film’s star Hugh Jackman hit the runway at LAX Friday morning, flanked by Virgin America flight attendants, to unveil Virgin’s newest Airbus jet, which features the pic’s lead robot, Atom, plastered on the side in an arms-in-the-air pose and the film’s logo. The plane is also named “Real Steel” on the nose, which will remain once the decal has been removed a little more than a month from now.

The branded plane’s launch, which sent it to New York City’s JFK Airport before flying to other cities on Virgin’s route across the country, was the latest marketing move in a campaign that kicked off Sept. 1 and wraps around the film’s release Oct. 7.

Previously, Virgin has helped promote HBO’s fifth season of “Entourage” and Victoria Secret’s fashion show with onboard entertainment activities, but the “Real Steel” deal was more elaborate than Virgin had anticipated — and a coup for DreamWorks looking to market its movie to an audience it normally can’t reach through traditional ad efforts.

The airline is normally approached by producers requesting quick shots of a branded plane in flight, like the brief sequence seen in “The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” in return for Virgin’s marketing support.

Conversations with “Real Steel’s” producers, some of whom are also frequent flyers of the airline, started roughly a year ago. Virgin sparked to the project given the script’s plot that revolves around an underdog boxer, his son and old ‘bot. “As an airline, we are smaller and always taking on the competition wherever we go,” Abby Lunardini, VP of corporate communications for Virgin America, told Variety. The film’s futuristic setting also proved attractive given that Virgin likes to tout its “next-generation amenities and being tech forward,” Lunardini said.

As for the film’s robots, being an airline based in Silicon Valley has made Virgin “the geek’s airline of choice,” Lunardini added, with firms having booked seats on board its planes to fly robots as passengers.

While Virgin America has yet to pony up the millions it takes to name a stadium, in “Real Steel,” that’s how it’s featured, with its brand on one of the arenas that hosts a World Robot Boxing league fight.

Inside the stadium, characters visit a Virgin-branded VIP lounge that has flatscreens play a futuristic commercial for the airline with the tagline, “Now connecting to space.”

“We got to do a lot of fun, creative things on the film that worked out organically with the story and the script,” Lunardini said.Virgin already has been promoting “Real Steel” by playing a trailer for the film that DreamWorks produced exclusively for the airline that adds the Virgin logo into various scenes in which it doesn’t appear in the final cut.

Trailer plays on the airline’s Red inflight entertainment system, available on seatback screens on all of the company’s 130 daily flights, which reach about 12,000 passengers. Company has grown to 40 aircraft.

The film is also being promoted to Virgin’s two million Elevate frequent-flyer members and through social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. An online content, with ABC’s “Good Morning America” ends Sept. 26th, awarding a winner a trip to the pic’s premiere Oct. 2 in Los Angeles.

Later this year, Virgin America will be the first to offer “Real Steel” to its passengers on the Red system during the VOD window.

“Having a partnership with Virgin America is ideal because it allows us to promote our film in a fun and extraordinary way with a brand that is known across the globe,” said Jeff Small, prexy and chief operating officer of DreamWorks.

The tie-in wound up evolving into “a really unique opportunity for us,” Lunardini said. “Getting to be more creative and leveraging it across platforms is great for us and our brand and something our guests are interested in for sure. For us, it made a lot of sense.”

And as for its new “Real Steel” plane, “I don’t think people are going to miss it,” Lunardini said.

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