Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe Special

Marvel, Disney secure estimated $100 mil in marketing support

When Marvel Studios started recruiting promotional partners around its Iron Man, Thor and Captain America franchises, the company wanted to build long-term relationships with brands the way it’s locked down multipicture pacts with the thesps who play its superheroes.

“The Avengers” is signaling just what that looks like.

With the Joss Whedon-helmed film assembling, for the first time, characters from previous pics, Marvel and parent Disney have secured an estimated $100 million in worldwide marketing support — Marvel’s largest such effort to date — from Acura, Dr. Pepper, Visa, Wyndham hotels, Harley-Davidson, Land O’Frost lunchmeats, Farmers Insurance, Hershey, Symantec, Oracle, bracelet-maker Colantotte and Red Baron pizza.

For example, Acura is returning as the official wheels of the secret S.H.I.E.L.D organization (as seen in “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”), Captain America again rides a Harley motorcycle, Oracle (which was integrated into “Iron Man 2″) powers Tony Stark’s computers and Dr. Pepper is back after helping to promote “Iron Man 2,” “Thor” and “Captain America,” while Land O’Frost did the same for the “Iron Man” and “Captain America” films.

“It’s really a strong core of partners that have been partners for many of these pictures,” said Bob Sabouni, exec VP, worldwide marketing partnerships, Marvel Entertainment. “We’re building a thematic universe (with these films), and (the returning brand partners) are very much part of that.” In regards to the newcomers, “There are certain core partners that we are going to always work with, but this movie’s appeal is so broad that we have a wider target of partners we can go to and create programs with,” Sabouni added.

Although some of the campaigns have already bowed online, most launch April 1, with some set to continue through September or up to the film’s homevid push, many weeks after its release April 26 in the U.K. and May 4 in the U.S. Most campaigns for tentpoles run several weeks up to a film’s premiere. But Colantotte’s campaign will run seven months after the pic bows in each individual territory around the globe.

“We’re not all about week one,” Sabouni said. “We think our movie has legs, and our campaigns have legs beyond the first week.”

Marketing plans will include TV spots; radio, print, online and in-store ads; in-theater promos; art on packaging; plus sweepstakes, social media, games and comicbooks.

One incentive for the longer push is the type of placement each company gets in the film. Colantotte’s magnetic polarity bracelets are worn by Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark; a Colantotte storefront also appears during New York street scenes, while the company’s CEO makes a cameo. Replicas of the bracelet will be sold at retail, in addition to a kids version with lights and sounds.

Acura’s microsite for the film will serve as the hub of a plot-based campaign, which includes a 30-second TV spot, and enables users to learn more about S.H.I.E.L.D and its agents and test Avengers technology mounted on S.H.I.E.L.D.-edition Acuras.

Naturally, the companies are tapping into Marvel’s comicbook roots, with Colantotte offering an interactive custom comic available for download to Apple and Android devices that tells the backstory of Iron Man’s armor. Harley will be written into a separate custom comic, while Symantec will be involved in Marvel’s new Facebook game “Avengers Alliance.”

“The campaigns are about creating something cool outside of the movie” that don’t revolve around one single character but the group of heroes, Sabouni said. “This is an ensemble cast,” he said. “This is about the Avengers and how there’s a threat so big that not one single hero can defend the Earth on their own. Every Avenger has their own piece of the program and it was fun to see how our partners took that to heart.”

Studios often rely on partners to target various demographics. In the case of “The Avengers,” Acura will help Marvel and Disney reach adults 25-44, while Oracle and Symantec are going after tech savvy males 18-49, Dr. Pepper will target teens and adults 19-24, and Land O’Frost reaches families.

Red Baron enables Marvel to target kids age 6-17 and moms 35-54 with “Avengers”-themed packaging on 13 million of its pizzas and in-store marketing programs at Walmart, Target, Kroger, Safeway, Meijer and Food Lion stores. Company is spending $5 million on its tie-in, which will also have it prominently featured at the April 11 premiere, alongside Harley-Davidson, in Hollywood.

Hershey will target a similar audience as Red Baron with film tie-ins for its Hershey Kisses and other Hershey branded chocolate products, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, York Peppermint Patties.Wyndham will promote the film to guests at the company’s 14 hotel brands that include Ramada, Days Inn, Super 8 and Howard Johnson and members of its Wyndham Rewards loyalty program.

Although some of the campaigns will roll out worldwide, including those from Acura and Oracle, most will target consumers in North America — especially marketing efforts from Farmers Insurance, Land O’Frost, Harley-Davidson, Hershey, Visa Signature, Red Baron and Symantec. Dr. Pepper also will focus most of its efforts in North America, releasing six character cans and hosting a Marvel-created game on an “Avengers” microsite.

“The Avengers” doesn’t have a traditional fast food partner, primarily because such companies typically shy away from non-PG-rated releases. “The Avengers” is rated PG-13. At the same time, Disney has long strayed away from pairing up with fast feeders because it doesn’t want to be seen promoting junk food to kids.Burger King had backed the “Iron Man” films and “Thor” in the past, while “Captain America” had Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin Donuts as partners, when those films were distributed by Paramount.

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