Longterm partnership with Marvel ups Audi's exposure worldwide

Iron Man’s back in an Audi.

The German automaker is returning to Marvel’s superhero franchise for a third time, providing hero cars and marketing dollars to “Iron Man 3.”

Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark character will drive the company’s new electric version of its R8 supercar, with the e-tron logo boldly visibly in scenes. Other characters will also be seen in Audi sedans, coupes and SUVs.

The high-profile product placement, which can be seen in the new trailer released today, comes with a commitment from Audi to spend well north of $10 million on TV, print, online and other media to promote the film worldwide. Such marketing spends are common — and often required — from major brands in order to appear in tentpoles.

Audi’s campaign begins revving up this week with the film rolling out April 18 in New Zealand, followed by larger foreign markets, like France and Italy, on the 24th. It bows in the U.S. on May 3.

Marvel had been asking carmakers around $17 million to appear in “The Avengers,” sources told Variety. Acura ended up with the deal in that film, which had S.H.I.E.L.D. agents driving the companies vehicles and Stark seen at the end in the carmaker’s NSX roadster concept car, not yet available to consumers. Appearance was backed by a major ad campaign tied to the film from Acura, which even included an appearance by the NSX at the Sundance Film Festival.

In Audi’s case, the R8 and its other vehicles are available at dealerships, giving the company a halo effect among buyers.

Companies like Aston Martin, BMW and Chevrolet have long seen interest in their product increase because their cars were the hero’s wheels in the James Bond films and “Transformers,” upping sales, as a result.

Audi’s involvement with “Iron Man” isn’t unexpected.

After establishing a strong tie-in with Stark’s billionaire playboy in 2008, the R8 quickly became the Iron Man car the way Bond drives an Aston Martin. Sports car’s pricing starts at $118,000.

The “Iron Man” franchise is an example of how Audi typically chooses one or two high-profle film placements each year to tout its vehicles and four-ringed logo. In 2008, “Iron Man” was the first major movie tie-in for Audi since Fox’s 2004 sci-fier “I, Robot,” for which it designed a futuristic concept car that Will Smith piloted in the pic. Company sees tentpoles as a way to promote itself not only in the U.S. but worldwide as the films unspool around the globe.

“Iron Man 3″ will get a significant plug in China, one of Audi’s largest markets, given that the actioner was filmed there through a co-production partnership with DMG Entertainment.

Marvel also has preferred longterm relationships with its promo partners including Dr. Pepper, 7-Eleven, Southwest Airlines, Oracle, Southwest Airlines, Burger King, Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts around “Iron Man,” “Thor” and “Captain America,” when the films were distributed by Paramount Pictures. Fast food chains couldn’t support “The Avengers” given Disney’s healthy eating initiative with kids and families.

The deals are necessary because as Marvel chief Kevin Feige told Variety, “There’s so much product going out that anything you can do to make your film stand out is important.” Even with a high-profile tentpole like “Iron Man 3.”

Audi landed the top spot for the first film when Audi flew two R8s from Germany to the U.S. for director Jon Favreau and his production designer to consider when auditioning car companies. The R8 hooked filmmakers in part because elements of the car’s design closely resemble Iron Man’s superhero armor.

Automaker was attracted to the property because of the Stark character, a weapons manufacturer who opts to use his Stark Industries’ technology to fight evil. Out of the office, he’s a playboy accustomed to the finer things in life. With his ingenuity and passion for technology, Stark personifies Audi’s values, the company said.

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