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‘Iron Man’ rides with Audi

Paramount superhero pic gets promos in gear

Iron Man drives an Audi.

In a rare case of a superhero owning a car that can also be bought by mere mortals, the German automaker has partnered with Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures to tie in with the bigscreen adaptation of “Iron Man.”

Pic is now in production under the helm of Jon Favreau and stars Robert Downey Jr.

Deal calls for Audi’s R8 supercar to be the vehicle of choice for billionaire industrialist Tony Stark when he’s not wearing his high-tech suit of armor as the title character.

The upcoming S5 sports coupe is also driven by a lead character in the movie. Audi’s A6 sedan and Q7 SUV will make onscreen appearances in the pic as well.

As part of its involvement, Audi will likely pony up tens of millions of dollars to help promote the movie worldwide upon its release, set for May 2. Details of the marketing plans are still being worked out. Recruiting heavyweight promotional partners like Audi for “Iron Man” is particularly crucial for Marvel given that the pic is the first the company is self-financing, with Par only distribbing.

Audi’s involvement and ad coin could also could go a long way toward introducing the character to non-comicbook readers, who can easily identify Superman, Spider-Man or Batman but are not likely to be as familiar with Iron Man.

“It’s a big deal whether it’s a character that millions of people are familiar with or if people are not as familiar with,” said Marvel Studios prexy of production Kevin Feige. “There’s so much product going out that anything you can do to make your film stand out is important.”

Marvel didn’t have to do much to pique Audi’s interest in the property. In fact, it was Audi that went to great lengths to put itself in front of the filmmakers.

Other carmakers auditioned their fleets, but Audi was so set on landing the placement that it flew in two R8s from Germany for Favreau and his production designer to consider.

“The car fit very well with the aesthetic the production designer was putting together,” Feige said. The R8 hooked filmmakers in part because elements of the car’s design closely resemble Iron Man’s superhero garb.

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, Tony Stark personifies Audi’s values,” said Dirk Roder, Audi international film marketing, entertainment and gaming. “He’s the kind of guy every girl wants to date and every guy wants to be.”The sleek $108,000 car, which was launched this year, features an engine housing in the rear of the car that glows at night, mimicking the glowing chestplate Stark must wear to stay alive.

Design of the car’s headlights also resemble the eye slits of Iron Man’s helmet and light up in similar fashion.

“The R8 was the perfect car for Tony Stark,” Favreau said. “It’s wonderfully engineered. It’s fast, it’s safe and it’s flashy.”

To promote its tie-in, Audi will likely use the pic’s technology theme to tout its own engineering superiority in its marketing messaging, rather than promote a single model, in part because only a limited number of R8s are being built.

Audi becomes the second major automaker to brand a superhero’s car after Dodge landed a deal with Fox to plant its moniker and influence the design of the Fantasticar in this summer’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.”

Audi is looking to up its presence in the U.S., and is relying on high-profile film placements and tie-ins to make its four-ringed logo stand out.

“Iron Man” will be 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.

Audi won’t likely be the only promotional partner for “Iron Man.”

Given the pic’s emphasis on technology, Marvel’s marketing mavens are also seeking out other partners affiliated with that area, such as electronics makers.

“This movie is very much about gadgetry and high tech,” said LeeAnne Stables, senior VP of worldwide marketing partnerships for Par.

A deal with a fast-food partner is also in the works.

“The right promotional partners can always add a great assist to a studio’s marketing campaign,” Stables said. “They can get our message out to places where we can’t buy advertising ourselves.”

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