After the first “Avengers” went on to earn more than $1.5 billion at the box office in 2012, Disney started developing strategies for the sequel. The resulting plan: “Make the big bigger,” Paul Gitter, Disney Consumer Products’ senior VP of Marvel Licensing, told Variety.
What that means is Marvel will look to reach out to a broader demographic of consumers with products tied to “Age of Ultron:” more women, and fans of individual superheroes that make up the superhero team — Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye — not just the assembled group.
“For the first film, we primarily focused on the ‘Avengers’ property and the group shots,” Gitter said. “Now we’re broadening the line and scope to create skews that focus on the team and the individuals characters, as well.” Products tied to Iron Man and Captain American typically sell the best, but each category will now be able to offer six to eight different products around each character, rather than one based around the team.
What’s helped elevate those characters’ profiles are successful sequels.
“Whereas the Marvel movies used to be just for fans, they’ve become very far reaching,” Gitter said. “The average consumer is now going to see Marvel films.” And they’re buying the products, with the Avengers generating more than $1 billion in sales around the world in 2014, according to NPD Group.
As the make up of the overall audience for its films expands, that’s changed what Marvel can now offer retailers, enabling it to broaden its product lines.
“Age of Ultron’s” licensing program “is significantly broader in scope,” when it comes to not only the types of products that will be sold, but also the number of retailers selling them, Gitter said.
While Disney declined to get too detailed, the retail program it’s assembled is described as the most integrated it’s ever seen, with partners each overseeing pieces of brand awareness advertising, social media and digital, as well as in-store and in-theater advertising, rather than all of them pushing the same type of campaign on consumers, which could tire them on all-things “Avengers.”
“Strategically, we have each one of the retailers focusing on pulling different marketing levers to market this to their consumer in an organized way,” Gitter said.
While there will be the expected action figures, playsets and other toys from partners like Hasbro, Lego, Hot Wheels and Funko, along with apparel from Under Armour, Disney is particularly looking forward to new products in the food and packaged goods categories, including Sage Fruit, Conagra granola bars, Crunchpak and Chobani.
“There are a number of licensees that have stepped up to create products in the food space,” Gitter said. “We’re real excited about that.”
That’s largely because “when a food partner signs up for a program it gives a lot of impressions in stores when consumers walk down the aisle and spills into purchases of other products,” Gitter said.
But Disney Consumer Products isn’t just focused on the “Avengers” franchise.
Now that Marvel can integrate Spider-Man into its future films, possibly starting with the third “Captain America,” out in 2016, Disney is starting to consider new licensing opportunities for the character. It already has Disney XD’s animated “Ultimate Spider-Man: Web-Warriors” to build licensing opportunities around, and hopes to expand the character into the action sports and fashion worlds this year in an effort to target all ages.
In fact, sales for products themed around the web slinger picked up again following the announcement of Marvel’s new relationship with Sony. The character generated another $1 billion in global retails sales last year, NPD Group said.
“It’s ignited the marketplace with what’s to come with Spider-Man in the future,” Gitter said of the new deal with Sony. “The retail community is rallying behind Spider-Man in a pretty significant way.”
A new merchandising opportunity also is coming from Marvel’s slate of Netflix series developed around its superheroes, including Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. The first show, “Daredevil,” will have a smaller line of products that cater to a more adult audience, given the show’s edgier tone.
“The merchandise that’s being developed around the Netflix content is somewhat limited in scope,” Gitter said. “We’ll be focusing less on products that are targeted at the very young consumer,” but more on teens and adult fans with that shop at speciality stores or outlets like Hot Topic.
Each of the series will be supported by a Marvel Knights merchandise program that will open new opportunities for product lines, Disney said, as well as new collector focused opportunities.
But just having products at the ready for a Netflix series signals how producers can further monetize their shows streaming on the service beyond relying just on distribution dollars.
A Netflix series not based on a hit film didn’t scare off potential licensing partners, Disney said. Instead, they wanted to pair up with Marvel, given its previous successes on both the big and small screens.
“When we go to partners, they pretty much rely on history as being reflective of the future,” Gitter said.
For its Marvel line, Disney Consumer Products also has started to look beyond tentpole and small screen releases, and aims to create events around Marvel’s animated series on Disney XD, homevideo releases, and even content appearing on its Marvel Kids website in order to keep the characters in front of consumers year round.
It’s planning a national “Marvel Super Hero Spectacular,” a five-week effort running from September through October that will focus on core Marvel franchises, including the Avengers, Spider-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Event is an expansion from last year’s “Marvel Super Hero September.”
“Outside of content windows, there’s some downtime and white space,” Gitter said. By self-producing an event, we can eventize something at retail around new animation or a DVD release.” The Guardians will get a new animate series on Disney XD later this year, for example.
To do that, Disney has essentially borrowed from Hallmark’s playbooks and is testing new way to monetize its consumer products business outside of the traditional holiday or tentpole event release windows.
There are of course comicbooks to promote, too, with “Secret Wars” set to become Marvel’s largest publishing event with cross-company support that will target teens and adult collectors with consumer products. Disney Publishing Worldwide also features Marvel’s superheroes in books, magazines, kids apps, and eBooks with titles based on Marvel’s films, TV shows and classic versions of the comicbook characters.
“Marvel has become a super-brand in its own right thanks to its outstanding universe of aspirational, relatable characters and the incredibly broad appeal of not only its movies but its comics, books, apps, games and TV series, that continually deliver epic storytelling with action, heart and humor,” said Josh Silverman, executive VP, global licensing at Disney Consumer Products. “We’re excited to build on this huge momentum and the incredible buzz around the next Avengers movie with a series of product initiatives appealing to fans of all ages.”