– By Katherine Sanderson –
This is the second article in a six-part series (The third and fourth will cover ‘Star Wars’ and the fifth and sixth will cover ‘Harry Potter’).
For each brand, the first article will cover the corporate strategy that initially launched them, and the second will cover how the company expanded the brand, with marketing partnerships, consumer products, and themed entertainment.
There can be no argument that Marvel is now a global brand. As I talked about in my last article, Marvel’s initial corporate strategy put them on track to dominate international markets, making them a global brand is one that is recognized worldwide. For Marvel, their brand has come to include merchandise, food products, cars, theme park attractions, VR experiences, and the numerous brands that Marvel has partnerships with. To ensure survival, a brand like Marvel must be innovative, always ensuring the content and the products they offer relate to audiences based on the current times. And Marvel continues to prove that they understand their brand’s role in the 21st century, and are prepared to continually adapt based on what consumers want.
As I said in my previous article, there are four major areas of business that every film franchise must conquer to become a global brand:
- Corporate Strategy
- Marketing Partnerships
- Consumer Products (i.e. Toys, Books, Clothes, Video Games, etc.)
- Themed Entertainment (i.e. Theme Parks)
In my first article, we covered corporate strategy. In this article, we will cover how Marvel expanded their brand using marketing partnerships, consumer products, and themed entertainment.
The key to keeping the Marvel brand present in the minds of the consumers year-round was accomplished by way of tie-ins with other major brands. For Avenger: Infinity War (the most expensive promotional campaign for any Marvel film) these partnerships included brands such as Coca Cola, Geico, Quicken Loans, American Airlines, and Ziploc (among many others, some only for smaller markets). Since 2015, Marvel has had a global partnerships team who is responsible for forming relationships with third-party brands, in order to form global co-promotional marketing campaigns with specific Marvel films and tv shows. Mindy Hamilton, Marvel SVP of Global Partnerships, commented last year on the changing role of the brand, saying “…As a brand, you should not just come in around a big film release, there are many more ways to engage with our fanbase… As we head more towards a lifestyle brand, how do we continue to best serve this ever-growing fanbase? And how do we help brands tap into that as well?”
For example let’s just look at the car manufacturer partnerships. Although initially the partnerships weren’t always exclusive, they have gradually been making that shift to the point that each car brand is linked to a certain film franchise, through both co-promotions and product placement. This is beneficial for the car manufacturer, as they know specifically what Marvel franchise their brand is recognized with, and for the consumer, as they can perhaps buy a car based on their favorite Marvel film. Iron Man was with Audi, Guardians of the Galaxy are with Ford, Thor was with Acura, Black Panther was with Lexus, and Avengers: Infinity War is with…Infiniti (of course!) Marvel television series even got in on the action, with Hyundai forming a partnership with Marvel tv series Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Iron Fist, and Acura made an additional deal with ABC tv series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
But it is rare to have products actually featured in the films, as this not what the majority of partnerships offer. Marvel has recognized that brand integration is not always ideal, for either Marvel or the other company. Audiences can be thrown off if certain brands don’t match up with a specific Marvel franchise, which will hurt the respective brand and the film or tv series. As Mindy Hamilton said in an interview with Variety, “Brands are getting savvy about this space…What they want to avoid is what we at Marvel call the ‘logo parade’…The single biggest mistake that a brand unfortunately will make is thinking they have to be in the film.” Instead, most partnerships mainly focus traditional co-promotional material, like 30-second tv spots, banner ads on the web, and billboards, which run both before and well after the release of the film or tv series.
As we said in the beginning, consumer products were central to the success of Marvel, helping them gain back enough money to simply stay in business. But with Disney’s purchase of Marvel in 2009, there was a push for consumer products like Marvel had never had. But what has been key to their consumer products is not throwing all their resources into children-focused merchandise, but recognizing fans of Marvel are of all ages, and for certain properties, children don’t even enter the mix.
With the success, with the sequel film Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel expanded their strategy beyond toys and games, expanding into food and more specialized products. Especially with their Netflix tv series, given the edgier and darker nature of the characters, Marvel made a smaller line of products, focusing not on children, but rather targeting teenagers and young adults. In their comics, they have also expanded their products to include characters of more gender, cultural, and racial diversity, which has allowed them to market to previously uninterested markets.
With the changing landscape of interactive entertainment (like video games, VR, etc.) almost warrants its own category. But Marvel actually hasn’t fully embraced this area of business, so we’ll keep it in consumer products. Many gamers complain that they are lacking in interactive content. But that may be changing in the near future. Square Enix is reportedly partnering with Marvel Studios to create an online video game called The Avengers. According to a press release “The Avengers project, featuring a completely new and original story, will introduce a universe gamers can play in for years to come. The project will be jam-packed with characters, environments, and iconic moments that will thrill Marvelites.” And Marvel has been very active in the VR space, recently releasing Powers Unite VR with Oculus.
In the last decade, themed entertainment has become huge (especially in Asia). And Disney, the mother of theme parks, has been trying to take advantage of their Marvel properties. Disney California Adventure, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland all have rides and superhero-themed lands in the works, most expected by 2020.
Unfortunately it is a rather complicated relationship between Universal and Disney regarding Marvel-themed entertainment (I’ll only get into a little of it here). Given that Marvel originally had an agreement with Universal Studios in the 1990s, Disney is not allowed to use many of the characters at their own parks (even though they own Marvel!). They actually can’t even create a Marvel-themed land at Walt Disney World in Orlando because of wording in the contract. And neither Universal or Disney can use the word ‘Marvel’ in their attractions. Among the Marvel attractions at Universal Orlando are an Incredible Hulk roller coaster, a Spider-Man ride, and a free-fall thrill ride that ties in with Doctor Doom, as well as actors dressed as Captain America, Wolverine, and more characters. Universal Studios Japan also has a Spider-Man ride. This means that Disney cannot use any of those characters in any of their parks.
But Disney is certainly taking advantage of the characters they can use. In the summer of 2017, California Adventures replaced their iconic Tower of Terror ride with a new Guardians of the Galaxy ride. California Adventures recently closed down their Bugs Life themed land to begin work on their new superhero land which is expected to open in 2020. It may be a bit messy, but the good news for Marvel is that it will soon have themed entertainment covered worldwide.
About the Author
Katherine Sanderson currently resides in Los Angeles, CA. Originally from Colorado, she graduated with a BA in English from Santa Clara University in 2014, and is an alumna of the JPCatholic MBA program (Class of 2016). Her professional aspirations are in children/family entertainment, especially animation.
Image Credit: Marvel