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Summer Blockbuster Watch: 'Iron Man'

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LOS ANGELES ( -- Ah, summer. A season of secret identities, spandex bodysuits and the crack of the bullwhip. Yep, a raft of Hollywood blockbusters are once again embracing Madison Avenue with the hopes of box-office glory. Here begins a semi-regular series from Madison & Vine that will look at the marketing partners of upcoming summer films, and how they plan to make certain that no seat goes unfilled, no eardrum unbusted and, of course, no wallet untapped.
Tony Stark's Audi R8.
Tony Stark's Audi R8.

In the hope of avoiding the anemic revenue predicted by Wall Street for this summer, Hollywood has been taking its supplements.

A recent Citi Investment Research report on media and entertainment from analyst Jason Bazinet is forecasting "tepid" 2008 revenue for studios: Their revenue is expected to be down 3% overall thanks to flagging DVD sales, and that's despite a projected 2.5% increase in box office.

That means a film's opening weekend -- and the marketing partners that hype it -- is more important than ever. While some studios, like Walt Disney, are at risk, Viacom's Paramount is expected to see a billion-dollar increase largely from a strong slate of summer films and low-margin distribution fees.

One movie that falls into both categories is Marvel Studios' "Iron Man," which the comic-book company is financing on its own, but that Paramount is marketing and distributing.

In recent years, Hollywood's approach to summer marketing partners was: as many brands as possible, as many impressions as possible. (Fox famously showed just how absurdly over-the-top such partnerships could be, offering "robot-flavored ice cream" at Cold Stone Creamery in 2005 for -- what else? -- "Robots.")

With "Iron Man," all that may be changing. It has assembled seven partners, each with a specific demographic appeal to ensure its crucial opening weekend isn't a closing weekend, too: Audi, to appeal to the well-heeled and those who aspire to be; Burger King, to reach kids and families; and 7-Eleven Stores, to reach 18- to 34-year-old men, its core audience. Retailers with broad family appeal such as Foot Locker (1,400 locations will feature special in-store TV content) and newcomer LG are also on board.

And then there's the scalpel approach by more-targeted brands such as Royal Purple Motor Oil, which holds appeal with military folks (it's used in military vehicles) and gearheads alike. (There's even a savvy, low-cost attempt to connect with young women, via a sweepstakes and a get-the-look microsite on Estee where fans learn how to acquire Gwyneth Paltrow's make-up and apparel from the film.)

A reason for the restraint is twofold, said LeeAnne Stables, Paramount's senior VP-worldwide marketing partnerships. "We look for the shortest list of partners, with the biggest impact, because, honestly, it takes just as much effort and resources to do a big partnership as it does to forge a small one."

And, she adds, "We're not building brands here. It's crash-and-burn marketing: Get them to come see it the first weekend, and they're gone. So from a [consumer] brand's perspective, if [brands are] not part of a 'logo parade,' it's a better premise for them, too."

Here's a look at few of the major brands that form a profitable passel of promoters, if not quite a "parade":

"Previously, there were multiple, superfluous marketing partners" on most Hollywood blockbusters, said Brian Geis, VP-marketing impact at BK. "It was over-saturated, and it became wallpaper. If the movie was good, people would still go see it, but for us, we ran into the risk that they wouldn't engage with what we were promoting." Which, of course, defeats the whole purpose of a tie-in with Tinsteltown. The newfound restraint exhibited in the "Iron Man" marketing means that the deal is a "mutually beneficial partnership of shared equities," Mr. Geis said.

What the "Man" Gets: For Paramount, BK is a natural choice to deliver kids and families. A global campaign in 10,000 locations features a custom 30-second TV spot and children's toys, and a BK microsite for the movie will run from April 21 through May 11.

What the King Gets: Besides kids demanding toys and burgers, some image burnishing: When Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) returns to America from Afghanistan, the first thing he wants to get his hands around isn't Ms. Paltrow -- it's a juicy, flame-broiled BK cheeseburger.

Explained Bobbi Merkel, director of convergence at FreshWorks/TPN, a consortium of Omnicom Group agencies working for 7-Eleven: "With so many retailers, there's a 'gatekeeper mom' keeping studios from connecting with the consumer; not here."

What the "Man" Gets: With 200 million monthly customers, 43% of whom are 18 to 34 years old, 7-Eleven is the obvious choice to reach teens and Gen Y and Gen X-ers who have unfettered access to wallets (25% of 7-Eleven's monthly customers -– 50 million of them -- have incomes above $70,000) and who love entertainment.

What 7-Eleven Gets: The chain can connect more deeply with what its customers love through exclusive offers -- Ms. Merkel calls them "first, best and only" products that drive traffic: special lenticular "Iron Man" cups offer 24 frames of the movie and come filled with Amp Energy Freeze Slurpees and even "Iron Man" sugar cookies in its bakery sections.

The euro's strength and the dollar's weakness have made a purchase of a European car a luxury, but Ruben Igielko-Herrlich, CEO of Los Angeles and Geneva, Switzerland-based Propaganda Entertainment, said the global marketing program (the only major car deal of the summer, by the way) was still a good fit.

What the "Man" Gets: "Audi is perceived as technologically sporty and progressive," Mr. Igielko-Herrlich said. "It's not perceived as a sellout amongst fans of 'Iron Man' because of that."

What Audi Gets: "Tony Stark, he doesn't need a car -- he flies," he notes, "And [as a billionaire] he could drive anything: It's a clear, underlying message. The R8 is sold out for the next two years. The point wasn't to sell R8s; it's an image campaign. But a lot of people might say, 'I can buy a TT since it's a smaller version of the R8.'"

Audi is also getting special R8 footage, directed by Jon Favreau, for the first national commercials by the film's director, and plans to produce some 60,000 TTs this year in hopes that "Iron Man" will have the well-heeled itching to put an Audi's pedal to the metal.

"When you have a title like 'Iron Man,' you have to go beyond men to be successful," said Paramount's Ms. Stables.

What the "Man" Gets: Women. (Duh.) To that end, an Estee Lauder "get the look" campaign will allow its customers to mirror the Gwynie they admire onscreen, who looks as understatedly chic as an assistant to a billionaire can be.

What Estee Lauder Gets: A higher profile for its celebrity endorser. "[Ms. Paltrow's] look is very stylish and on-brand for us," said a company spokeswoman.
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