I became a fan of the Iron Man character as a consequence of my being a fan of the Avengers titles published by Marvel. I was always more interested in this collection of super-heroes who had banded together by choice in order to be more powerful collectively than they could be individually than I was to other teams that seemed to be together because of a common gene or familial connections.
I liked the main Avengers title but didn’t collect it regularly. What I did make sure not to miss an issue of was West Coast Avengers, the California branch office set up by the team. That was mainly because that team was led by my favorite Marvel character, the wise-cracking archer Hawkeye. On that team from the beginning and through much of its short-lived tenure was Iron Man, so I started following the adventures of the Armored Avenger as well.
So the news that they were finally making a feature film starring Shellhead was great news to me. Finally, I thought, the movies were beginning to tackle the Avengers, opening up all sorts of possibilities, possibilities that may come to fruition at some point down the road if the reports are accurate.
The movie features a great line-up of talent behind it. Not only is Robert Downey Jr. an inspired choice to play Tony Stark, the man behind the armor, (and I mean this outside of the parallels between Stark and Downey in hitting bottom and pulling themselves up) but director Jon Favreau is carving out a nice little career for himself, seemingly under a lot of people’s noses. His reputation as not only a comics fan but also someone who manages to appeal to craft films that appeal to multiple audiences is among the biggest reasons Iron Man is one of the films this summer I’m most looking forward to.
A warning: This is one of the biggest campaigns of the year to date. So you may want to go grab something to drink before we dive into reviewing the movie’s marketing.
Ready? Let’s begin at…
The first teaser poster released for the movie debuted, appropriately, at the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con, almost two full years before the movie would find its way to theaters. It was taken there by Favreau, who had just a few months prior been named as the flick’s director.
Obviously this wasn’t anything official since the movie hadn’t even begun production yet. But the poster was wicked cool. It was basically just a comics-esque painting of Iron Man with the promise of a May 2nd launch date. But it was enough – and at the right venue – to really get fans of the character and of comics and comic-to-movie adaptations excited about the prospect of the movie’s eventual coming.
Next in the poster realm was the actual official teaser one-sheet. It’s not much too look at from a graphics point of view – and as we’ll see it was far from our first look at the character’s armor – but it is very slick and cool and, most importantly, set the brand tone for the remainder of the posters pretty effectively.
After that came something that got fans quite excited. Dubbed “Evolution” this horizontal banner showed the evolution of the armor from the Mark I that Stark cobbles together to the Mark II experimental armor to the final, fully functional Mark III red and gold armor. It’s a great treat to the fans who were anxious to see how the armor was going to get from Point A to Point B in the film.
Next up were not one but two theatrical posters. Each one took a slightly different tone but they both contained the same basic elements, that of Tony Stark and his creation amidst not only his closest friends James Rhodes and Pepper Potts but also chief rival – and eventual villain – Obadiah Stane.
Both posters also feature a re-creation of sorts of one of the most buzzed-about scenes from the movie’s first teaser trailer, that of Iron Man outflying a handful of military jets. That’s a nice bit of visual consistency that’s meant to evoke that memory in the audience checking out the posters.
The first of the two veers closely to, but doesn’t quite fall victim to, Big Floating Head Syndrome. This one is brings Iron Man himself a bit more to the forefront of the action between the two, with the armor’s visage dominating the better part of the left-hand side of the poster’s real-estate.
While the guys get mere headshots, Paltrow gets her whole body (or at least the top two-thirds) shown off, something likely meant to amplify as much as possible that is a woman – with breasts and everything! – in the movie. Can’t deny she’s smoking hot here.
This is also the only one of the two that features the Mark I armor, which is seen with flame-throwers engaged to the right of Paltrow. Like the jet race mentioned earlier this is meant to bring in something from the movie’s initial trailer and remind people of how excited they were to see Iron Man’s Mark I armor for the first time.
The second theatrical poster pulled the camera back a bit and gives everyone in the cast a torso shot. Paltrow has the same pose she did in the other poster but this time we see Jeff Bridges’ Stane rubbing his hands maniacally instead of glowering at the audience. Terence Howard’s Rhodey still sports a concerned look but is pushed to the background quite a bit and is now set almost like a giant towering over a cityscape.
Downey’s Stark has a similar look of determination on his face, but now he’s looking right at the audience instead of off into the ether. And his iron-clad alter-ego is at the back now, like he’s looming over the other characters, which is a nice bit of shading.
This version is a touch more militaristic with the addition of a handful of helicopters speeding over Howard’s head and an explosion that’s going off below those helicopters.
It’s also just a touch more technology-centric than the first, with the kind of graphic readouts being much more noticeable than they are in the other version. Likewise the circle of light that powers Stark’s chest forms the background on this poster.
Both versions, though, have the same glossy look and feel, something that’s carried over from the teaser poster, creating a nice sense continuity between all three efforts.
Trailers and TV Spots
The teaser trailer debuted quite a while ago, sometime in mid-2007, and received tremendous buzz upon its release. That’s because it works really well.
It starts off showing just how cocky and arrogant the character of Tony Stark is. A gorgeous reporter arouses more passion when she refers to him as the “merchant of death” than she does with calling him “the DaVinci of our time.” Then in a weapons testing area he is all bravado in talking about the devices he’s created.
The next sequence, with Stark in a Humvee with a group of soldiers driving away from that test, actually did as much to build my anticipation for the movie as all the cool footage that would come later. The interchange between him and one of the soldiers completely sold me on Downey as Stark, with the actor giving the best reading of those lines possible, creating a character that, for all his previous posturing, still sees himself as just a guy, if a guy who like to mess with people.
That’s where we begin to move into Iron territory. Stark is captured and told to build a missile for a terrorist but instead uses his time to build the device that will help his injured heart continue beating as well as allow him to escape.
Finally, the Mark I armor emerges from the prison to the chords of Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and the newly-christened hero wreaks havoc on the terrorist camp. Also, although this is off-screen, a million fanboys soil their sweatpants.
Then we get brief flashes of the rest of the action, including glimpses of the rest of the characters, before an extended sequence showing Iron Man, now in his more familiar red and gold armor, outflying a pair of jet fighters.
That last sequence became the subject of some debate, specifically around whether it would appear in the final film and whether the effects had actually been finished. This same scene was shown prior to the trailer’s release at an earlier Comic-Con. Eventually it was cleared up that the effects were indeed done and we were looking at footage from the movie.
The trailer hit all the high notes it needed to for fans, showing the re-worked origin of the character that’s consistent with the comics while changing various things for obvious reasons of time and such. It also showed them there would be humor, action and more, all the things that are going to be important in not only appealing to the comics crowd but to mainstream audiences as well. The trailer would later be included on the Transformers DVD since the two audiences are likely to overlap greatly.
The second trailer, released earlier this year, took much the same structure as the teaser but definitely expanded it.
Again we open on the scenes of weapons being tested, though the scene now shows the missiles actually going off before we cut to the Humvee. More banter between Stark and the soldiers ensues before the attack that lands him in the hands of his captors. We then get a slightly different scene of Stark building his armor but his escape is much shorter this time around, likely because we’ve already seen it and there are other things in store for us.
We then cut to Stark’s return to society, where he’s greeted by an emotional Pepper Potts. After that, though, the action kicks in in serious fashion. We’re shown Stark testing out his silver Mark II armor before finally upgrading to the Mark III which, at his direction to the computer that’s assembling it, contains a little “hot rod red.”
Then it’s more or less all action as Iron Man throws down against Iron Monger and flies around, ultimately knocking out a tank with his missiles before confidently striding away from the scene.
It’s impossible to talk about the two trailers without mentioning the Super Bowl spot that aired in-between them. That spot gave a very truncated origin sequence followed by our first good look at the testing of the Mark II armor and ultimately with that same “shoot the tank and walk away” scene that would eventually appear in the second trailer.
The three video spots, when taken in the order they were released in, create an expanding portrait of the movie that did a great job of appealing to the audience. The first trailer was pretty much all setup with just a little bit of payoff. The Super Bowl spot then provided a little more setup by focusing on Stark testing and perfecting the armor on his own. The final trailer then really kicked up the action, assuming we already had the foundational knowledge of the first two entries.
The trailers were even so popular the idea that The Onion, America’s Finest News Source, poked a bit of fun as well.
You can tell who’s running the show behind the movie when you pull up the movie’s official website. Go to IronManMovie.com, the URL that’s provided in all the advertising materials, and you’ll notice that you’re redirected to IronManMovie.Marvel.com. Marvel, through its new position as a movie producing entity, is looking to extend not only the brands of its major characters but also itself and Iron Man is providing the company a big stage on which to do just that.
Before looking at the site itself let’s deal with the social networking executions for the movie, both of which are linked to off this front page.
First stop is MySpace, where the movie’s profile replicates a number of features from the official site. You can download icons and wallpaper, watch the trailer and view some pictures as well. There’s also the widget to grab (you can see what that looks like along the right hand side here at MMM) and a link to upload your own fan-art (more on this later). One of the biggest original pieces of material here is the sweepstakes at the very top, where a lucky fan who “friends” the page will be awarded a trip to the movie’s premiere and the chance to meet Robert Downey Jr.
The Iron Man Facebook Fan page is a little less tricked out, but that has more to do with the inherent differences between the two platforms and not because one is more or less important than the other. There’s some fan art, the widget and some trailers but that’s about it. It’s still a solid brand presence but, simply by virtue of the fact that Facebook allows for less customization, it’s not quite as flashy as the MySpace page. Personally I prefer this one, but that’s just me.
Going back to the site’s main page, the first thing you’ll see at the bottom is a link titled Fan Art. Marvel encouraged fans of all ages and skill levels to upload their own Iron Man renderings, which was a fun way to get them involved in the movie to some extent. There’s also a button there for group ticket sales, a pop-up list of all the promotional partners for the movie and a place to grab the widget. Finally is a link to Marvel’s Digital Comics subscription site, where you can read thousands of comics online for a monthly fee, as well as a link to a Marvel-assembled list of trade paperbacks to get you all informed on Iron Man’s greatest moments.
OK, enough of that, let’s get into the site proper.
The first thing to note is that you can customize the look of the site based on which version of the armor you prefer. It starts out with the Mark III design but you can also choose the Marks I or II if you so desire. Not all that complicated, but it’s a good way to reinforce the idea that there’s more than one look in the movie and let people have a bit of control over their experience.
“Story” is a kind of disappointing singe – though admittedly long -paragraph that skims the surface of the story and lists the major players in front of the camera as well as director Favreau.
Also just a tad underwhelming is the “Characters” section, which gives just a sentence or two to the four main characters, the kind of description that makes what appears on the back of a baseball card seem overly thorough by comparison.
There are about 23 stills, all of which have been released over the course of the last couple months, in the “Gallery.” “Videos” contains the teaser and theatrical trailers as well as the Super Bowl spot, which is modestly labeled here as simply TV Spot. More is promised as coming soon but I’m not sure when.
All you’ll find in “Downloads” is some Wallpapers and a few Buddy Icons.
Finally there’s something called “Experience.” That section only launched today and is a kind of neat feature. Select any of the main characters and you’re presented with a timeline of sorts of their story. Scroll along it and click the “X”s that occasionally appear and you get a short audio clip as well as something like a downloadable buddy icon of that character or some other goody.
All in all that’s a pretty disappointing website, especially since everything else about the movie – and the main attraction for the promotional partners we’re about to look at – portrays such a technological edge. So to have a site that just sort of phones it in, even if it does look good, is a major dropping of the ball. This should have been the most pimped-out site on the Internet. Instead it’s just a sliver above what your garden variety weekend spring release would get, though with a much slicker design. But the emphasis should always – always – be on the content and not on the look and it’s in that content that the site falls well short of the mark.
Clips and Teasers
One of the major components of this campaign, so big that I’m creating a new section for it here, has been the release of extended clips of the movie online, especially in the last month and a half or two before the release. Virtually every time I turned on the Internet it seemed Paramount had released a new two minute clip from the flick. Most of these clips were character and shading pieces but some had some more action-oriented stuff in them as well.
The logic behind doing so, presumably, is that Iron Man has long been seen as potentially suffering from the character’s lack of “A-List” status. So the inundation of clips has been adopted as a strategy to familiarize the audience with the character and the movie, turning it into less of an unknown quantity, something that’s seen as the kiss of death since audiences are assumed to only be interested in what they already feel comfortable and familiar with.
It’s a good idea, but one that almost tipped the scales against the movie as those who were looking for a new experience out of it then felt large swaths of the movie had been spoiled. I come down on the “excited” end of this discussion as each new clip just made me long to see the movie so I could put that scene in context.
A significant part of the studio-generated buzz around the movie also revolved around reports Samuel L. Jackson would appear in it as Col. Nick Fury, the head of SHIELD. Running along side this was that he would also appear in the later The Incredible Hulk and that his role would begin tying the Marvel Universe of Films together, with these two laying the foundation for an eventual Avengers flick. I think when all was said and done Jackson’s appearance was reported to be cut from the movie, though there is an appearance by Downey as Tony Stark in Hulk that accomplishes the same essential goal and which has significantly raised the buzz on that movie.
Cross-Promotions and Advertising
I’ll say one thing for the advertising and cross-promotional efforts lined up by Paramount for Iron Man” They certainly set a high water mark for the rest of the summer’s big releases to match.
First up let’s deal with 7-Eleven. In the convenience chain’s first major movie tie-in of the summer, it offered a few different things to customers, all built around its Slurpees. Not only was there a special Iron Man energy Slurpee from Amp, but you could get that frozen drink in one of four lenticular cups. One featured the Mark I armor and two sported the Mark III armor, either in flight in another re-creation of the scene from the trailer or simply punching the ground/standing there heroically like we saw in various promotional images. The final of the four featured Iron Man’s nemesis Iron Monger.
But it doesn’t end there since you can’t just drink your Iron Man Slurpee from your Iron Man cup from just any straw. So there were special straws sold that had one of three Iron Man action figures attached to them that you could remove and play with. Again there was one Mark I, one Mark III and one Iron Monger figure. They aren’t posable but they’re still pretty cool.
The special products were supported with in-store signage as well as a radio ad campaign.
Audi also signed on to cross-promote Iron Man’s first big-screen adventure, the car maker’s first serious embarkation into the realm of movie tie-ins.
With a dedicated microsite as well as support from TV, in-theater and outdoor ads, Audi used the tie-in to promote their new R8 model, which also appears in the movie. That appearance, though, was not part of a product placement deal but reportedly something that happened from as a result of the filmmakers wanting something slick and Audi wanting to associate themselves with the technology-related themes the movie was going to contain.
The microsite itself is pretty cool. It’s Stark’s garage, with an array of Audis at the forefront and the Iron Man armor along the far wall. Starting the experience you glide from car to car and alternately learn about the car, Audi as a whole or the movie. There are character profiles, co-branded commercials and other short videos and the movie’s trailers all there as you progress along the garage. There’s also a cool timeline that incorporates both big moments in Audi’s history and memorable moments from the Iron Man comics, mostly involving upgrades to the armor and eventually talking about the integration of the Audi and Iron Man brand. Quite cool.
Not only does Stark drive an R8 but other cars appear in the movie as well, with Paltrow’s Pepper Potts driving an S5. There’s even mention in the press release from Audi that the in-armor displays match those of the R8 and that the armor shares certain physical characteristics with the car. While I doubt there was actual redesign work done to the armor to accommodate this I do believe it might have guided the designers efforts to, though there’s nothing about the armor’s final look that screams “Audi.”
For their trouble Audi also got a loving profile on Marvel.com about how great a car the R8 is and how it’s such a perfect fit for the character of Tony Stark.
Like Audi, cell phone maker LG wanted to associate itself with the cutting edge technology of the movie.
Again, the LG Slider device is used by Tony Stark within the film. They’re promoting that with their own online, TV, print and in-store advertising as they look to gain market share in the U.S. with this, their first movie promotion. They’ve got their own microsite, InsideTheSuit, that features exclusive movie content and the chance to win a variety of prizes, including a phone that’s been colored to resemble the Iron Man armor.
The site is quite cool on its own right. Once again we’re taken into a simulation of Stark’s workshop, but this time it’s from the perspective of Stark himself from, natch, inside the suit. Click around the workshop and you’ll be able to explore various LG phone models as well as find the aforementioned movie content.
There was also a sweepstakes run by LG with the winner being awarded a complete LG “electronic makeover.”
Paramount’s corporate brethren MTV and VH1 (all are owned by Viacom) got in on the action as well. Each of the music channels launched a contest (MTV and VH1 ) where people could enter to win the opportunity to live like Tony Stark for a Weekend, with a trip to LA, an Audi (natch) to drive up on and down Rodeo Dr. in, a helicopter tour of the city and luxury accommodations.
The networks promoted their contests through online ads and TV spots.
Each channel also turned over an episode of their online shows Made (MTV) and The Fabulous Life (VH1) to the cross-promotion. The Iron Man-themed episode of Made took a teenager and, instead of just trying to improve their appearance in general, took him through a transformation into trying to become like Tony Stark.
The Fabulous Life focused on exploring the fictional life of Tony Stark, exploring his life and lifestyle as a millionaire playboy.
Both webisodes appeared on the same microsites setup for the contests. Those microsites also featured a sizzle reel of footage from the movie showing just how pimp Stark is with his cool toys and bevy of beautiful girlfriends. There were character profiles and some brief information about the movie there as well.
Burger King also did its part by incorporating Iron Man toys into its Kids Meal beginning just before the movie came out. A handful of toys, six in all, were included in the meals and the promotion was again supported by BK’s own ad campaign and in-store signage.
The fact food chain became the target of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, which asked BK to pull the toys and the promotion for a variety of reasons, from the standard “toys with fast food contribute to obesity” argument to pointing out that the PG-13 rating of the movie means Burger King is violating its pledge to not associate its brand with properties that are unsuitable for audiences under 12. Burger King did not comment on the CCFC’s move and, as Geoff at WalletPop says, it’s not likely this is going to sway the chain, regardless of how valid the group’s complaints might be.
If you walked down 7th Avenue in New York City past the Macy’s there you saw the five display windows devoted to showing off not only the full Mark I armor from the movie but also other props and memorabilia as well. Elsewhere in New York you could also see a huge ad for the movie outside Madison Square Garden.
Also likely appealing to the more fashion-minded of those in the audience was the promotion by Estee Lauder. Designed primarily to give the movie at least a bit of feminine allure, the fragrance company had a promotion going to get the looks sported in the movie by Gwenyth Paltrow, who has previously been featured in the company’s advertising. The promotion site plays up the dual looks Paltrow has, being the professional assistant by day but the more romantic and seductive by night.
Ubiquitous mall chain Foot Locker also ran their own “Iron Bod Sweepstakes” awarding someone a home gym unit. They also tied into one of the other promotions by offering a free Slurpee at 7-Eleven with any in-store or online footwear purchase. And a firm called Hands-On Mobile created a side-scrolling shooter game that is available to customers of a handful of carriers and users of various devices.
Finally, one would be remiss if one didn’t mention the constant support from Marvel.com itself, with the site covering every major announcement throughout the movie’s production, including a round-up of press coverage that’s helping the movie. The site has featured the cast, crew and even tie-in partners for the movie at every turn.
In terms of straight advertising is a metric ton of TV spots that have been produced and released. All of them follow the same basic structure as the trailers, with some featuring new footage and others just rearranging what we’ve already seen. Some work better than others but they’re all pretty cool. You can view many of them at ComingSoon, which maintains a great archive of such spots.
It’s a little hard to sum up this campaign simply by virtue of its breadth. Campaigns like this are almost too unwieldy to wrap your head around since there are so many moving parts, so many components to factor in. But let’s try to do just that.
In terms of a traditional campaign it’s pretty darn good. There is something there in just about everything, from the trailers to the posters, that will appeal to fans of the character. But it’s still positioned as a straightforward action flick that hopefully be accessible to people who might be turned off by yet another comic movie and are just looking for stuff to blow up.
And, as I alluded to when discussing the video clips released, it’s that second audience that’s going to make or break the movie and it’s to them that a good amount of the campaign has been geared. That’s who Paramount was trying to reach with buying a Super Bowl spot, that’s why there have been so many TV spots and so many outdoor and other ads and they’re why there are so many different promotional tie-ins. Raising awareness of the movie among the general audience is goal number one cause without them the movie is dead.
I would imagine that the desire to not alienate the casual viewer is also behind the fact that the website doesn’t go quite as in-depth on the character or its comics history as harder-core fans might expect. If it’s presented as too dense it might turn off people who just want a good action flick.
While all the individual parts of the campaign work very nicely in and of themselves, the best part of it is that there’s a pretty consistent brand image that’s presented across platforms, something that itself is going to help with brand awareness in the public. Anytime you’ve seen Iron Man it’s been the same Iron Man you saw somewhere else, with a singular look and feel presented so as not to cause confusion.
The campaign is definitely setting a high water mark, both in terms of reach and integration, for the summer blockbuster season. Hollywood is hoping the full-court press can turn around a year that’s running a little below last year’s box-office numbers, but at the same time Paramount has been playing down the higher-end predictions since it would rather over-perform than under-perform.
Whatever the case, I think this push has done a lot to get both comics fans and general audiences excited with its variety of tactics and executions. Now all that’s left is to see whether the movie lives up to the expectations it’s set.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
- 5/27/08: The Better Business Bureau has referred two ads from Paramount Pictures that aired during shows with audiences mostly under 12 to the MPAA for investigation as to whether the studio violated the agreement not to advertising PG-13 movies to young kids. An ad for Drillbit Taylor that ran during “Zoey 101? on Nickelodeon and an Iron Man that aired during “Zoey” and “Drake & Josh” are the ones being specifically questioned.
The discussion of what sorts of movies are appropriate to advertise to kids is an ongoing one. The MPAA will, presumably, take all the facts into consideration and then probably not do anything at all.
- 7/30/08: David Poland picks Iron Man as the smartest campaign by a major studio so far this year. The Dark Knight, Wanted, Kung Fu Panda and a host of other movies covered here on MMM are also in his top ten campaigns of the summer.
- 7/30/08: Antony Young at AdAge does a mini-review of the campaigns for both Iron Man and The Dark Knight, analyzing them for their different audience approaches. He punts on declaring an overall winner, but each of his sections are worth checking out since he does a decent job of showing how things were executed differently.
- 8/7/08: One of the many things the campaigns for these two movies had in common was that they both had Slurpee-based promotions at 7-Eleven. That focus on big-name promotions is part of an overall re-positioning of the Slurpee at the convenience store chain that’s been spear-headed by Stephanie Hoppe, who hopes to make the brand more relevant to the teenage males of the population. In addition to movies, 7-Eleven has been running Slurpee promotions around video games and other things that have appeal to that age group.