Pim Razenberg on Marvel’s well-oiled marketing machine, which hooked us all to the Marvel Cinematic Universe…
Black Panther passed the $1 billion mark at the box office, Avengers: Infinity War is expected to have a $215 million opening debut in North America and Kevin Feige is starting to tease audiences around the world with what lies beyond the 2019 Untitled Avengers Movie. Marvel Studios’ sowed the seeds for their Cinematic Universe before any other studio followed and they are now raking in their cash. Together, we have granted them $14.5 billion of our hard-earned pocket money in just under a decade and we are already marking new release dates in our calendars to give them a bit more.
Marvel Studios’ movies have been accused of lacking in diversity, being too repetitive and hosting underdeveloped villains, but generally speaking, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a critical and financial success. Though much of this comes from the hard labour of the film studio’s cast and crew, a major unseen player in the success of the MCU – and our resulting addiction to it – was orchestrated by the studio’s marketing department. Throughout the decade, a series of marketing strategies have made the MCU the juggernaut franchise it is today.
1: Traditional Marketing
The most obvious form of marketing Marvel Studios has entailed is the use of traditional marketing. The release of production photos and behind-the-scenes shots, teasers and trailers, teaser, character and “final” posters, TV show and festival appearances and a host of corporate advertisements. Nowadays, each new piece of marketing material that the studio releases is reported on by a host of different websites, creating more and more traction for their upcoming film(s).
Now that Marvel is gearing up for the release of Infinity War, their marketing team’s strategies become all the more clear, showing that the use of cross-franchise marketing lies at the heart of the MCU’s success.
In July 2017, Marvel Studios released footage of Infinity War at San Diego Comic-Con International. With the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok in sight, the footage focused heavily on Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, making those two movies must-see events for those awaiting the release of Infinity War. Several months later – and only a few months before the release of Black Panther – the first international trailer for Infinity War heavily featured Black Panther and the nation of Wakanda, boosting the hype for both films within a single trailer. The trailer was viewed 230 million times in its first 24 hours online, serving its purpose majestically.
Soon, the new trailer for Infinity War will arrive. Questions are asked every day as to when this will happen, but looking back at Marvel’s previous marketing strategies, it’s not too hard to guess when it will land. The first Infinity War trailer was released after Thor: Ragnarok to not distract attention from Thor’s solo outing, and the marketing department carefully waited two weeks for the fallout of the release of Justice League to blow over to make sure their trailer wouldn’t be snowed under by articles and reviews concerning Warner Bros. ensemble film. Now, several weeks after Black Panther and with no other superhero release standing in its way, the marketing department is surely ready to release Infinity War’s second trailer.
Over the course of the next few weeks we will also see a rise in corporate advertisements for Infinity War. Marvel previously paired up a host of companies for cross-branding campaigns, such as their team-ups with Audi and the NBA for the marketing campaign of Spider-Man: Homecoming. For Homecoming, Marvel brilliantly produced the Audi-sponsored short film Driver’s Test and the NBA inspired short Watch the Game…
The corporate short films produced for Homecoming bring us to the marketing strategy Marvel Studios truly excels at… storytelling.
A movie can be a form of advertisement in itself. Some film series, such as the Cars and Star Wars franchises, earn their existence in great part to the sale of merchandise. The concept of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, allows its owners to market films with films.
It all started with the post credit-scene in Iron Man, where Nick Fury approached Tony Stark to “talk about the Avenger Initiative.” This led to an improvised cameo of Stark in The Incredible Hulk, a movie which additionally featured a host of small Easter egg references to Stark, Nick Fury, the Super-Soldier serum and other (past and future) MCU elements. Iron Man 2 expanded the framework and even included a small reference to Wakanda; the character of Phil Coulson offered further connective tissue; and the Tesseract’s role as Phase One’s MacGuffin was felt throughout Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. Stingers attached to the end of the Phase One films teased audiences about what’s to come, and the step-by-step introductions of new characters, objects and places eventually led to 2012’s megahit The Avengers. The Avengers brought fans of Iron Man together with fans of Thor and turned those who previously didn’t care much for the Hulk or Captain America into loyal followers.
Every release after The Avengers then got bumped by the critical and financial success of the studio’s ensemble epic. In Phase Two Easter eggs were supplemented by a host of cameos. Where in Phase One Steve Rogers’ shield popped up in a scene, in Phase Two Marvel Studios could actually afford to have Rogers himself pop up for a cameo. Iron Man 3 tagged in Bruce Banner, while Thor: The Dark World saw the introduction of the Collector. Captain America: The Winter Soldier paired Captain America with Iron Man 2’s Black Widow and Nick Fury and introduced Baron von Strucker, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch and Avengers: Age of Ultron brought everyone together again.
Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War amplified the effect of marketing-through-storytelling by upping the synergy between the movies. Phase Three has been characterized by the pairing of characters to amplify box office results: Captain America and Iron Man shared the screen in Civil War, Spider-Man and Iron Man teamed up in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor and the Hulk went on a space adventure in Thor: Ragnarok, thus turning the concept of the “solo movie” upside down.
The connective tissue and framing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe serves more than just the delivery of great, long-term stories: it is a powerful marketing tool which makes it rewarding for audiences not to skip any of studio’s releases. This is what brings us to the third overall marketing strategy: the carefully planned introducing of new (secondary) characters.
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