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Marketing The Marvel Studio’s Infinity Wars Saga

8 MINUTE READ | July 23, 2019

Marketing The Marvel Studio’s Infinity Wars Saga

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Grant Weber

Grant Weber has written this article. More details coming soon.

When Robert Downey Jr. introduced himself as Iron Man, he set in motion the most ambitious cinematic venture of all time— 22 independent storylines unified by a single throughline named Thanos. What can best be described as an 11-year pop culture takeover climaxed with Avengers: Endgame. The finale to the Infinity Wars Saga broke box office records and just surpassed $2.79 billion worldwide to become the most lucrative film in history.

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Whether you’ve bought into the superhero frenzy or not, Marvel has proven itself as one of, if not the, most influential entertainment brands of all time. So how did Marvel keep the world interested in elastic suits and enormous green rage monsters for over a decade?

While a snap from Marvel Studio’s CMO may not have forced half of the population to buy tickets to Captain America, there was definitely heroic marketing involved. Let’s take a closer look at what powered Marvel’s $21.2 billion storytelling saga.

Marvel draws its strength from big data. In preparation for the Infinity Wars Saga, Marvel Studios first analyzed its library of some 8,000 characters and storylines. Using big data patterns and trends, it was able to predict which characters and story arcs were pinnacle to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and could adapt to the big screen. Ergo, it’s no coincidence that Tony Stark, who shares more connections than any other character in the MCU, kick-started the Infinity Wars Saga in 2008.

Using big data that the brand has collected over 80-years in the biz, Marvel was able to synthesize exactly what fans wanted and more importantly what they are willing to pay for. By combining great storytelling with consumer data points, Marvel has essentially created a reliable template for global box-office success. For proof, you need only look at what they’ve done with the lesser-known franchises like Ant-Man and The Guardians of the Galaxy which both opened at number one at the box office and combine for over $1 billion in global revenue.

When you consider the cast of celebrities that Marvel has assembled over the years, it’s no surprise that Avengers: Endgame was the first film to break the billion-dollar threshold opening week.

Courtesy of Marvel

In Endgame’s final scenes A-Listers including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Brie Larson, Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt, and Zoe Saldana unite against Thanos. That’s a combined total of 152.4 million Instagram followers in a single frame. When you factor in the supporting cast members who break into the millions as well, The Avengers double the amount of social influence celestial influencers like Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian West, and Beyoncé have on Instagram.

It’s not news that influencer marketing works, but it’s important to note that even fictional characters can be used to promote a tangible product. To think that Robert Downey Jr. has more global recognition wearing his Iron Man suit has a lot of potential. As you build your influencer campaigns, consider all possibilities.

When billionaire playboy Tony Stark stepped out of his Audi R8 in the first Iron Man film, a powerful relationship was born. The German luxury car brand was a natural fit and has become synonymous with Marvel’s dapper industrialist icon.

Courtesy of Marvel xduPont Registry

Stark’s Audi collection has upgraded with the release of each new film. In Iron Man 2 he drives an R8 Spyder, and in the third installment, he adds a wow factor to Audi’s electric R8 e-tron. Tony Stark can also be seen strutting in Audi’s premium models outside his own franchise in Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and The Avengers titles.

The Marvel-Audi brand alliance doesn’t stop when the credits roll. At the premiere of Spider-Man Homecoming Robert Downey Jr. and director, John Favreau made their entrance in none other than Stark’s signature R8 Spyder.

Audi’s collaboration with Marvel is the gold standard of pop culture integration, and at this point, it would be strange if Tony Stark drove anything but an Audi in the films. In order for brands to stay ahead of the curve, they need to be culturally relevant. Tying a brand to the biggest news in entertainment is an effective way to stay relevant among consumers. Honorable mentions include:

What happens at the end of a Marvel film? Nothing. Why? Because anyone that goes to a Marvel film knows that those who stick around after the credits are rewarded with an extra scene. Typically a teaser for the next feature, these short clips are motivators to see the film in theaters and before anyone else. It’s kind of Marvel’s “thing.”

As marketers, a “thing” translates to exclusive brand experience. By bringing comic counterculture into the theaters, Marvel Studios has created an experience for newcomers and superfans alike. Like any CG, fans have come to expect things from Marvel Studio products. No Marvel film was complete without a signature cameo from Marvel Comics co-founder Stan Lee. Like a cherry in a Shirley Temple or an olive in a martini, Stan Lee was an essential garnish within every Marvel Studios concoction.

Courtesy of Marvel x

That little something extra that makes all the difference. Cameos, from Lee and other characters from the MCU, and easter eggs hidden are what keeps customers hungry for more.

In today’s markets, having a great product isn’t enough. Nearly two-thirds of global consumers choose brands that stand for something. In order to succeed, brands have no choice but to join social and political conversations. For a company whose product is world-saving superheroes, joining the conversation was obligatory.

Whether it was foresight or great leadership, Marvel Studios used its fictional heroes at the most critical times. Instead of running from the fact that the MCU was sorely lacking superheroes of color and gender, it listened. With its timely release of Black Panther in step with #BlackLivesMatter and Captain Marvel more recently with the #MeToo movement, Marvel has raised a closed fist in solidarity.

When you peel back the layers, Marvel comics have always had important political and social undertones. Thor: Ragnarok may be a playful buddy comedy, but it also addressed important issues like immigration and imperialism. For the first time, Marvel characters have new mainstream attention. Black Panther was a lesser-known character written in the 60s, but after coming to the big screen, T’Challa is anything but. After busting the box-office, Black Panther spurred #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe opening up a national conversation about what it means to be black in America.

Marvel gives back on micro scales as well. Before the release of Doctor Strange, Marvel announced “Marvel Studios: Hero Acts,” a brand-new charitable initiative focused on bringing hope to kids around the world. Saving the world is a job for heroes, find something your brand can improve or get out of the room.

Writers at Marvel Studios may not have much respect for the linear flow of time, but they do understand its potential. By telling stories that blend the past, present, and future, Marvel films evoke powerful feelings of nostalgia. In the Guardians of the Galaxy films, it was Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Part 1 and 2 that had us grooving to 70s hits while cruising through the cosmos. More recently, Captain Marvel: The First Avenger paid homage to the 90s with a young Nick Fury, denim jackets, and a Blockbuster Video cameo. Even Endgame had playful Back to the Future and Star Trek references.

Courtesy of Marvel x NYPost

Not everyone vibes with superheroes, but nostalgia is universal. Marvel pop culture nostalgia resonates with men and women both young and old. Even those who have never picked up a comic can feel a personal connection with the characters and the plot or at least enjoy the films. Can you use nostalgia to refresh your brand with loyal customers and incentivize newcomers?

What we’ve learned from Marvel’s Infinity Wars Saga and over a decade of impeccable marketing is this: Infinity Stones are powerful, but the Infinity Gauntlet doesn’t work without all six. Without solid data, there is no inspired strategy, without great strategy, there are no winning tactics. For brands looking for market dominance, it means taking bold action across all six categories.

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Avenger’s: Endgame marks the end of phase three, but Marvel Studios isn’t stopping anytime soon. We have already been promised post-Thanos storylines well into 2022. We’ll see how much longer they can keep the world’s attention now that the main plotline is finished.