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Audi, Google, Hertz, and the Avengers: Endgame brand tie-in marketing machine

Over 22 movies, Marvel’s brand tie-in strategy has remained consistent, even as the product partners change.

Audi, Google, Hertz, and the Avengers: Endgame brand tie-in marketing machine

After 21 films released over more than a decade, the first cycle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe nears its dramatic end with the release of Avengers: Endgame. And what better way to mark this once-in-a-lifetime pop cultural moment than to doll yourself up with Ulta Beauty, go rent an Audi from Hertz, pick up a McDonald’s happy meal, and take a pic of it with your Google Pixel 3 phone?

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With estimates pegged at more than $200 million globally, the newest Avengers movie boasts the biggest marketing promotional campaign in Marvel Studios history, topping the $150 million-plus campaign of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War. According to Kantar, through April 21, Marvel Studios spent about $13.6 million in the U.S. alone on paid media for Avengers: Endgame. The studio has churned out a record 10 custom spots, and in the last week, has run 927 national ads airing on 39 networks. The vast majority of the U.S. budget was spent on TV, with one-minute ads primarily running on the talkshow circuit: the Today show, James Corden’s Late Late Show, and Late Night with Seth Myers.

While $200 million is obviously a lot, the opening-weekend box office estimates are in the $300 million range for North America alone. And that doesn’t even count the branded tie-ins.

Back in the first film, Nick Fury outlines the Avengers concept to Captain America, saying, “The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to to fight the battles we never could.”

Could a Marvel Studios pitch to brand CMOs really be that different? “Separately, you’re just selling cars and burgers and cereal and phones. But together, you can sell superheroes with cars and burgers and cereal and phones.”

But as the storylines of the Avengers have evolved over the four films, the ways in which brands are using this massive franchise have largely remained the same. Endgame may be the biggest Avengers movie marketing blitz we’ve ever seen, but the brand tie-ins aren’t really anything new. Let’s compare and contrast a few, shall we?

This year we’ve got Google’s Pixel 3 phone getting in on the action, complete with augmented-reality “Playmoji” stickers of the heroes.

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Back in 2012, it was Walmart that went full AR with its Avengers tie-in.

Imagine having to drive your commute while the planet is under attack? Both Hertz and Acura sure did. The former’s ad for Endgame advises you to get that extra insurance.

Rewind back to Acura’s 2012 spot for the first Avengers, and we see how its GPS software navigates unprecedented alien disaster.

Another concept brands have gravitated toward throughout the Avengers run is fun with action figures. Target tapped into its laundry list of Avengers-related toys for this 2015 promo Age of Ultron.

For last year’s Infinity War, and Geico’s Gecko got caught doing his best Dark Helmet impression.

This may be the end of this iteration of Earth’s mightiest heroes, but if blockbuster brand tie-ins are any indication, marketing is still the domain of mere mortals.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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