'Iron Man' Spawns Blockbuster Gravy Train

'Iron Man' and other summer sequels are celluloid money machines.
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LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) -- Iron Man 2 enters the summer-blockbuster season with nearly a dozen brand partners, more than $100 million in promotions and scarcely a weakness in its heavily marketed armor. That's not a film -- it's an investment.

For the

Iron Man

,

Sex and the City

and

Shrek

franchises to be blockbusters, they need to be bankable.

For

Viacom

(VIA) - Get Report

-owned Paramount and

Disney's

(DIS) - Get Report

Marvel, that means combining partners from traditional movie-marketing niches like

Burger King

(BKC)

,

7-Eleven

,

Dr. Pepper Snapple

(DPS)

,

LG

and

Sega

with narrower retailers like racing-oil producer Royal Purple, tech companies like

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

and

Symantec

(SYMC) - Get Report

and Chinese clothing retailer

Semir

.

While that crowds the field for partners like

Hershey

(HSY) - Get Report

,

VW's

Audi and

Gameloft

, the original

Iron Man's

$586 million worldwide take forecasts a safe sequel and plenty of exposure for everyone.

"Even if you see that other marketers are jumping on board with

Iron Man 2

, nobody's going to get fired for jumping on board with

Iron Man 2

," says Jeff Greenfield, principal of branded entertainment studio Buzznation. "Robert Downey Jr.'s already been through rehab, nothing like that's going to happen again and you've hedged by going with the guarantee instead of the risk, which you want to leave to other people."

Despite the deep economic recession, summer movies, especially sequels, remained a sure thing for brands seeking exposure. According to information-management company

Rentrak

(RENT)

, box-office receipts rose from more than $4.2 billion in North America and roughly $9.5 billion worldwide during the 2008 summer movie season (May 2-Sept. 8) to more than $4.3 billion domestic and $10 billion globally a year earlier.

Burger King got a taste of some of that success last year after it inked a marketing deal with Paramount that tied the fast-food giant to three of the top 10 summer films in North America:

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

,

Star Trek

and

G.I. Joe

. This year, Burger King renewed the partnership it formed with the first

Iron Man

film in 2008 and produced a Whiplash Whopper, eight toys for kids and The King mascot in an iron suit.

"We have 10 different points where we actually rate the film properties and, based on that rating, we'll make a decision based on what the best property is for Burger King," says Leo Leone, Burger King's vice president of marketing impact. "We love working with blockbusters, but we want to make sure it ties in well with our brand."

Considering that Burger King's other summer movie partnership is with

Summit Entertainment's

latest

Twilight

installment,

Eclipse

, sequels with proven performance seem to take on added weight. Of 2009's top 5 summer films worldwide, four -- Paramount/Viacom's

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

,

Warner's

(TWX)

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

,

Fox's

(NWS) - Get Report

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

and Columbia/

Sony's

(SNE) - Get Report

Angels and Demons

-- were sequels. Those four sequels grossed more than $3 billion and, with

Iron Man 2

costing $200 million to produce, that tally gives studios a nice pitch when selling companies a cut of their sequel.

"It takes a lot of freaking money across a broad demographic to have a massive blockbuster," Buzznation"s Greenfield says. "From the marketer's perspective, though, you already have money allocated toward marketing, so you can take part of it and earmark part of an ad with

Iron Man 2

. It's a no-brainer."

For marketing partnerships to work, however, they need to make sense. Greenfield notes that Royal Purple's role as the oil of choice for Iron Man alter-ego Tony Stark's racing team is a good fit, but Wonder Bread's appearance as a NASCAR sponsor in

Talladega Nights

backfired when it became the butt of the film's humor.

Thus, when marketers lined up to make

Sex and the City 2

a sexier, more stylish answer to

Iron Man

, Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema used a broad range of brands to fill the characters' needs. Carrie Bradshaw types out her missives on an

HP

(HPQ) - Get Report

laptop, models for media partner Vogue and sips Skyy Vodka cocktails and Moet & Chandon with Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha.

When your brand is wedged among a dozen others, though, is it still the star of the show? Burger King's Leone thinks so, saying that the inclusion of The King mascot breaks through any marketing clutter that the chain's consumers may experience. With Skyy already offering special-edition bottles of its vodka for

Sex and the City 2's

release, the company believes the benefits of partnership alone are worth a place in the crowd.

"A lot of people I speak with don't quite understand the value of sponsorships like

Sex and the City 2

. They think it is all about product placement," says Andrea Conzonato, Skyy's chief marketing officer. "Promotions like this, which are so perfectly tied to the SKYY image of glamour and cocktail couture, are what keep retailers and consumers talking about your brand, driving awareness and relevance that ultimately lead to brand advocacy."

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.

Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.