NEW YORK -- The makers of "Captain America: The First Avenger" are in a must-win pre-emptive battle against superhero fatigue. Their not-so-secret weapon? A patriotic-themed marketing campaign complete with fireworks and red, white and blue doughnuts.
"Captain America," which opened in theaters Friday, follows a string of action hero movies this summer that have been successful. So, when promoting the film, Paramount and Marvel Studios weren't taking any chances that moviegoers would write it off as just another superhero flick.
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The studios are spending millions on marketing that has included fireworks at baseball games and American-themed products such as Dunkin' Donuts' bright red Cherry Coolatta frozen drink, Baskin-Robbins' vanilla ice cream with blue chocolate chips and a cherry flavored swirl and Wrigley's Captain America Orbit White and Juicy Fruit gum.
"That's the fear, there are so many superhero movies this summer," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for Hollywood.com. "But so far no one's gotten lost in the shuffle. They all opened at No. 1."
These days, opening at the No. 1 spot is a necessity -- not a bonus. Movie ticket sales are at their lowest in years, and a steady stream of superhero movies this summer such as "Thor" and "XMen: First Class" has made it particularly hard to stand out. So, Hollywood studios are willing to shell out millions to promote summer movies, which can cost more than $100 million and make up to half of their total box office receipts during opening weekend alone. For example, "Green Lantern," which opened June 17, grossed $53 million during its opening weekend, and has made $112 million to date.
The makers of "Captain America" would not say how much they spent to promote the movie. But analysts estimate they spent between $30 million to $50 million to create buzz around the movie and its main character. Captain America, or "Cap," epitomizes pro-American sentiment with his red, white and blue costume and shield. He first appeared in 1941 as a weakling transformed into a superhero to help the U.S. fight the Nazis.
"Certain characters lend themselves to unique marketing and Captain America is playing on the patriotic angle," said Dergarabedian, the analyst, who predicts the film will make about $59 million to $60 million -- a good showing for a summer movie. "Character-specific marketing can be very effective."
In addition to usual posters and trailers for the film, which will run globally, Paramount played up the patriotic theme that was American as baseball -- literally.
In the U.S., Paramount sponsored red, white and blue fireworks on July 4 at 10 major league baseball games, including the Chicago White Sox versus the Kansas City Royals in Chicago and the Rockies versus the Braves in Atlanta. T-shirts and mini posters were also given out at the games. The studio also ran promotional ads during the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby on July 12.
Additionally, the studio played up the character's military roots. The movie was screened on 30 military bases across the country the weekend of July 16 and 17.
Makers of "Captain America" also teamed up with other companies to get the word out. Marvel had tie-ins including packaging and contests with Dr Pepper Snapple Group and 7-Eleven, a deal with Wrigley that put Captain America on gum and a partnership with Dunkin' Brands.
In addition to the Coolatta, Dunkin' is offering a Captain America jelly doughnut with vanilla icing and red, white and blue sprinkles, a Stars & Stripes doughnut with red icing and star-shaped sprinkles and a First Avenger "Tri-Cup" that lets drinkers have three different Coolatta flavors in one cup with Captain America's image on it. An accompanying TV spot shows a construction worker drinking a Captain America Coolatta being splattered with red, white & blue paint as he chases a dog through a construction site until he begins to resemble the superhero. Dunkin's sister company, Baskin-Robbins, is offering the Super-Soldier Swirl.
Dunkin' Donuts teamed up with Marvel for its first movie-tie in campaign on "Captain America" to offer a slate of products because the company thought the chain's catch phrase, "America runs on Dunkin"' was a good fit with Captain America's image, said John Costello, Chief Global Marketing and Innovation Officer at Dunkin' Brands.
"We thought this would be a fun way to tie in with an exciting movie and some pretty exciting products," he said.
Symantec's Norton took a slightly different tactic, focusing on the emblematic red, white and blue shield that Captain America uses. They worked with Marvel to create a three-minute featurette with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie and the importance of the shield. The film was posted on YouTube and shared on Facebook in early June and so far has been covered by more than 100 blogs viewed over 70,000 times on YouTube, said Sally Jenkins, vice president of marketing for Symantec.
"When we look at these partnerships we look for a property that has attributes similar to the position that Norton takes," Jenkins said. Captain America and Norton share "the fact that we're fighting the bad guys," she said
The combination of promotions and tie-ins for "Captain America" is key to a successful movie marketing campaign, said Al Lieberman, marketing professor at NYU Stern School of Business.
"For every person who may see a trailer once or twice, they'll also see the TV commercials from the tie-in companies that will remind them this is a hot property and to come out and see it," he said.
That worked for Monica Palinsky, 21, a student in New York, who knew the movie was coming out because of the tie-in products and billboards that are "everywhere." She's tried the Cherry Coolatta and Dunkin' Donuts and the ice cream at Baskin-Robbins.
"They're great," she said, outside of a midtown Dunkin' Donuts on a sweltering day in Manhattan. "I'll probably see the movie this weekend."