After more than six years since Marvel Entertainment first announced the development of the ultimate superhero film, The Avengers is set to debut on May 4, 2012, and the studio, along with its parent The Walt Disney Company, are supercharged about its potential as a box office blockbuster and a brand licensing powerhouse at retail.
The Avengers, which brings together several of Marvel's classic superheroes–Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye–is positioned to be a new tent pole franchise rivaling that of any of its individual superhero franchises.
The much anticipated film is the culmination of the Marvel's "Avengers Assemble" umbrella theme and strategy that has produced five films over the past several years since Iron Man debuted in May 2008. The list also includes: Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America.
In fact, these five films generated a worldwide box office gross of more than $2.2 billion according to Box Office Mojo, and all have been developed extensively with consumer products and retail partnerships across multiple categories.
"'Avengers Assemble' has helped us position Marvel films as true sustaining brands," says Paul Gitter, president of consumer products, North America, Marvel Entertainment. "This initiative has enabled our partners to build standout, long-term programs with unique merchandise, retail and product promotions featuring our entire portfolio of Avengers.''
In addition, The Avengers will be the first film that will experience the entire Disney process since The Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel in December 2009.
The company will handle the distribution of the film through Walt Disney Pictures and it will have a greater influence on the marketing and promotional efforts worldwide. Previously, Marvel films were distributed by Paramount.
Separate from The Avengers, another key component of Gitter's high expectations for the summer of 2012 is The Amazing Spider-Man, which will be released in July, giving Marvel a dominant position not only at the box office but at retail as well with extensive consumer products programs planned.
"We will own the summer of 2012," claims Gitter.
The last Spider-Man film in 2007 was the No. 1 film at the box office worldwide, grossing $891 million, according to box office mojo, and it has been a strong licensing franchise over the years.
Gitter says that Marvel has devoted significant time and resources to films, digital, internet, promotions, consumer products and publishing to create a continuity program that will keep consumers engaged so that by the time The Avengers debuts in 2012, there will be a significant amount of awareness in the marketplace.
Gitter also believes that this build-up to The Avengers over the past several years has helped strengthen retail partnerships as well.
"Retailers have been less tolerant with IP films, so we decided that if we started on this coordinated strategy several years ago, retailers would give us shelf space throughout the years and we would have a more sustainable position in the marketplace," he says.
Gitter believes that the strategy has worked as retailers have kept Marvel superheroes on shelves individually, setting the foundation when all the superheroes come together under the Avengers theme.
The goal, according to Gitter, is to "create the single largest superhero event ever," and he believes, based on feedback from retailers, that Marvel is well positioned to own summer 2012, not only with The Avengers, but also with a major Spider-Man initiative.
"We are developing separate value propositions for retailers to merchandise both films exclusively," he says.
While many of the major deals for The Avengers are still being finalized, most of its consumer products programs will be similar to those developed over the past several years with various co-branding deals expected. Among the partners already announced are Hasbro, Hallmark, Huffy, Kellogg, Fruit of the Loom and Brown Shoe.
Gitter is also working with all the major retailers worldwide–including Toys 'R' Us and Walmart–to develop exclusive promotions.
With such strong awareness and expectations built into The Avengers program, Gitter's goal is to establish it as a separate brand and sustainable platform that consumers can continue to relate to for many years.
And if Marvel's track record of producing sequels continues, especially with Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 already in the works for 2013, it's a strong possibility that there will be more Avengers projects in the future, further strengthening Marvel's super position in brand licensing worldwide.