At press time, shareholders were set to cast their final votes on the Disney/Marvel deal, but it was business as usual for the house of superheroes. Marvel, in its efforts to further appeal to boys and men alike on the merch front, has entered into three unprecedented co-branding deals.
The licensor got a taste of the power of co-branding through a March 2008 agreement with Canon, Massachusetts-based footwear and apparel company Reebok that put Spider-Man and crew on a line of boy-targeted Reebok sneakers. Seeing that the combination of superheroes and sports brand was a natural for its male-skewing audience, Marvel set out to cover new ground in the space and has just hooked up with motorcycle mavens Harley-Davidson and Orange County Choppers and Feld Motor Sports (parent company of Monster Jam).
‘We want to start to appeal to our customer in a different way than we have in the past,’ says Paul Gitter, president of consumer products for Marvel North America. ‘We are looking to complement our business by partnering with the motor sports genre.’
The deal with Harley-Davidson Motor Company and SGI Apparel puts a mix of Harley-Davidson and Marvel imagery on a line of apparel and accessories for newborns, infants, toddlers, boys and men. The garb will include logos from both companies as well as Marvel character art, and it’s set to launch exclusively at Harley-Davidson dealers worldwide in the coming year.
Still on the motorcycle track, The OCC deal includes a co-branded line of choppers and custom motorcycles (for which the father & sons bike shop and reality TV series is known), as well as apparel, toys and collectibles. As with the Harley-Davidson pact, the OCC products will sport imagery from Marvel character and film franchises, including Classic Spider-Man, Classic Hulk and Marvel Heroes.
‘A Harley-Davidson owner might not have bought a Marvel shirt or hat, but because we are partnering with them, they’ll think of Marvel perhaps a little differently,’ says Gitter, explaining the logic behind the co-branding strategy.
Like the OCC and Harley-Davidson deals, the partnership with Feld Motor Sports, which produces the Monster Jam tour, is aiming to attract male consumers of all ages. In this case, however, Iron Man and Spider-Man are set to grace the exterior of two monster trucks competing in the motor-sport extravaganza that starts touring the US this month. The deal also includes a line of apparel and accessories, specialty items, posters, stickers and show yearbooks that will be available at the 300-odd live event locations and on www.monsterjam.com. It’s worth noting that Monster Jam’s related live events and licensing are estimated to bring in annual revenue upwards of US$200 million for Feld.
Part of the upshot of the strategy is to evolve Marvel from a character-based brand to a lifestyle brand, according to Gitter. ‘The lifestyle aspect of Marvel is becoming equally as important as the character we are promoting,’ he says. ‘We are really starting to focus on using the Marvel icon more as a brand.’
Of course, as with any co-branding venture, particular attention has to be paid to the heritage of the IP and to making sure it isn’t compromised. As such, Gitter believes Marvel and motor sports are a good fit on the content side. ‘Our brand stands for power, aspiration and self-expression,’ he says. ‘And that fits within the same tone, manner and image of the brands we have made deals with.’