Avengers: Age of Ultron zoomed to a $500 million box office in just four days, after its $191 million opening weekend achieved the second best movie opening of all time. That certainly makes Disney—and its Marvel Entertainment execs—happy. It’s also cause for the new Avengers team members, including Audi, Harley-Davidson and Samsung, to celebrate.
Samsung is employing Avengers-level virtual reality to highlight its product placements and marketing tie-in with the blockbuster movie. It’s even rumored to be releasing an Iron Man-themed Galaxy S6 phone. (Update: It’s official.)
Yet Avengers had another brand partner—one that shelled out millions of dollars for a positive product placement—and nobody tweeted complaints about it.
A full 20 minutes of Avengers takes place in and around downtown Seoul, South Korea, including Digital Media City and the chi-chi Gangnam (yes, that Gangnam) district. The urban backdrop is a direct result of Seoul paying more than $3.6 million of the film’s production costs while in Seoul.
Moreover, Marvel agreed to portray South Korea as a “high-tech, modern country” and to avoid portraying it “in any negative manner,” according to the Daily Mail. During filming but before the payoff was revealed, director Joss Whedon even went on YouTube with a special message about being “really grateful” to be there.
Korean Air appears often in the film’s Seoul scenes, and the Avengers producers cast South Korean star Claudia (Soo-hyun) Kim as a medical expert. It’s noteworthy that Iron Man 3 also cast China superstar Fan Bingbing as a medical expert. One big difference, though, is that the South Koreans’ involvement seems to have escaped the same criticism leveled at Iron Man 3’s partnership with Chinese interests. That film saw Hollywood accused of “appeasement” and launched 100 “kowtow” headlines.
Perhaps Seoul’s civic leaders saw an early draft of the script that depicted the South Korean city in a bad light. Indeed, the recent Sony leaks revealed that Mexican officials agreed to pay millions of dollars in incentives to create a more favorable depiction of the country in the upcoming James Bond film, Spectre. Studios may have discovered a whole new revenue stream for assured blockbusters: geographic blackmail.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to go to a screening geared up like an Avenger, Under Armour will skin you up with Thor, Hulk, Iron Man or Captain America (sorry, fans of Hawkeye and Black Widow—whose lack of Ultron merchandise is a touchy subject for the studio and may have prompted Whedon to quit Twitter over cries of sexism).
In their downtime, the characters are shown relaxing in their favorite brands: Bruce Banner unwinds to music on his Beats headphones, Captain America favors Levi’s jeans and Tony Stark tinkers with a John Deere tractor.
Want that Bruce Lee DJ shirt that Tony Stark sports in the film? It’s the “Gung Fu Scratch” tee by Bow & Arrow, and you’ll probably have to wait in line—the brand already has 1,000 back-orders to fill. But if you hurry, maybe you can get Stark’s sunglasses. The model, “All In,” were provided by Initium Eyewear.
Gillette’s placement inspired a contest with Marvel Universe creator Stan Lee:
— stan lee (@TheRealStanLee) April 29, 2015
Microsoft’s Skype also promoted its tie-in with a contest.
— Skype (@Skype) May 3, 2015
And who says you have to have an official partnership to cash in on the $1 billion-plus in Avengers merchandise sales? One enterprising producer in China is selling a replica Quicksilver costume t-shirt that neither Under Armour nor adidas is selling as a tie-in with the movie.
Finally, speaking of product placement, one German fan took the time to ask: “What if the Avengers were YouTubers?”