The Guardians of the Galaxy return this week with a sequel to 2014’s surprise hit. I say “surprise” because while 2012’s The Avengers and other Marvel Cinematic Universe entries were funny, a movie that was meant to be overtly comedic was a pretty new addition to the series. That bet paid off, though, with $333 million in domestic box-office and an important expansion of the MCU into space.
The sequel has received a marketing push that’s included a number of trailers, a big paid advertising campaign that included a Super Bowl TV spot earlier this year, a publicity cycle that’s focused on the soundtrack and lots more. As has been the case with many Marvel Studios movies - and franchise films in general - the campaign is almost too big to completely wrap your hands around. And it benefits from all the movies that have come before it and in being an important part of the story people won’t want to miss if they want to understand the next movies coming later on. Such is the strategy Marvel has created.
One big part of the campaign has been the work from cross-promotional partners, the companies and brands that wanted to get a bit of that word of mouth and create positive connections between Guardians and their own products. The movie’s official website lists 11 companies that officially signed on, but when you factor in licensed products and other details, that list grows substantially.
Advertising technology firm Amobee ran the numbers to see which of those brands were seeing the biggest pop, the largest benefit, from that association. To do so they analyzed mover 600,000 sites, including video, social and more, to see what people were saying about the partner brands and find out where the strongest connections were happening and ranked them by the volume of digital content engagement in the month leading up to release:
1. Telltale Games: Taking the top spot is the video game company which has been releasing trailers and other promotional material for their tie-in game featuring the characters from the movie. The first episode of the game came out last month and garnered positive reviews that resonated among fans, creating demand for the game and benefitting the movie as well. The fact that this was mentioned in 90% of movie-related digital content is a direct reflection of the monitoring period including the game’s release date.
2. Walkman: No, Sony’s iconic Walkman isn’t an official promotional partner for the movie. But it’s hard not to talk about the device when it’s such a central part of the story and the character of Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt. Considering much of the campaign, including a poster and part of the website design, used visuals of cassette tapes like Quill plays in his handy Walkman and the focus in the press on the movie’s “mixtape” soundtrack, this isn’t surprising.
3. Disneyland: Again, Disney benefitted from a news cycle that coincided with the period Amobee analyzed. It was during this period that the company officially opened Mission: Breakout, a movie-themed reskinning of the old Tower of Terror ride that took visitors inside a mission to rescue the Guardians from the lair of The Collector, played by Benicio Del Toro in the first movie.
4. Hot Toys: Well of course you’re going to be a major part of the conversation when you introduce a life-size Baby Groot figure. That just makes sense and will cause quite a hole in your checking account to appear.
5. Hasbro: Similarly, it would have been more shocking if the revelation of a Groot (and Star Lord) Mr. Potato Head coming out *hadn’t* made this list. Also helping this was conversation around the fully-wearable Star Lord Helmet that’s available and is perfect in appealing to fans of all ages.
6. LEGO: While the building sets created for the movie were popular enough, LEGO was likely helped here by the release of an officially-sanctioned reimagining of the final trailer using the bricks and minifigures. The internet loves LEGOs and it loves alternate versions of movie trailers and the combination was obviously a powerful force.
7. Doritos: John McCarthy covered this news, where Doritos created a bag that was preloaded with the movie’s much-hyped soundtrack and even featured a headphone jack so you could listen while you snack. It’s just the kind of goofy stunt that plays into existing media narratives - that the soundtrack is so cool it can’t be missed - that it was sure to generate plenty of conversation.
8. Geico: The insurance company took an obvious approach, pairing Baby Groot from the movie with the company’s own spokeslizard, the talking Gecko. In a co-branded TV spot the Gecko considers teaming up with Groot to not only save people money but save people’s lives as well.
9. Build-A-Bear: You can’t tell me you don’t want one of the Baby Groots or Rockets that are part of the store’s movie-themed collection. These kind of ultra-cute and kid-friendly items make for great fodder for social media sharing and discussion and appear to have done the trick here to spur just that.
10. Funko POP: While movie-themed POP figures were announced a while ago, the pop (if you’ll forgive the word usage) in this period seems be from the arrival of April’s Marvel Collectors Corp box, a collaboration between Marvel and Funko. Last month’s subscription box included exclusive figures, a t-shirt featuring POP versions of the movie characters and much more.
11. Ford EcoSport: Another integration featuring Baby Groot, the TV spot Ford released featured a woman taking a fantasy vacation with the adorable little character that’s soon interrupted by an invading alien armada.
12. M&M’s: The company’s long-running animated characters are featured in these ads, with the yellow one (who’s always portrayed as a bit clueless) mistaking a real raccoon for Rocket from the movie. Another spot showed an artist using the candies to create a representation of Drax, the muscular alien played by wrestler Dave Bautista.
13. Dairy Queen: A commercial for the new “Guardians Awesome Mix Blizzard” desert treat featured footage from the movie and tied into the chain’s current campaign involving a store manager providing updates and inspirational guidance to his staff.
If there’s a consistent theme throughout the list above, it’s that Baby Groot is a surefire way to generate brand buzz for yourself. Of all the companies that engaged in some level of cross-promotion for the movie those that didn’t generally feature the whole team or just use movie footage specifically called out and included Baby Groot in their commercials and other marketing. He’s a cute, social-media friendly character that makes for great talking points and is, after the first movie, the breakout character of the series.
“Connecting with the spirit of a film is a great way for non-obvious brand tie-ins to stand out,” said Jonathan Cohen, principal brand analyst at Amobee. That’s exactly what most everyone, especially those who used Groot or who focused on the soundtrack - looking at you Doritos - did, and that’s what paid off for them in positive buzz.