Meet Loki, Hyundai pitchman. Can Marvel streaming shows sell SUVs and Disney+?

·4 min read

Meet Loki of Asgard, god of mischief and pitchman of compact SUVs.

As Walt Disney Co.-owned Marvel unveils its latest Disney+ series, "Loki," which premiered last week, the studio's popular superheroes have teamed with automaker Hyundai in an elaborate campaign to promote the new Tucson and the company’s all-important streaming service.

The Marvel-produced vignettes, featuring tie-ins with the Marvel shows "WandaVision," "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," "Loki" and the upcoming animated "What If?," mark the first time Disney has used multiple series in a partnership campaign to boost Disney+.

Superheroes have sold cars and other consumer goods before.

The Hulk chased down Ant-Man for a can of Coke in a 2016 Super Bowl commercial ahead of the release of "Captain America: Civil War." Chadwick Boseman drove a Lexus as Black Panther in a 2018 spot made for that year's big game. Hyundai worked with Marvel for an Iron Man edition of the 2019 Kona, which included an engraved Tony Stark signature.

But the Disney+ campaign is unusual for its use of multiple franchises to promote streaming content, said Mindy Hamilton, Marvel Studios' senior vice president of partnership marketing.

"From a streaming perspective, a campaign like this has never been done before," she said. "I'm not aware of any auto campaign at this level in the streaming space."

While the web of storylines makes tie-ins complicated, the Disney-Hyundai campaign shows that studios are increasingly willing to unbox their franchises for marketing purposes. Campaigns like this may encourage more entertainment companies to find increasingly creative ways to share their characters.

"Their willingness to use their properties and characters and open them up is very different from in the past," said Angela Zepeda, chief marketing officer of Hyundai Motor America. "Media companies are thinking in a new, fresh way about partnering with brands. I think everyone's being much more open-minded about what the future of these partnerships look like."

The spots feature Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff and Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, appearing for the first time as the new Captain America since the end of "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier."

In one snippet, Loki disappears with the Tesseract (as seen in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame") before bumping into tourists and driving off in a Hyundai. The "Loki" tie-in debuted as a short video on social media Wednesday night; it drew 2 million viewers in 24 hours, according to Disney.

The unusual ad push comes as both Disney+ and Hyundai are facing enormous competition.

Disney wants to emphasize its lineup of original Marvel content at a time when its rivals, including Netflix and WarnerMedia with HBO Max, are promoting their own subscription services. Netflix and Disney+ have seen subscriber growth slow after a streaming boom in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For South Korea-based Hyundai, which paid Disney an undisclosed amount to make the ads, the Tucson is battling in the competitive space of small SUVs against better-known rivals, including Ford, Toyota and Honda. Connecting the car with a brand as popular as Marvel's could help, Zepeda said.

"People have their eyeballs in a lot of places, but these shows have fans," she said. "For us to be a part of that is pretty unique."

The Marvel spots are part of a larger effort to use Disney properties, including ABC's "The Bachelorette" and ESPN's "SportsCenter," in commercials for the vehicle after Hyundai skipped the latest Super Bowl, where a 30-second ad cost more than $5 million.

"What's interesting is that it goes across different series," UCLA marketing professor Aimee Drolet Rossi said of the Marvel campaign. "Whether or not it's effective, we'll have to wait and see."

For Marvel, a key part of the campaign was to connect the ads to the ongoing stories of the various characters — a challenge for a franchise with a dizzying array of plots, personalities and timelines. Filming the spots during the pandemic, which hobbled Hollywood productions, added yet another layer of complications to the making of the ads.

"We're able to step in and tell in-world stories, so it's less about Loki being in a car commercial," Hamilton said.



Marvel, which Disney bought for $4 billion in 2009, is famously protective of its intellectual property, with studio President Kevin Feige carefully guiding the franchises in more than 23 films and three Disney+ shows so far.

This year's lineup includes theatrical movies "Black Widow," "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Eternals" and "Spider-Man: No Way Home," shared with Sony. Animated series "What If?" debuts on Disney+ this summer. The Disney+ shows are key in setting up the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with "WandaVision" teeing up "Captain Marvel" and "Doctor Strange" sequels.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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