It's all been leading up to this. With 10 years of build-up, there has never been a motion picture event quite like Avengers: Infinity War. The film is the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing together for the first time all of Marvel's hero pantheon for an epic battle against Thanos. The film represents the end of an era for the Marvel universe, but also a new beginning, in which the universe is more interconnected that ever before.
To find out what this brave new world holds for the brand within the licensing space, we sat down with Disney's SVP of retail EMEA, Mike Stagg.
"This year is going to be the biggest ever year for Marvel as they become the 'superhero franchise of choice' for UK and Irish consumers driven by massive box oﬃce releases and record sales of Marvel consumer products in the UK," enthuses Stagg. "Entering their 10 anniversary year [of the Marvel Cinematic Universe] with four new movies, and an abundance of TV and digital content, we expect sales of Marvel merchandise to explode."
One key to Marvel's merchandising plans, is the constant refreshing of the superhero's looks from film to film, allowing merchandise to continue peaking the interest of hardcore and casual fans alike.
"With more superheroes than ever before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, each with unique attributes and new tech and suits, we have been able to offer a diverse product range which lends itself to a variety of play patterns," explains Stagg. "The Marvel Franchise will drive sales of merchandise as everyone’s favourite superheroes are brought to life in the form of mini collectables, plush and interactive toy ranges. "
"Without giving any plot spoilers away, there are more iconic battle scenes which will be perfect to re-enact with the LEGO construction offer, as well as Hasbro’s action figure offering," he continues.
"21 per cent of kids tell us (in our kids’ tracker) that they’re favourite thing about Marvel is becoming their favourite Super Hero, which is perfect for our role play and dress up categories, supported by innovation from Hasbro and Rubies.
For Fans, Collectors and adult gifts, FUNKO Vinyl Pops are always a Marvel favourite; there is a huge range for Avengers Infinity War, which has the most superheroes together in a movie ever. "
This year is going to be the biggest ever year for Marvel
Mike Stagg, Disney
Infinity War shakes up the Marvel formula, introducing some higher stakes and without giving away spoilers, some truly calamitous moments. As such, the film has drawn the biggest audience for an MCU movie to date, stealing the Highest Grossing Film honour from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
"Only a few months ago we released Marvel Studios Black Panther which smashed the 2018 box office, now exceeding £50M in the UK. The film created a cultural phenomenon as fans flocked to see the King of Wakanda and we are rapidly building plans to celebrate the home entertainment release later in the year with even more exciting product ranges," says Stagg.
"It is incredibly satisfying that the biggest movie of the year to date is passing the baton onto Avengers Infinity War. In the first six days of being in UK and Ireland cinemas, the film has grossed £35m already. Avengers Infinity Wars also marks the biggest Marvel Studios opening day ever (£6.2m), have smashed the record for 2018’s biggest opening to-date and have already taken Infinity War past the total grosses of previous MCU titles Iron Man 1 & 2, Thor 1 & 2, Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: Winter Soldier.
When it comes to products, in typical Disney fashion, the offering is broad and all-inclusive.
"One of the key strategies for the Marvel franchise is to appeal to new audiences – Black Panther was a perfect example of that. There was a reason to go and see it. But it also means that we’re also bringing in new partners all the time, such as Clarks for both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, and also Vans across our Marvel portfolio. These brands help to expand the range and make us relevant and contemporary for new audiences."
"So far, so good all round when it comes to Marvel. FUNKO has been a stand-out performer for us in 2018 as they are expanding distribution into mass and appealing to fan, collector and gifters all at once with their product ranges."
Not content, with simply conquering the world of licensed goods, Disney is also exploring opportunities within technology and utilizing new online platforms to deliver content and merchandise to fans in new ways.
"Our digital strategy is also constantly evolving, including our approach to influencer marketing, as evidenced by the eBay partnership," adds Mike Stagg. "At the heart of everything we do is our audiences and we want to make sure we understand them and consumer’s behaviour as a fundamental pillar of our digital work. We work incredibly closely with our research and insight teams to track affinity, both parents and kids, and really try to understand them better so we can provide them with Marvel touch points when and where they want them."
"Our partnership strategy is constantly evolving too. And for Marvel we want to work with partners that are just as innovative as we are – that’s really important to us. We’re also looking for partnerships that make us relevant with either new audiences or core audiences (or ideally both!). It’s about quality not quantity in the partnership space."
Turning our attention to the future of the Marvel Universe, there is still plenty to come in this year alone. In just a couple of short months, an Ant-Man sequel will hit theatres, while a whole new imagining of Spider-Man will follow in the Winter.
"We continue to look forward to the rest of the year with more incredible Marvel moments for the trade to get excited about, when Avengers Infinity War releases on DVD we expect another toy sales spike as the film gets into more homes. Plus, still to come we have Ant-Man and the Wasp and the Sony Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse animated movie release at the end of the year," concludes Stagg.
"Spider-Man as a character features in multiple box office releases; being a key part of Avengers Infinity War and the Sony movie in December; as a character he continues to resonate with kids and popularity remains high. According to the Disney February Kids Tracker Spider-Man ranks as number one spontaneous character with boys 4-6 so keep your eyes peeled on
We also have ‘Captain Marvel’ coming in 2019 which is our first female-led Marvel movie. That is another exciting step and we look forward to making sure our portfolio of products stretches across everything from toys to fashion so that Captain Marvel can come home to her fans in all the different guises."
For Disney, it seems the potential for Avengers, is infinite.