How an Australian company convinced Marvel to let Quicksilver plug its product

Who needs sports stars when you’ve got superheroes using your product?

Two years ago, when V Energy marketing manager – and X-Men fan – Craig Harkness learnt a third movie in the X-Men prequel trilogy was under way.

The energy drink maker was riding high on a new ad starring a group of Vikings who were mulling up replacing their leader with a slightly better version of their leader:

That was the start of the energy drink’s “the massive hit that improves you a bit” campaign. And Harkness, looking to build on that awareness, saw an opportunity.

Maybe even superheroes could do with a quick jolt – even, Quicksilver, the mutant who can move at supersonic speeds.

But rather than go down the same road V had in the past, of simply branding cans with Wolverine and The Avengers, Harkness wanted something more “real”.

“I wanted to do one in 2016 that was bigger than just putting characters on the can, so I approached 20th Century Fox at a local level, where I’d worked with them in the past, and asked how they would feel about us using one of their movie characters,” Harkness says.

“One in particular who would be really appealing to an 18-24 year old audience, and how would you feel about us inserting one of them into the our ads.”

Pretty good, as it turns out:

Keep it simple

You might already be thinking “Well, it’s V, isn’t it? Not exactly a small brand.” But Harkness said when he approached 20th Century Fox in the US, the energy drink was virtually unknown.

“We do sell in the UK and Argentina, but V Energy is mainly Australia and New Zealand,” Harkness says. “So the guys over in LA didn’t really know who we were they were very nice to us, but they didn’t know anything else other than we were the No 1 player in Australia, New Zealand.”

With the help of ad agency Clemenger BDO, Harkness and his team put together a pitch and were surprised to find “it wasn’t really that much of a hard sell”, despite the relative unknown status of V in the US.

“They liked the idea of Quicksilver being replaced by a slightly better version of himself. And they saw that it could be really funny and it could add some levity to their whole campaign around the movie.

“Coincidentally when we pitched it to the US, the Fox marketing guy in LA, he was the character they had in mind as well so it was really good that we both arrived at this same place.”

Harkness says the key to getting the attention of global heavyweights was to keep everything as collaborative as possible. “There’s a little bit of give and take with everything… it works much better than trying to call the shots,” he says.

So that meant being prepared to fly to Canada and be close to the “X-Men” set. In V’s case, it meant beating there the day Quicksilver, aka Evan Peters, finished filming.

“We literally had one day and one window in his calendar,” Harkness says. “Fortunately, we had Peters’ wardrobe mistress from Apocalypse and the person who helped with all his special effects. So it meant we had the same people who’d worked on movie with us watching the shoot of the ad to make sure that we got everything we needed.

“If we had done it 6 or 9 months later, it would have been a lot more difficult because you’d have to try to find his wardrobe again out of storage, all those kind of things.”

Obviously, the cost of making it all run as smoothly as possible for Peters and those in charge of the movie franchise is not insignificant.

Quicksilver’s spot has been reported as up to a $6 million punt for the brand. But while the original “Vikings” launch on YouTube – V’s most successful campaign – pulled nearly 360,000 views over the past two years, the Quicksilver ad has already surpassed that – in just two weeks.

More than social

Harkness will know if the exposure has paid off in about three weeks, when sales data starts coming in. But it certainly could have been much more expensive. For example, Wolverine was probably a more obvious choice.

“That was the process we had to go through,” Harkness says. “We could have gone and asked Hugh Jackman if he wanted to do it. I imagine the fee might have been a bit more but the thing about it was … we wanted it to be someone who was identifiable.

“Even though he’s Quicksilver and he moves around the world very, very fast, we wanted it to be someone who looks like someone who could be your mate you were at university with or something.

“I knew this was going to be one of the biggest films of the year and at the end the reviews are out and they’re saying that Evan Peters is the breakout star, so we’ve picked the right character.”

And Harkness says impact and ROI is not as simple as counting the YouTube hits or Facebook page views (280,000 and counting). Cinema and TV advertising are still the key to maximum impact – at least in the initial stages.

Harkness has had a two-week spot booked for the ad to run before “Captain America: Civil War” in cinemas since December.

“It’s really, really interesting. We find we need to use a balance,” Harkness says. “Cinema’s great for the big splash when you first launch. Obviously your reach is massive and the environment people see it in is fantastic.

“TV is really important for us, especially going into the big shows like ‘The Voice’, ‘Masterchef’ and so on. That gets us fantastic reach.”

“But the frequency, we deliver through digital. So that’s the way we play it, we use.. big reach building programs, like the ones that have a 2 million audiences in the first month, then build our frequency through digital.”

Nothing to lose

Harkness says if you’ve got a great product and great idea for a collaboration, there’s nothing to be lost from trying.

“Basically, we just went over there and my advice to anyone else who wanted to do this going forward would be just approach it from the point of view of speaking to the local market,” he says.

“So, the local studio. I’ve worked with Disney before, I’ve worked with Fox and they’re all open to discussions.

“I think people think that its harder than it needs it to be, or it’s too hard for a local brand to do these kind of collaborations. But just be bold and think anything’s possible and go to talk them, and they’ll listen.”

And of course, you might get to hang out with a superhero.

“(Peters) was really, really great,” Harkness says. “Obviously on the set he had his space he could go to, but he had lunch with all the cast and crew and we all took our selfies and stuff with him.

“He was really just a nice, decent person.”

“X-Men: Apocalypse” will open in Australian cinemas on May 19.

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