Five years, $100 million in global marketing and Samuel L. Jackson. That’s what it took for Marvel’s The Avengers to earn over $700 million its opening weekend – a box office record.

For perspective, second place goes to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which earned $483 million its opening weekend in 2011. And while 3-D admission price markups help account for The Avengers’ massive margin, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

That story begins five years ago with the release of Iron Man, the first of The Avengers’ superheroes to star in a feature film. Of the six superheroes, four had starring roles in films prior to The Avengers’ release and two had sequels. All were hits at the box office

Marketers… Assemble!

So what does this mean from a marketing standpoint? First, brand recognition matters. As Disney’s head of distribution Dave Hollis explains, Marvel “established character equity that, when combined, makes one and one equal a lot more than two.”

It also helps that Kevin Feige acted as Marvel Studios’ chief producer for the entire franchise, which allowed him to create a unified brand and “storyworld” from the get go: All of the films have the same feel and share the same vision.

The range of characters makes the film appealing to a broad demographic. Image via imdb.com

And although the film is unequivocally geek-centric (I’m sure The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy wishes he could attend), as The Hollywood Reporter’s Borys Kit explains, the range of actors makes it appealing to multiple demographics.

Bright colours attract kids, Robert Downey Jr. brings in the 40+ crowd, Samuel L. Jackson is a huge draw for African Americans, and Thor ensures all half-mortals will be lining up to experience the 3-D extravaganza.

Feige suggests in a New York Times article that the feel-good levity that writer/director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Cabin in the Woods) brought to the film is in part responsible for its word-of-mouth success. And with overwhelmingly positive (and numerous) Twitter mentions, it’s fair to say that’s probably true.

And then there are the games and apps. Avengers Alliance has been available on Facebook since March, with 1.2 million users playing per day, helping spread the word online.

If you’d rather play a game even Tony Stark would be proud of, there’s the Super Hero Augmented Reality App for iPhone and Android advertised by Wal-Mart in partnership with Marvel, that lets players assume the role of their favourite characters (here’s looking at you, Hawkeye).

The marketing genius lies in the app’s retail details, says Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff. Wal-Mart, in partnership with Marvel, is selling over 600 Avengers-related products, and to get fans into their stores, they have erected QR codes and placards of the superheroes.

Bring the Super Hero AR app to Wal-Mart, snap a shot of the QR code and unlock more characters. Take a photo of one of the placards and the character appears in life-sized digital glory beside you, which, of course, you can send to your friends, enticing them to head to Wal-Mart for their own photo shoot.

But perhaps the most significant marketing coup goes to the humble shawarma. According to TMZ, shawarma sales skyrocketed inLos Angeles after the premier. The reason? A post-credit scene features the Avengers team noshing in a shawarma shop. How’s that for celebrity endorsement?

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