By Therese Poletti, MarketWatch
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- It's not very often that a company known for database software for big corporations has a chance to be in the movies.
But in "Iron Man 2," Oracle Corp. /quotes/zigman/76584/quotes/nls/orcl ORCL -3.14% saw such an opportunity, in the just-released sequel about the comic book superhero, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. as a brilliant, brash, and narcissistic technology tycoon (sound familiar?), Tony Stark.
So it's probably no surprise that Oracle co-founder and Chief Executive Larry Ellison makes a cameo appearance as himself, as does Elon Musk, the chairman and CEO of Tesla Motors, the maker of the expensive electric sports cars.
Musk, who also heads up rocket maker Space Exploration Technologies Corp., provided inspiration for Downey's portrayal of Stark, according to director Jon Favreau, in a piece he wrote in Time Magazine last month.
Ellison may also have influenced the portrayal of Stark as well. After the first "Iron Man" in 2008, ValleyWag wrote an item, "Larry Ellison is Iron Man" and pointed out the similarities between the playboy, Audi-driving Stark and Ellison. Who else could pull off comments like "I did you a big favor! I successfully privatized world peace!" as Stark proclaims to a congressional hearing in the sequel?
For "Iron Man 2," Oracle has joined a host of companies, including another Silicon Valley software maker, Symantec Corp. /quotes/zigman/78627/quotes/nls/symc SYMC -3.42% , taking part in a promotional blitz. Oracle is among 10 sponsors, which all together are spending about $100 million in media buys, retail tie-ins and giveaways associated with the movie, according to Advertising Age.
Oracle also has a direct connection to the movie. The movie's producer, Marvel Entertainment Inc., now owned by Walt Disney Inc. /quotes/zigman/245568/quotes/nls/dis DIS -2.73% , has been using Oracle software.
But it is Oracle's technology and its brand that gets more attention in "Iron Man 2" than Ellison, and the company is playing it to the hilt on its website. (The company isn't saying how much it has spent on product placement or advertising tie-ins.)
Film Trailer: 'Iron Man 2'
Watch the trailer for the movie "Iron Man 2." Video courtesy of Paramount.
The product placement in the film is both effective and amusing. In the movie, Oracle is a sponsor of a garden pavilion at the Stark Expo in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., the site of the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its "world of tomorrow" theme. The Stark Expo promises "better living through technology." Inside the glass pavilion, emblazoned with the Oracle logo, a final showdown takes place between Stark and his next nemesis, amid the Japanese gardens, a possible reference to Ellison's obsession with all things Japanese.
At one point in the movie, Stark uses Oracle's database software as he quickly flips and pinches screens of a giant electronic touch screen in his laboratory perched on the coast in Malibu, an action also mimicked in a product promotion on Oracle's Web site for its new Enterprise Manager software, complete with sound effects. (Is this also some foreshadowing of giant touchscreen dashboards for IT managers of the future?)
Oracle also plugs the new product in an "Iron Man" spoof story. "One thing is for sure, Stark will need Oracle's Enterprise Manager to troubleshoot his systems throughout the trade show," according to a cover story written in Oracle's internal magazine. It also compares the lavish sprawl of the Stark Expo to Oracle's user conference at Moscone Center in San Francisco. "Like its counterpart, Oracle OpenWorld, Stark Expo is planned as a showcase of the triumph of ingenuity over the constraints of a data-driven world."
Some in Silicon Valley may be amused by the presence of a business software company in a movie, in addition to the usual product placements of consumer tech gadgets. Clearly, Oracle is not trying to win any new consumers for its corporate software with this tie-in to "Iron Man 2," but since the movie garnered $133.6 million in its opening weekend, it looks like its brand is going to get lots of attention.
Therese Poletti is a senior columnist for MarketWatch in San Francisco.