Comic-Con 2014: Two big misses—Brands and Mobile

  • by Mack McKelvey
  • Aug 01, 2014


Over 130,000 consumers flock to San Diego each July for Comic-Con. In fact, even in a challenging financial market, attendance increased again this year. Hotel prices are through the roof, yet all are completely sold out. There’s no parking in SD, restaurants can’t handle the influx of patrons, and, all in, San Diego’s economy benefits greatly from the $166 million in spending and $2.6 million in tax revenue, according to the San Diego Tourism Authority.

Once a mecca for comic book fans, the four-day conference and exhibition has evolved into a celebration of pop culture and entertainment. A-List celebrities like Robert Downey Jr, Matthew McConaughey, Megan Fox, Daniel Radcliffe, Benedict Cumberbatch and Quentin Tarantino attend and coverage of the event spans from Entertainment Weekly to Forbes to The New York Times to AdWeek and the Verge.

Brands and CMOs, however, are noticeably absent.

In this hyper-competitive market, brands spend billions of dollars annually in advertising, marketing and promotions to create a dotted line that allows them to engage with consumers. Brands have yet to realize that Comic-Con delivers a straight line to engage with a wide swath of consumers – across every highly desirable demographic, from Millennials to young professionals to Gen X and families (parents and children of all ages—it’s Halloween part II for children). Comic-Con enables marketers to get immediate and direct feedback from their consumers.

But this is the anti-CES. A booth to showcase products isn’t the answer—integrating into the consumer’s Comic-Con experience is. Think SXSW five years ago….There is an opportunity to keep Comic-Con a consumer show and provide value exchange as well.

Attendees travel from all over the world, take over every hotel from San Diego to La Jolla, want to experience all that Comic-Con has to offer – this group is open to full scale brand engagement. In 2014, branded native integrations have started to appear; most notably:

  • Samsung was the big winner in the tech space, with the beyond-popular Hunger Games integration/activation. The line for participation was constant and the association was noticeable without being too forceful.
  • In a nod to cosplay, Courtyard by Marriott created a “Superhero HQ” where attendees could put their feet up, refresh their costumes, compete, etc.
  • Pizza Hut provided free slices of pie in TMNT-branded containers in the TMNT activation—a natural fit for TMNT and for fans who could stand in line for 45 minutes just to buy a bottled water and pizza inside the convention center.
  • Schick’s guillotine shaving station at the massive interactive Assassin’s Creed Experience that boasted participation from the first time female winner of American Ninja Warrior, Kacy Catanzaro.
  • Apple partnered with The Simpsons to engage female fans at the Mac store near the Convention Center.

Where were the Auto Brands highlighting movie product placements? CPGs (F&B, toys, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, beer/alcohol, etc.)? Consumer Products (read: charging stations!)? Liquor? Travel/Tourism? Where were the consumer entertainment apps (although Rovio’s Angry Birds was there in a big way promoting its new Stella game and related consumer products to a slightly-neglected Comic-Con female audience*.)?

Where were the brand street teams promoting mobile apps or physical goods?

My husband and I waited in line outside the Omni for four hours (don’t judge) for the Game of Thrones exhibit and the only brand (and a mobile brand at that) we saw was Uber, promoting discounts for new riders, and, unfortunately, missing a great opportunity to promote loyalty with regular users (like us).

Hall H is notorious for 24-hour plus line-campers—celebs should be out there signing autographs, water brands and/or sunscreen and/or healthy food brands could be sponsoring and providing refreshments to the (literally) scorched and parched consumers. What about app/digital promotion for those waiting in lines? Encouraging game downloads, social sharing, and possibly even offering battery boosts/charging (even selling portable charging solutions). Many attendees took to Twitter to complain about long waits, couldn’t brands turn the long wait into something more enjoyable and valuable?

What about brands who have product placements in film/TV? The major networks release trailers, teasers at the show—what extensions could be negotiated?

The Convention Center is saturated. More and more, activations are moving into Petco Park and with NerdHQ, into Petco Stadium, and into all the major neighboring hotels such as the Omni, Hard Rock, and even into the street in front of the Convention Center.

Consumers of all ages, backgrounds and interests spend four plus days ensuring they see as much as possible. Given the ever-growing size of Comic-Con, covering the full event proves to be more and more difficult. But for the brands that can find ways to provide a native, useful and clever content integration or brand experience, Comic-Con may prove to be one of the last advertising frontiers to be conquered.

*Disclaimer: Rovio is a SalientMG client


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