The anticipation for San Diego Comic Con starts a year in advance, as attendees must participate in a competitive lottery-style process to get a badge to attend. The appeal of Comic Con is no longer exclusive to their original comic book loving audience. Fans of mainstream movies, TV shows, and video games all flock to San Diego during this week where downtown San Diego is taken over by brands. One of the best kept secrets of Comic Con is that you don’t even need to set foot inside of the Convention Center to have a worthwhile experience. In fact, many of the most engaging and popular events happen outside, and are completely free!
The Comic Con Landscape
Get ready to be overwhelmed with pop culture as the city of San Diego is blanketed in advertisements ranging from billboards, to street teams with giveaways, and gimmicks galore. With every brand fighting for consumer attention, it’s a hardcore entertainment enthusiast’s dream. For advertisers, it is the opportunity to reach a dedicated, niche audience who is eager to amplify and experience your brand to the fullest.
There are a few important things to keep in mind about how to stand out.
First, it is key to reach attendees at multiple touchpoints throughout their journey around the area. This is possible by strategically placing advertisements in contextually relevant ways that the consumer will be exposed to repeatedly throughout their day. These tactics can include OOH and experiential activations, and layering in mobile retargeting to truly reach your audience on the move.
Second, if you create an impactful and engaging brand experience, and consider using creative that encourages sharing on social media with a campaign specific hashtag, fans will amplify on your efforts across their social networks. Using social listening and measurement tools, Kinetic can measure the earned media value of your OOH and experiential campaigns and quantify the impact of the activation.
Breaking Through the Clutter
The good news is, you no longer need a badge to experience what brands are activating at Comic Con. The only thing you’ll miss is the ability to peruse the absurdly crowded convention floor and access to official panels, which end up on YouTube the minute they’re over anyway.
Most of the activations at Comic Con are created by various entertainment brands and take place outside of the Convention Center walls using OOH, mobile and social media. While we were onsite, the new AT&T series Mr. Mercedes utilized wrapped Double Decker buses, branded Taxi Tops, and Street Teams, to drive crowds to an activation that was taking place in the Petco Interactive Zone.
No matter where you turn a brand is vying for your attention, hoping you’ll spread the word on social media about how impressive their activation was. Brands are using tactics including social check-ins and campaign specific hashtags to generate excitement and share experiences across social networks. We attended an activation for the TV show Broad City and before we entered the activation we had to show proof that we posted on social media and used a specific hashtag. So, with everything going on at Comic Con, how does a brand stand out?
VR: The Hot Ticket
Among the notable and most talked about experiences of the convention were some of the major entertainment companies’ VR experiences, including: HBO’s West World, Warner Brothers’ Blade Runner 2049 and IT, FX’s second season of Legion and Netflix’s second season of Stranger Things. Lines of fans for these events ranged from 30 minutes to all day, some die-hard fans even stayed overnight.
We went to the Blade Runner 2049 experience and must admit that it was one of the most remarkable things we have ever seen. The attendees were fully immersed in the world of Blade Runner, which included a VR experience as well as a real-life rendition of what the attendees just witnessed via VR. There were actors engaging with you, giving you the opportunity to get scanned by a police officer to see if you are a replicant or human.
The experience was full of real-life sets and props from the movie, and on the way out everyone was given shots of Johnnie Walker from test tubes. Based on our lack of interest in science-fiction as a genre, we must admit that we had zero intention of ever seeing film prior to this activation, but now, we’ve changed our minds.
So, you’re not an entertainment brand?
One thing that’s very noticeable as you’re bombarded with entertainment advertisers, is that there are very few non-entertainment brands with a strong presence. The few non-entertainment brands that we saw strategically partnered with entertainment-focused brands to gain brand equity in an environment where they are contextually relevant.
For example, Pepsi paired with Fandom (one of the largest fan sites in the world) to create the Pepsi Fandom Fest. Located in the Petco Interactive Zone, the experience featured a food truck serving dishes inspired by popular movies and TV shows paired with various Pepsi products. We had the delicious Pepsi Fire float, but the experience was so popular that they were out of food by the time we got to the front of the line. The Fandom Fest included a stage where live interviews of fan favorite characters were conducted, including the cast of Teen Wolf, trivia, and a lounge where fans could escape the heat and relax.
Another non-entertainment advertiser who caught our eye was the men’s shave brand Schick Hydro, whose activation was also located in the Petco Interactive Zone. Schick’s activation included a lounge where attendees could cool down, but more excitingly, there was an escape-the-room experience which included props and memorabilia inspired by fan favorite comics. Fans were encouraged to not only learn more about the evolution of the Schick Hydro Superhero “Hydrobot” but also asked for their help solving the disappearance of his creator Dr. Hiroshi. Those who could solve the mystery in under 20 minutes were given exclusive swag.
The reality is, if you want to stand out at Comic Con as a non-entertainment brand, it’s important to put an entertainment “spin” on your activation to entice the Comic Con audience to engage with your brand in a relevant way.
One thing that is certain, San Diego Comic Con continues to grow in both attendees and on-site activations, evolving to a “larger than life” city event that people look forward to every year. More and more advertisers have been jumping into the game each year, looking to promote their brand in a new way. To stand out and ensure your brand has the right placements, planning an OOH campaign needs to be done way far in advance. Remember, when tackling Comic Con, look for ways to think outside the box, create an experience that is unique to your competitors and focus on OOH placements that will hit your target audience in multiple locations as they journey through the day. That way you will create an OOH story that folks will remember beyond the life of Comic Con… at least until next year!