Nerdpocalypse, aka Comic-Con, is the biggest pop culture convention in North America and perhaps the world. And it descends upon San Diego every year taking over hotels, cafes and bars, quite literally turning them into giant marketing icons. One would think that, unless you’re a huge “dress up like your favorite character from the Justice League” kind of person, you would steer clear of this event. I'm here to tell you that while the Con certainly is for those folks, there is a whole other side that would be considered the cat’s pajamas for entertainment and marketing nerds like myself.
The Con is four days (five if you get the preview night pass) of about 200,000 people piled into about a one-mile radius. Not just any 200,000 people. 200,000 members of the premium target audience. 18-35. Oh yes, the golden #'s that most marketers of a large commercial brand need/want. So who's going all out to market to this golden herd of people? Mostly the entertainment studios, but brands are present and reaching out in unique ways. While there are plenty of great uses of marketing from Twitter to giant banners on buildings, there were a select few that made me as giddy as a schoolgirl.
One of the more popular things to do during Comic-Con is to take over a current bar or restaurant and rebrand it as your own. This was done brilliantly last year and again this year by SyFy as they took over a local coffee shop and turned it into the fictional local hotspot called Cafe Diem, as seen in their hit show Eureka. Everything from the main entrance to the menu was changed to fit the bill of the actual place in the show. This year, you could also see other brands following suit. CNET took over Lou & Mickey's, directly across from the convention center, and made it a “Base Station,” with drink specials, food, free Wi-Fi, and chances to win prizes. There were even great areas to plug in and get your blog or tweet on. Also, as they have for the last several years, Wired Magazine sponsored one of the best offsite getaways, taking over the pool area of the Omni hotel. Fairly exclusive, it's only meant for industry or celebrity types as a chance to escape the wild frenzy of people. Besides the exclusivity, there were free cocktails made with HBO's True Blood mix, and Budwiser was handing out buckets of beer promoting their new "Grab Some Buds" promotion, a contest where you and two friends complete tasks in order to win. I opted for a Bloody Mary instead as it was before noon.
Comic-Con isn't just for the big brands to play in. The little guys are there, too. In fact, I came across Adam, the owner of a one-man business who decided to take advantage of the high-tech, affluent demo that would likely attend the Con. Adam is the founder a company called JackBacks. He creates custom wood iPhone4 backs that replace the glass back of your iPhone4 with high-quality, polished wood. Adam had his small table set up with some examples laid out for us curious enough to wander over. If you strike up a conversation with him he lets you in on a little secret that if you tweet about @lumberjackback and hashtag #jbsweeps you will be entered to win a free back of your choice. So I tweet graciously, as most of us would since it costs us Tweeters nothing to tweet and it helps get the name out (marketing 101). Several hours later I get @ replied that I had won! The next day I swing back over and poor Adam was working his ass off. Seems he was selling more than he could produce on the spot...which is a great place to be. Personally I take credit for the boom in business...obviously it was my tweet that set the biz ablaze.
Thanks for my mahogany wood back Adam! Well done, and good luck!
Perhaps the most genius form of marketing at Comic-Con every year is the swag bags you pick up when you register for your badge. These giant bags (imagine a 46-inch tv...not kidding) are designed deep and wide to hold any array of goodies you decide to purchase or pick up while browsing the show floor of the convention center. The genius part comes when you see that the bags are printed with a poster or logo of a TV show or movie, full-size front and back. There were easily 150,000 people walking around like giant billboards for Fringe or Dexter. I was almost wiped out a few times by a Doctor Who bag filled to the brim and being worn like a hiking pack on a guy’s shoulders. It's hard to forget the dashing Eleventh Doctor after you've had a bag with his face shoved ever so gently into your own. Next year I wouldn't be surprised to see a Hyundai bag or a Microsoft Windows 7 bag. Did I mention you see people walking throughout San Diego with the swag bags on their backs? Yeah, there's no escape. Brilliant.
Even though the better marketing ideas would only be relevant at a venue like Comic-Con, it does open my eyes to the rich possibilities out there to engage a very willing audience at the right time and place. Basically we should all take note and emulate if we want to create advocates for our brands. Because nothing screams advocacy like the people at Comic-Con running crazy all over San Diego looking for gold bricks with tickets inside to the premiere of Cowboys Vs Aliens. This is where I will say on a personal note that if you want inside scoops on what's going on during the Con you have to be on Twitter. Follow a few hashtags and you'll know instantly how long the lines are, when the celebs are signing, where the exclusive parties are, and even how to sneak in. My friends and I would actually sit and read all the great comments on Twitter from the Con during the day and plan/improvise accordingly. Twitter is truly powerful for events such as this. Brands, please take note.
Comic-Con is a wonderful event. And dare I say there is something for everyone there. If you’re not into comics, you may be into a hit TV show, or maybe dazzled by all the different types of people walking the streets. For me it's about experiencing great events surrounding the Con and seeing what brilliant ways brands and studios are reaching that premium audience of 18 - 35 year-olds. It's also fun running into some of my favorite celebs like Andy Serkis, Alan Tudyk, Ken Jeong, and David Zayas. I plan on going every year as long as it's in San Diego. The gorgeous city on the water with the old Gaslamp Quarter full of bars and restaurants surrounding the convention center is by far the best possible place for Comic-Con and opens up the possibilities for brands to be innovative with how they reach people.
See you next year, Nerdpocalypse!