Grandesign Re-Imagines Petco’s Interactive Zone as the “Experience at Comic-Con”

This year, the coolest place to be at Comic-Con may just be the Petco parking lot.

Grandesign, a media services company which combines experiential and traditional marketing to create some of your favorite Comic-Con activations (including Adult Swim On the Green, last year’s TBS’ Wrecked Island and Blizzard Ice Cream Citadel, and more), announced today they are partnering with Petco Park to take over the area formerly known as Petco Park’s Interactive Zone. For 2018, this area (open to the general public and badge-holders alike at no cost July 19-22) will be re-branded as the “Experience at Comic-Con”, which Grandesign hopes to make even bigger and better than ever before.

“We’ve been working with Petco for the last seven years and slowly grown more and more inside that Interactive Zone,” Robert Ridgeway, Grandesign’s Chief Operating Officer, told us. “We approached them during Comic-Con last year because doing events outside their facility isn’t their main focus. They’re focused more on inside the stadium, like big events or concerts. So we discussed, why don’t we just take this over? This is what we do. We can manage the entire lot and make it a destination.”

A destination spot is exactly what they plan to turn that space into. While the Petco Interactive Zone has been home to some awesome offsites over the years — including Fandom Fest, the Sleepy Hollow virtual reality bridge, the Scream Queens Mega Scream Drop, food trucks, and much, much more — Grandesign hopes to re-create that concept on a grander, more “colossal” scale.

One of the biggest changes this year will be a focus on nighttime entertainment.

“Everything empties out around Comic-Con around 7PM,” Ridgeway said. “Even the convention center, and in the past, we’ve always mirrored those hours with our activations. This year, we’re going to have a stage and a video screen in the Experience at Comic-Con, and we’ll have entertainment at night from probably 7:30PM-11PM [on Thursday – Saturday night].”

The actual space itself will also be transformed for 2018. There will be entrances/exits in both the front and back of the space — making it even easier for an Uber to drop you off so you can enjoy the fun. They also plan to increase the options of food and drink vendors to around 10, re-design the basic blacktop and fencing, and will also have “an adult VIP area that will have alcohol”. Best of all, Ridgeway said they’ll be adding in seating and shade to enhance the fan experience.

“Although it’s an outside atmosphere, we want it to be more organized, like inside the convention center,” Ridgeway said.

Another big change for 2018 will be renewed efforts to also engage the local San Diego crowd to come and experience a part of Comic-Con for themselves.

“Comic-Con is so hard to get into. So if you didn’t get a ticket in those 15 minutes they were available, a lot of people still just want to see the Mardi Gras of San Diego,” Ridgeway said. “Our vision is for the general public to get to experience Comic-Con.”

Grandesign plans to launch more marketing efforts this year to let local San Diegans know about the activations at the Experience at Comic-Con, but that doesn’t mean that Comic-Con badge holders should feel like they’re not the prime focus of the event.

“If you have a badge, you will be able to get in the front of the line for food and drinks and activations,” Ridgeway said. “For experiences like last year’s It bus, which usually had a 3-4 hour wait, badge-holders would go to the front of the line.”

In line with focusing on attendees, Grandesign has had conversations with Comic-Con International about “making the fan experience a more pleasant, comfortable” one. They’re discussing options for having attendees pre-sign up for time slots for some of the activations either through an app or a website, much like Disney FastPasses (or some previous FX activations), to reserve your slot without having to camp out overnight just to experience the activation.

As for what activations and brands will be at this year’s Experience at Comic-Con? It’s too early to tell.

“It’s kind of crazy how fast we work,” Ridgeway said. “Some clients will come to us with a thought out idea and we will just need to tweak it and apply it, and be able to do it in a matter of weeks. Some will just come to us and say, I want to be at Comic-Con, I have a movie coming out in August, what do we need to do? So then our creative team would come up with ideas and let them choose, and execute that. A lot of times that’s only 60 to 90 days out from the convention. We’ve had clients come to us before on July 1, and we were still able to pull off something.”

That’s on top of their already busy Comic-Con schedule, which includes activations and banner wraps at the Omni, activations outside the Experience at Comic-Con like Adult Swim’s On the Green (which will have some “fun new elements” for 2018) and — new this year — they’ll also be installing the Comic-Con-related wraps outside of Petco Park. “That’s where the benefit of us having a traditional marketing division and an experiential division made it a no-brainer to outsource to us,” Ridgeway said.

Although organizing an event space of this magnitude is no small task, Grandesign has plenty of experience in making some of the buzz-iest, most interactive exhibits at the convention center.

“I think last year’s TBS Wrecked Island is maybe the coolest thing we’ve done. It was a barge that we created in LA and then floated on down to Comic-Con, and I really liked that it had a life before Comic-Con,” Ridgeway said. “What we like to do with our clients is to come up with an idea that no one has ever experienced yet. We’ve taught ourselves that even if someone comes in with a great idea, we’ll tweak it and make even just some little element something that hasn’t been done before, and we pride ourselves on that. We have a few ideas for the Experience at Comic-Con before that have never been done at Comic-Con, and I’m really excited for that.”

About Kerry Dixon

Kerry Dixon is Editor-in-Chief of The San Diego Comic-Con Unofficial Blog and the site's resident panel guru.