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Advertising at the Con – Part 1

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of a Two-Part Guest Post by Gary Kelly, ad guy and Comic Con attendee. I hope you enjoy.

SDCC isn’t just about panels, long lines and cosplay. It’s also about advertising. Lots of advertising.  From the big Hollywood studios to the smallest table in Artists Alley, it can seem like everyone is trying to sell you something.

Thank the popularity of geek culture. Now that comic books are very very mainstream (especially their movie adaptations), companies big and small see Comic Con as a great way to speak to 130,000 very special people.

In the planning departments of ad agencies, we are known as Influencers. We don’t just buy products, we get others to buy them. We drone on endlessly about how great the final Batman movie will be. We drag our less enthusiastic friends to the theatres for a second viewing of Thor. We basically work as unpaid promoters, and we equal big bucks in the minds of the advertisers. So they need to make us see their message.

Comic-Con advertising is not subtle.

But there are an awful lot of messages zinging around at the Con. So much that the normal billboard or poster isn’t going to cut it. And so was born the Comic Con advertising stunt.

2010 was probably the high-water mark for SDCC stunts. Disney recreated Flynn’s Arcade for Tron Legacy. Bubble people filled the sky to promote Skyline. And Universal staged an elaborate Scott Pilgrim vs the World carnival. Millions were sunk into SDCC advertising stunts and the box office results were… well… disappointing.

So the ad guys scaled things back considerably in 2011. Cowboys & Aliens probably had the biggest presence. They premiered the movie in San Diego on Con weekend and put on a scavenger hunt that had people rushing to 7-11’s for gold bars (and passes to the premiere). South Park set up an elaborate town across for the Convention Center complete with food, games and a Book of Mormon sweepstakes. But by Con standards, it was fairly low-key.

Missed a gold brick by 5 minutes!
So what will this year be like? A lot of big names are missing the Comic Con window; The Avengers, Spider-Man, Prometheus and Diablo 3. But with the success of the big A, I think you can count on serious ad bucks heading for San Diego this July. Expect to see the Dark Knight rising on every bare wall. Keep your eyes open for dwarfs and hobbits in the Gaslamp. And with the Twilight “saga” ending this year, I’m sure we’ll get one last look at Edward, Bella, Jacob and that kid with the unpronounceable name.

No matter what, there’ll be adverting everywhere you look at the Con. You can ignore it, hate it, or sit back and enjoy some of the ad world’s most creative stunts.

You can even make it work for you. How?  Check back next week for Part 2!

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