Without fail each July, the most eclectic melting pot of geeks, advertising madmen and A-list celebrities descend on San Diego’s Gaslamp District for Comic-Con — the world’s biggest celebration of comic book culture.
This year’s was the biggest SDCC yet, touting over 130,000 paid attendees, which doesn’t even account for the thousands more who flooded the downtown Gaslamp District. The convention center extends across 460,000 square feet, with nearly 1,000 vendors showcasing their latest and greatest. Across the street, there were hundreds of activations put on by brands, similar to the scene in downtown Austin during SXSW.
MullenLowe Mediahub took a trip to SDCC this year to let our inner nerds out and provide an insider’s look on the four-day event. Here’s our recap of key trends and takeaways:
The comic book genre has erupted over the past five years, with every movie studio, broadcast network, cable channel and streaming provider investing in it. Clearly, comic book content doesn’t just amp up the nerds, but also the masses, validated by box office juggernauts like Wonder Woman and Marvel shows launching on nearly every network (Netflix, FX, Fox, Hulu, ABC, CW and the list goes on). This trend is reflected at SDCC as well — you don’t even need to step foot in the convention center, do cosplay or camp out at Hall H to get a taste of what it’s all about (although some would argue you aren’t legit if you don’t opt for self-imposed homelessness for the weekend). Much of this has to do with the fact that nerd culture has expanded beyond comic books (take Stranger Things or Westworld, for example), which attracts a larger fan base through avenues like nostalgia, escapism or thrills. This trend has opened up a whole new world of opportunity for brands.
SDCC is like Christmas for the hardcore fans; they wait all year for it and spend a huge amount of money to get there. And once they arrive, they don the incredible costumes they spent months crafting, then wait in line for 12-plus hours to make it to their favorite panel. Their dedication — nearing insanity — is incredible, and if you get them on board with your brand you’ll have one of the most valuable fan bases out there.
The brands getting the most buzz about their activations were Netflix’s trifecta promoting Stranger Things S2, Bright and Defenders, HBO’s Westworld and Warner Bros.’s Blade Runner 2049. These brands transported visitors into the worlds of their shows and movies by recreating sets, leveraging VR in unique ways and using role playing actors to take people through the experience. Whether it was visiting the Byers’ house from Stranger Things with HTC Vive to be greeted by a Demogorgon, choosing your own Westworld character and storyline with a glitchy Host (played by various actors from Sleep No More) or riding through the galaxy in a Spinner via Oculus and a moving chair, visitors left the experiences even more excited for these shows and movies to drop. And to top it all off, brands gave away amazing swag to keep the love going even after the Con, such as Dustin’s iconic ‘80s hat, Westworld’s black or white cowboy hat and a Blade Runner replicant-scanning takeaway.
There’s something for everyone at SDCC, regardless of whether they are hardcore comic book nerds or mainstream people. If there’s any strategic hook for your product, whether from a contextual or audience perspective, you should consider this event as a way to make an impact.
If you can get a nerd fan base on board with your product, service or new TV show, they will be your biggest advocates. Dig into your brand’s data sets and see if there are any pockets of these people, as they could be a be a huge untapped opportunity for your business.
Small things go a long way at SDCC, and you don’t have to spend your whole year’s marketing budget in one place. Whether it’s free pedicab transportation in the GOT throne, a bicycle bar with SYFY, Outlander men in kilts doing cosplay or giving out fun swag, there’s a lot of turnkey ways to reach the Comic-Con crowd. If you want to get your feet wet testing out the event, you can partner with brands that have a consistent, tried and true presence each year (e.g., Wired Cafe, Entertainment Weekly’s studio or IGN’s party). But if you want to do anything for SDCC 2018, you should start now.