Contrary to what you may have heard on the bridge of the starship Enterprise — space is no longer the final frontier. In the marketing sphere for entertainment brands — San Diego Comic-Con International has remained the unchallenged zenith and, at times, the nadir, of entertainment and fanboy marketing for the the last ten years of the comic confab’s 30-year history.
Let’s beam down to San Diego and start with some topline observations:
How far is too far?
One major development this year at SDCC (that we are beginning to see at other cons and festivals) is the distance activations are moving from Ground Zero (aka the San Diego Convention Center). Several large activations began inching further and further away from the Convention Center into the surrounding San Diego environs.
An extreme example of this trend was Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, which promoted its partnership with burger chain Shake Shack by shuttling loyal fans over 20 minutes from downtown San Diego to a Shake Shack location in Mission Valley which had appropriately been decked in Bob’s Burgers branding. One advantage to this change of venue is that it certainly helped plant a flag for Fox away from the bigger/noisier activations and broke up the day of fans hopping from activation to activation. Based on the social media reaction fans were willing to travel proving that brands need not be beholden to only activating in the core downtown zone.
Getting around town is for the Birds; or, when given Limes, make Limeade
In addition to the question of “how far is too far for SDCC?” transportation has always been a challenge. Attendees have come to expect long walks, near impossible Uber/Lyft scenarios and limited public transportation options. Given this, scooter start-ups Lime and Bird seized upon the captive audience and deployed street teams to aggressively push their scooters as a viable alternative to getting around town. Next to comfortable tennis shoes, a Bird scooter is one of the new SDCC must-have accessories this year. The downside is that the crowds are often so dense that these ‘vehicles’ hinder foot traffic and pedestrian walkways.
Worth noting: there was no brand sponsor or partner for this sudden influx of Birds and Limes so this remains an untapped opportunity as of now. (Prediction: these could soon be the next ‘pedicab’ with free rides, branded vehicles, etc.)
Charge it up/Cool it down
Temperatures in San Diego during SDCC tend to creep close to 90 degrees fahrenheit with added humidity to boot and during this heat shade and refuge from the sun’s rays are in short supply. Therefore any brands activating in the future would be wise to add a refuge from the heat . Forget Instagram photo opps; the true honey pot at a place like SDCC is air conditioning.
Another thing to bear in mind for future conventions: SDCC remains the “Olympics of Charging” and with all the Instagramming/tweeting and texting consumers’ phones are hard-pressed to keep a full day’s charge. Therefore, it was surprising to see so few charging lounges (typically a mainstay). Behind the convention center was Lyft Lounge, a spot that had the breeze from the ocean, charging stations, shade and food trucks, but it seemed to get lost in the SDCC mania.
It also felt like there was a missed opportunity for a charging company to build a solar charging array to power the phones of fans at SDCC. Maybe 2019?
“Immersive Experiences” finally mature
Experiential marketing was practically birthed at SDCC. Starting with last year’s buzzy marquee Blade Runner 2049 activation: Welcome to 2049, the last year has seen the premium experiential subset of the marketing world explode in the form of The Ready Player One Experience, Westworld’s Live Without Limits, and as previously covered at SXSW — Premium Experiential/Immersive Theater is now the game to beat. After years of being a marketing novelty act trotted out for SDCC, experiential marketing is finally maturing and the studios, networks and others playing in the field have certainly honed and perfected their craft. The oft-overworn term “immersive experience” has finally stepped out of the shadows of nonsensical marketing jargon and is now truly “immersive” and an “experience.” One thing that struck us this year was the importance of actors vs. technology to create the best activation. VR and AR were still prevalent, but what made fans buzz was also interaction with characters really ‘in world’ — many of these actors coming from professional improv troupes proving the talent is important to pull these events off.
SDCC will continue to reign supreme as the ultimate marketing Thunderdome when it comes to fandom and fanboy favourites and this certainly won’t be fading away anytime soon. This year, we learned that at-home viewing is king with nearly all of the large activations focusing on either a Blu-ray release, streaming platform or broadcast channel. As consumers continue to shift how they want to consume content, it will be interesting to see how this affects conventions like SDCC.
The coming years will only see trends like immersive experiential grow and grow. It’s sure to be an exciting ride, and 2019 will undoubtedly bring new trends and new surprises. Until then, it’s not farewell, just see you again in San Diego in another 11 months, 24 days, 6 hours and 21 minutes.
Dan Ortiz, director of global strategy & innovation, Think Jam
Mandy Rodgers, director of publicity, Think Jam