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What Brands Can Learn from Comic-Con Marketing

Alexa Kwiatkoski

The Comic Con hype is growing, and brands are taking full advantage. As advertising continues to push boundaries, marketers in all fields can learn from the event’s innovative campaigns.

In recent years, Comic-Con has become an increasingly celebrated mainstream event. With popular conventions around the world — most notably in New York and San Diego —  this ode to geek culture is a chance for brands to get creative with wide-scale promotions.

Whether they’re advertising a new TV show, a beloved franchise, or a line of themed products, companies have taken advantage of Comic-Con’s vast audience to build memorable campaigns. The most successful have used cutting-edge technology, immersive storytelling, and humor to draw in fans. Many have spread beyond the venue walls to become viral sensations or word-of-mouth attractions.

From the funny to the transformative, here are some of the best marketing initiatives to debut at Comic-Con from 2010 to 2017:

1. Loki Takes Hall H to Promote Thor: The Dark World

Surprise guests aren’t uncommon during Comic-Con, but it’s rare for an actor to show up in full costume as a promotional stunt. However, Marvel and Tom Hiddleston, the actor who plays Loki in the Avengers films, did just that to promote Thor: The Dark World in 2013, taking advantage of the fandom’s near-obsession with Hiddleston and his character.

Before screening the trailer for the new film, Loki made a surprise appearance onstage to screams and cheers from an audience of 6,500 fans. Hiddleston’s theatrical performance as the charming villain/reluctant hero instantly became an internet phenomenon, and the best promotion that Marvel could have hoped for.

2. Sleepy Hollow Chops Off Heads with Oculus Rift

In a macabre yet playful turn, the FOX show Sleepy Hollow employed virtual reality to captivate audiences at Comic-Con 2014. Sleepy Hollow used the Oculus Rift to take fans on a journey through a graveyard, which ultimately resulted in their heads being “chopped off” by the headless horseman. At the end, fans were presented with photos of their own heads on the ground with the horseman looming above. This unique use of VR provided a fun, spooky experience that allowed viewers to engage with Sleepy Hollow characters while also experiencing the Oculus Rift for the first time.

3. Welcome to Westworld

For Comic-Con 2017, HBO’s Westworld gave fans the chance to experience what it would be like to enter the adult theme park and corporate headquarters portrayed on the show. This immersion “activation” used live actors to serve as hosts, Westworld’s human-like androids that populate the park.

The hosts conducted a short psychological evaluation on visitors to build their unique profile, then ushered them into a saloon styled after the one in the show. HBO’s intricately-executed campaign differed from other Comic-Con initiatives by using real-life actors instead of VR, and committing to a full 30-minute fan experience.

4. What is “Pacey-Con”?

When actor Joshua Jackson arrived at Comic-Con 2010 to promote his sci-fi show Fringe, he decided to create a tongue-in-cheek video celebrating his other famous character, Pacey from Dawson’s Creek. Jackson’s futile attempts to make “Pacey-Con” a success among the Comic-Con crowd became a popular video on Funny or Die. By tying together his past status as a 90s heartthrob and current role as a con artist from an alternate universe, this video helped introduce Fringe to new audiences through nostalgia and humor.

5. True Blood Blood Drive

This simple but effective campaign by HBO’s True Blood connected the show’s vampire theme with Comic-Con’s annual blood drive. HBO handed out branded giveaways to donors like “I was drained responsibly” T-shirts and blood drop stress balls, as well as encouraged donors to use the hashtag #savethevamps. This low-tech charitable initiative shows the benefits of brand activism and connecting with consumers on the ground level.

Above all, these campaigns have demonstrated a commitment to storytelling and delivering a quality user experience that can be emulated across industries. Marketers can draw inspiration from Comic-Con’s innovation to execute their own content-driven campaigns. Contact us to discover what creative content can do for your business.

Alexa Kwiatkoski

Senior Content Associate

Writer, editor, content creator. Loves playing board games, horseback riding in Prospect Park, and giving directions to lost tourists.

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