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10 Lessons From Comic-Con

19 Aug, 2013 By: John Latchem

Amid the landscape of geekdom, there’s nothing quite like San Diego Comic-Con International. After more than 40 years, this Super Bowl of pop-culture conventions has astounded fans, organizers and marketers alike not only for its scope and spectacle, but also the lure of reaching out to an unprecedented congregation of fanboys and fangirls from around the world.

While recent years have shown Comic-Con isn’t the best place to build buzz about movies that don’t already have it, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to take advantage of the many rabid consumers of genre entertainment in one spot.

1. It’s a Good Place for Home Video Premieres
Screening new movies for fans at Comic-Con is becoming the norm. Warner Home Video has made a tradition of premiering its newest DC Universe animated superhero movies during special Q&A panels with the cast and crew, and this year brought Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox to the show just a few weeks before it arrived on DVD and Blu-ray. The past few years, Warner has also premiered a DCU movie at WonderCon, too.

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Likewise, Marvel Studios showed Comic-Con fans the pilot for its new “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show (which it also showed at the recent D23 Expo for Disney fans) and premiered the Marvel One Shot: Agent Carter short film that will be an extra on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray. Between the films and these tie-in projects, Marvel Studios is establishing a viable cross-medium promotional strategy that engages consumers in the larger story arcs it is trying to establish. Putting Agent Carter on Iron Man 3, for example, makes it a promotional tool for the upcoming Captain America sequel. IM3 already includes a preview of the next Thor movie, which arrives in November.  And the IM3 disc arrives Sept. 24, the same day “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” debuts on ABC.

3. Longstanding Rivalries Heating Up
This success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (aka “Avengers”) franchise is already proving the envy of other studios, as Warner has been trying to get a “Justice League” film off the ground for years and is moving forward with a Man of Steel sequel that will introduce a new, post-Christopher Nolan Batman with hopes of setting up a live-action Justice League movie. On the theatrical side, the Superman-Batman movie news generated the biggest buzz of the show.

4. Speculation About the Future of Star Wars
Given the success of the “Avengers” strategy, it will be interesting to see how Disney handles marketing for Star Wars: Episode VII at Comic-Con in the future. The exhibit floor had a large “Star Wars” area consisting of several different retail booths selling “Star Wars” merchandise such as clothes, dolls, toys, dog toys, car accessories and other random gift items.

Episode VII director J.J. Abrams had said that he wanted to use a multiplatform marketing approach with “Star Trek” but couldn’t work out the licensing logistics. He shouldn’t have any trouble with such a strategy for “Star Wars.” In the wake of the cancellation of the animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” series (jointly produced by Lucasfilm and Warner), Disney is bringing a new animated series, “Star Wars: Rebels,” to Disney XD. Many fans at Comic-Con also wondered if Disney would ever release the original, non-special-edition versions of the original trilogy on disc, and while a Lucasfilm rep at the D23 Expo said this was a possibility, there aren’t any plans to do so yet.

5. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to the fanboy demographic
Sometimes, it takes good old-fashioned hard work to get the word out about an upcoming project. Warner heavily promoted its Oct. 25 documentary Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics not only at its own preview panel, but also at several other panels where the producers made special appearances to speak about it.

6. A Forum for Home Video Cross-Promotions
What better way to announce a show’s DVD release than the show’s Comic-Con panel, where fans can eagerly cheer the news? Paramount and CBS used Comic-Con to announce several upcoming home video releases, including Dexter: The Complete Series and the first seasons of “Under the Dome” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

7. Classic TV on Blu-ray Can Work
Conventional wisdom holds that older TV shows with a lot of visual effects wouldn’t work on Blu-ray because the effects were done in standard-definition and an upconversion would look horrible. The “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Blu-rays demonstrated the viability of remastering the show in HD by reassembling the original VFX elements, and at Comic-Con, Shout! Factory announced it is converting “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” to HD using the same process. This raised speculation about other classic series that could undergo such a conversion for Blu-ray, such as Fox doing something similar for “The X-Files.”

8. Displaying the Personal Touch
Fox also set up an interactive booth to promote its 3D Blu-ray release of the original Predator, due in December. The display also included a mock-up of limited-edition packaging shaped like a Predator head, which will be limited to a run of 500. Fans who preordered the disc could get a figurine of a Predator holding a facsimile of the guest’s severed head, created using a 3D printer. Don’t be surprised to see this kind of thing in the future. A company called Cubify was allowing fans to make Star Trek figurines with their face on them for $70.

9. Getting Off the Floor
It’s no secret that Comic-Con has outgrown the San Diego Convention Center, with official events and panels now taking place in nearby hotels. But the spirit of Comic-Con has engulfed most of Downtown San Diego, with a number of activities set up in the Gaslamp District far away from the convention floor. This year, the Aquabats staged a concert at the House of Blues, Sony Pictures celebrated the Blu-ray release of Evil Dead with fans at The Commons sports lounge, and Universal promoted Kick-Ass 2 with a giant downtown fan festival. And don’t forget “The Walking Dead Escape,” which lets fans play walkers (zombies) or runners (survivors) during a massive reenactment of the hit AMC show at nearby Petco Park.

10. Exploring the Digital Frontier
The expansion of digital technology provides a fast and easy way to bring content to Comic-Con attendees, and also recognizes that Comic-Con attracts a lot of families each year (and that means little kids). DreamWorks Animation teamed with M-Go and Fox to promote DreamWorks Animation titles through limited-edition collectible cards distributed to attendees at the Fox booth. The cards contained codes for attendees to redeem for free access to DreamWorks Animation digital shorts. In addition, M-Go street team members distributed 13,000 cards with a promo code for free movie rentals on the pay-as-you-go service.

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