Every year, the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) takes over both downtown San Diego and the minds of pop-culture fans around the world by bringing together stars, press, and countless cosplayers and fans. Most are here for fun, camaraderie, scoops on upcoming films, or to score some exclusive swag from the exhibit floor (in fact, The Wrap already compiled a list of the most expensive SDCC 2014 exclusives on eBay).
But the fans have to be fanatic about something, otherwise they wouldn’t make the pilgrimage by the tens of thousands. In short, fans need to love a brand. These brands and properties flock to San Diego in swarms that rival the actual visitors, hoping to build enthusiasm about the next stage of their brand’s evolution.
Yes, I know many come for the “experience,” but this just means they’re interested in the SDCC Brand; which, I might add, is always one of the biggest brands in attendance. It was reported after 2013’s Con that SDCC brings in over $163 Million / year for the city of San Diego.
Comic-Con 2014 just wrapped things up and it was another whopping success. San Diego is sure getting good at this thing.
To celebrate, we’ve collected a list of 10 brands that really stood out this year. Brands are all competing for attendees’ time and eyeballs, and these brands certainly made the most of their trip…there’s a lot of fish in this sea of people (many of them masked), and odds are those on this list were able to snag at least a few new customers.
Assassin’s Creed Unity comes out on October 28th, and Ubisoft worked hard to make sure that as many of SDCC’s 130,000+ visitors realized their presence. For the second year in a row, the wildly popular game teamed with Schick Razors to give convention-goers something no one else thought of offering: A close shave.
Last year – to team up with their pirate-centric Black Flag – these ritual shavings took place on an actual pirate ship that was docked in the nearby harbor. The Assassin’s Creed Unity game takes place during the French Revolution, so while Schick’s Hydro blade will be shaving your face, you’ll be surrounded by branded guillotines. Morbid, but accurate.
Wolverine stopped by for a shave. Notice the branded guillotines.
Both men and women waited up to an hour in line for their chance at the chopping block, but they had some other branded content to help the time pass faster.
The Freerunning course.
Perhaps more than any other brand, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has succeeded in integrating the recent “freerunning” or “parkour” craze into their gameplay. And now, thanks to Comic-Con, into the actual lives of fans.
Ubisoft teamed with yet another brand, the Tempest Freerunning Academy, to install a parkour course (parkourse?) just outside the convention center. As Chief Parkour Officer Michael Zernow explains in the announcement video, it’s “the biggest event in Assassin’s Creed history.”
It certainly seems that way. Guests run through a complicated obstacle course that culminates in “the leap of faith,” a 25 foot free fall onto a safety mat below. According to Zernow, “the course is designed to challenge people but to also motivate them. It gives you a real feeling of accomplishment to be able to finish a course like this.”
Marc Graser, Senior Editor for Variety, praised Ubisoft’s strategy: “The highly visible promotion is sure to stand out for Ubisoft not only for the sheer size of the course — and vicinity to the central hub of activity for Comic-Con — but also its clever but simplistic way in entertaining fans of the franchise while educating newcomers about the series.”
More than anything, the course is the perfect way to add a level of relatability to the upcoming game…at least as much as a game featuring superhuman feats allows. “A lot of times people who play this game would like to see how far they could get in the game in real life and this course can give them a taste of it,” said Zernow.
Mad Max: Fury Road
San Diego Comic-Con has always been a great place for major film studios to make big announcements about future releases. This year, Warner Brothers teased some footage from the highly anticipated (depending on who you ask) Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and the crowd was predictably enthused.
What no one saw coming, however, was the gangbusters reaction to Warner’s Mad Max: Fury Road trailer. After a discussion with director George Miller – who was dragged back to the series after 30 years by a story that “just wouldn’t go away” – the trailer hit the screen. And, by all accounts, hit the entire crowd right in whatever part of the brain controls excitement.
It’s usually difficult to determine a “winner” of Comic-Con, but Mad Max is the promising underdog of the fight. Excitement for the 2015 film was tickled in early July by photos published by Entertainment Weekly, but Fury Road remained a skeptical wild card at best.
The reception of the Comic-Con trailer, and its subsequent release on the internet, shows that a respected but outdated brand can come back in a big way – as long as the actual product is good enough.
Past films have been met by wild enthusiasm at the Convention only to flounder in the Box Office (Scott Pilgrim, anyone?), but Mad Max feels like a winner. Its charm, as grim and dangerous as it appears, is built on successful formulas rather than quirk and directorial reputation. The “visually focused film” is essentially one long chase film whose gas-tank is low on dialog but apparently overflowing with adrenaline.
Do yourself a favor and watch the trailer HERE – it’s certainly worth your time. Some enthusiastic fans have even dug into the trailer on an “obsessive” level for clues about the film’s secrets.
If you hadn’t heard about the Mad Max brand before 2014’s SDCC, odds are you’ll be red-lining your engine by the time it hits on May 15, 2015.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay
One of SDCC’s big surprises was the absence of a Hunger Games panel. Mockingjay, the third film in the successful series, hits theaters on November 21st, exactly one year after Catching Fire’s theatrical debut. Lionsgate brought Catching Fire to 2013’s Comic-Con in a big way, but decided to take a different route this year, likely because the film is already a guaranteed success.
To satiate fans and begin the buzz-building trail to November 21st, Lionsgate teamed with Samsung to provide a more immersive experience of the Hunger Games world. Fans first entered the Capitol Gallery, a swanky art gallery populated with artwork from the film, actors posed in their Capitol Couture finest, and menacing Peacekeeper troops. There was also “Peeta’s Bakery” a small exhibit that gave out real cupcakes and pastries.
As opposed to Mad Max, Mockingjay wasn’t worried about getting their first trailer out to as many people as possible. In a symbolic gesture that echoes the actions of the fictional Capitol, Lionsgate gave fans at the Con a chance to be the fan-elite and watch the trailer before anyone else.
Attendees poured into an eerie blue room where they would watch the trailer on a Samsung device while sitting in a futuristic chair. This event immediately turned guests into brand ambassadors who would leave and immediately spew their reactions into the social media sphere.
Almost as a reward for viewing, guests would continue through the artificial Capitol where they could pose with hologram versions of the film’s stars and design t-shirts for themselves.
It’s interesting to consider that, like Mad Max, Lionsgate soon made this Comic-Con “exclusive” available to the public. You can watch the new trailer HERE.
After making a big impression at 2013’s Convention, television program Starz returned to tease their upcoming series Outlander. Their booth was located in the Exhibition Hall, which meant it was a little smaller than something like the Assassin’s Creed experience.
Smaller, but not necessarily less influential.
As Professional Fangirls points out, the Outlander experience was among the best of the convention, despite its simplicity.
Outlander follows a 1940s Combat Nurse as she is swept back in time to 1750s Scotland. Starz’ interactive booth similarly began in the 1940s with actors donning period attire, before allowing guests to tour a large Scottish castle. Clearly, Starz was determined to announce Outlander in a big way and wouldn’t be limited by their indoor space. It’s hard to ignore an unfamiliar brand when they’ve constructed a castle in front of you.
As guests walked through the castle, they could pose with strapping, kilted men or see actual props from the series. If they weren’t too distracted by tangible items, they could watch exclusive footage on TVs spread throughout the exhibit.
It’s too bad free kilts weren’t given away as swag.
Outlander is based on a series of novels, so it’s easy to assume that a booth like this would be catered towards established fans. However, the massive structure and informative layout seems to have been successful at attracting newcomers as well.
This booth was paired with a successful panel and multiple appearances by the series’ author, the executive producers behind the show, and cast members.
Not all TV shows need to make such an entry. Some, like The Walking Dead, were already the No. 1 show of the 2012 – 2013 season among adults from 18-49…which, coincidentally, is also the demographic most likely to attend San Diego Comic-Con.
Still, AMC’s Walking Dead team didn’t shuffle contentedly around the exhibit hall like, well, a bunch of zombies. They maintained their legacy of bringing fun and tantalizing booths to the convention floor, giving fans the perfect chance for a photo op (this was another booth included on Professional Fan Girls’ Comic-Con Roundup). Free swag is always great, but there’s nothing like snapping pictures next to real Walking Dead zombies, of both the animatronic and actor-in-makeup variety, to take home to the family.
Season 4 left off in the mysterious “safe haven” of Terminus, and the exhibit allowed you to pose near the very tracks that lead to this area. The popularity of the show meant there was a constant line to pose near a half-buried walker, an eerie map, or some walkers in cages.
This exhibit was paired with another successful Walking Dead panel which teased footage and built buzz for the October premiere of Season 5.
After a few years of poor performance (they “had lost money four out of seven years from 1998 through 2004,” according to Strategy&), The Lego Group is currently riding high on a huge wave of popularity and goodwill. After successfully reviving its brand, releasing a critically acclaimed and financially successful Lego Movie and countless Lego Video Games,the Group landed in San Diego in a big way.
Several major film properties, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Guardians of the Galaxy, were teased at the Con and Lego was able to incorporate this co-branded enthusiasm into their own products. They had life-sized Lego versions of TMNT’s villain Shredder and a truly remarkable recreation of Guardians’ Rocket Racoon riding atop the tree-man Groot.
These larger than life models were visible from across the Convention Hall, but some of the most popular Lego merchandise was a little harder to spot. Lego released rare minifigures like the Batman of Zur-en-Arrh (???) and showed off the Mixels, a new line of adorable kits.
The multi-platformed Lego Group also released the trailer for their buzzed about video game Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, the latest iteration of an already-beloved series. The game allows a new level of versatility by letting players become past Batman characters like the 1960s version of Batman and Robin. Adam West, the original Batman actor, is even a playable character.
And if you’re interested, here’s a video of Lego Master Builders creating the wonderful Groot and Rocket Racoon statue.
Guardians of the Galaxy
The presence of Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t contained to Lego’s giant model, not by a long shot. With the US release date landing so close to the actual Convention, Guardians characters (particularly Rocket Racoon, who was once considered the wildcard of the film) were visible around every corner, in countless different mediums. Exclusive posters? Check. Giant Funko figures? Check. Props from the upcoming film were even visible at an exhibit booth.
In fact, during their Comic-Con panel, Marvel revealed that “Guardians of the Galaxy content is coming to Xbox LIVE, Minecraft, Marvel Heroes, and other games.” Early reviews of the film are championing it as the new Star Wars, and Disney / Marvel is doing their best to reach this level of popularity; in addition to the gaming side of things, a Guardians of the Galaxy animation series previewed a “literally explosive 1-minute” clip.
But perhaps the biggest announcement was that the sequel is already on its way. Director James Gunn and star Chris Pratt informed the Hall H audience that the Guardians will be returning on July 28th, 2017. Mark your calendars accordingly.
The Guardians are among Marvel’s more obscure properties, but it’s safe to say that their bubble is about to burst.
It was recently announced that Fandango has Guardians tracking to be the highest grossing August release of all time. It’s impossible to tell how much of this came from Comic-Con buzz, but the brand is certainly going for widespread saturation. And it looks like it’s going to pay off in a big way. I mean, you’ve probably already seen the film by the time you’re reading this article.
The Oculus Rift
New brands aren’t the only ones making the trek to San Diego.
Sometimes new technologies take the plunge as well.
You guys have heard of Virtual Reality, right? Then you shouldn’t be surprised that a VR company is using one of the world’s largest gatherings of gaming and pop culture fans to tease their product.
The company is Oculus Rift, and they actually teamed up with multiple brands to give a lucky few Comic-Con attendees (300 / day, 150 at each booth) a chance to try it out. The brands Oculus teamed up with couldn’t have been better, either – they had a presence at both a Pacific Rim, Jaeger driving experience and an X-Men Cerebro experience.
Reports for each were extremely positive.
Once users are wearing the Oculus headset, a pre-recorded video plays. Billed as “experiences” rather than “games,” both the Jaeger ride and the Cerebro test offered little interactivity, but really put fans in the world of these brands.
And I can’t wait for the Oculus Rift to expand further.
The History Channel’s popular and surprisingly good medieval series Vikings went the Assassin’s Creed route and set up a large fan experience outside of the actual Convention Center. But instead of an obstacle course, Vikings gave fans an entire on-set experience.
Business Insider listed their exhibit as one of the “15 Coolest Things at the San Diego Comic-Con” and Social Media was buzzing with pictures of fans getting the most out of their visit. According to BleedingCool, Vikings On the Set “experience is very detailed and immersive for participants. They get to be treated to a full Vikings makeover individually and then have a custom video made of themselves to share on social media.”
Now that’s quite the souvenir. Even better, it’s quite the brand exposure. You see your friends wielding swords, shields, and some awesome dreadlocks and you’re bound to be intrigued.
But The History Channel wasn’t content with just an “experience.” What good is a visit to SDCC if you don’t come home with some nice swag?
At their exhibit, they were also giving out a free Vikings Comic Book emblazoned with a large History “H.” It’s a fun medium to give fans some backstory about their favorite characters, and something awesome to show off when they get home.
Drinking Horn sold for $80.00 (drinks not included)
The real Vikings prize, at least in my opinion, was a different piece of swag: a Vikings drinking horn. It’s a cool, and surprisingly realistic replica of the props used in the show, but it actually served a purpose. In a very clever bit of cross-branding, Vikings teamed up with several local San Diego bars to give half-off beers (and sometimes free chips) to any visitors proudly wearing their drinking horn.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Sometimes brands have to be creative to find an appropriate co-brand, and sometimes it’s the most natural thing in the world. Like peanut butter and jelly.
Or like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Pizza Hut.
The Turtles have already become the official mascot for Pizza Hut’s new Cheesy Bite Pizza (you can even have your pizza sliced Katana Style, in 4 large, Turtle sized slices), but this made-in-heaven relationship offered both brands to show off a new toy at this year’s SDCC.
Paramount is making a big push for August’s live action TMNT film, and what better way to do that than with a life sized Pizza Thrower, ripped right from the Character’s past?
After receiving free slices of pizza, served on special plates illustrated by artist Scott Derby, and taking a seat in Pizza-Hut Pizza Box furniture, guests could climb aboard this modified Toyota Tacoma and shoot cardboard pizzas at a series of villainous Shredder targets.
Here’s an LA Times video on the Pizza-Throwing vehicle.
This vehicle isn’t a joke, either. It was 12 feet tall, 9 feet wide, and capable of driving 75 miles / hour. The only question left is what’s happened to it now that the Convention is over? I’ve got a free space on my block.
With hundreds of brands showing up and showing off at this years San Diego Comic-Con, you’re almost guaranteed to have found a brand that really stood out to you. Let us know what we missed by commenting below!