Experiential Marketing at San Diego Comic Con

San Diego Comic Con and Experiential Marketing

In Articles by Wendy Buske

Amazon Prime's Jack Ryan wraps the entire height of the San Diego Marriott hotel.

Marketing Experiences at SDCC 2018

To outsiders (or muggles if you prefer), San Diego Comic-Con often appears to be a playground for nerds who like to cosplay, buy exclusive (and expensive) toys, and see celebrities in real life. To be fair, that’s a big part of it. However, it’s just as much a pop-culture industry conference as it is a fan event. Because of that, more brands are wisely showing up and contributing to the surreal splendor of Comic-Con.

Inside the convention center or out in San Diego’s colorful Gaslamp District, massive and clever experiential marketing is on display. Hardly an inch of the city’s downtown goes untouched by Comic-Con. From streetlamp banners to 30-story-tall hotel wraps, the convention and its partners are impossible not to see.

In 2018, my eighth year attending the show, I saw big brands going to greater lengths than ever before, striving to engage consumers in and outside of the convention center with their properties and experiences. Here are several standouts that tapped deeply into the con-goers’ desire for the bold and outrageous:

Jack Ryan obstacle course

Amazon’s Jack Ryan Experience

Occupying roughly a square city block, Amazon displayed their obvious faith in the new Jack Ryan series with an obstacle course for the brave souls seeking adventure at Comic-Con. Even in the heat, hordes of con-goers lined up for hours to immerse themselves in the shows’ action by repelling off buildings and even jumping out of a helicopter. The enormity was overwhelming, but there wasn’t a person I spoke to who didn’t at least have curiosity about trying it.

Amazon Prime's Jack Ryan covers another hotel in San Diego

To further the show’s reach (and display Amazon’s hefty financial investment), the Jack Ryan series also covered not one, but two enormous buildings with window clings that made sure to show everyone that John Krasinski is no longer Jim from The Office — but instead a larger than life action star. And in case anyone didn’t see all of that, every box that an attendee received with their badge had Jack Ryan staring back at them when they opened it. No stone went unturned.

Every restaurant in the future is Taco Bell

Taco Bell’s 20th Anniversary Demolition Man Pop-Up

Everyone’s favorite offsite this year was an ingenious restaurant-of-the-future pop-up from Taco Bell that re-introduced their fan favorite menu item, Nacho Fries, and combined it with the 20th anniversary of the sci-fi cult classic, Demolition Man.

For anyone that has seen Demolition Man, you’ll recall that all restaurants are Taco Bell in the future. This concept came to life (complete with three seashells in the restroom) in the middle of San Diego’s Gaslamp District as a fine(ish) dining experience — for those patient enough to wait in 2-5 hour lines for their meals.

The clever and unexpected nature of this pop-up blew the collective minds of con-goers – not to mention winning their eternal love with free food. This particular offsite will be tough to surpass in the coming years, but ideally it will inspire similar efforts from fast food brands that could be jumping into this space. Maybe Harold and Kumar could come to Comic-Con with White Castle?

Deadpool's Super Duper Dance Party

Deadpool 2 Fantasy Suite, Showbiz Pizza Dance Party, and everything in between

The all-around champion for most meta marketing at Comic-Con was Deadpool 2. In an unusual move, Fox brought Deadpool 2 to Comic-Con AFTER the film’s release. With Marvel being MIA at the show, Fox pounced on the opportunity to promote the “Uncut” release and blu-ray of the film — and do it in ways SDCC has never seen.

From creating a Fantasy Suite at the San Diego Hard Rock Hotel styled to look like Wade Wilson’s apartment, to toilet seat covers with Deadpool’s face mocking the studio’s investment (!!!), Deadpool played with the whimsy of SDCC itself and was as brazen as it gets with their stunts. My personal favorite was on the convention floor, where an animatronic Deadpool led a Showbiz Pizza dance party every half hour. I’m sure the staff was tired of hearing Dolly Parton’s 9-to-5 thirty times per day, but attendees ate it up like Pop Rocks.

NBC's The Good Place appeared across the street from the convention center

All in all, what I love most about this grand evolution of experiential marketing at Comic-Con is how it makes the participants feel like their time is well spent engaging with brands. When attendees have spent a LOT of money to be there and know they could be doing 50 different, amazing things at any given time, every minute is valuable. Giving them a reason and a reward for investing time in your brand is a key insight companies big and small could take away from all of this.

You probably can’t buy most of downtown San Diego (like Amazon did). But you CAN think about how what you provide to each attendee could be valuable and enrich their overall enjoyment of the show. That’s what they’ll remember months later, and why they’ll remember you and your product.

Rampage breaks out of the normal with a spectacular display