Getting into character: Brands go all out for New York Comic Con

The annual event had brands' sales senses tingling.

Photo credit: Aleksandra Vayntraub
Photo credit: Aleksandra Vayntraub

Spider-Man posed for photos before nonchalantly climbing through some scaffolding on his way to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, site of October’s New York Comic Con (NYCC).

The annual event, which features a slew of comics, guests from the entertainment industry, and sensory-provoking displays, is a marketing magnet. At its heart is interactivity, so it’s no surprise most brands had an experiential or immersive focus. Costumed fans went all out, as did brands.

Some of Comic Con’s most recognizable sponsors — including Chevrolet, Audible, and Brooklyn Brewery — made their presence known with gusto.

Chevy worked with brand experience agency Jack Morton Worldwide, a longtime partner of parent company General Motors that handles strategic, creative, design, planning, and activation services. In the buildup to Comic Con, the automaker worked with Sony to create a Spider-Man-wrapped Tahoe. The vehicle hit the streets ahead of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which hits theaters this Christmas.

Chevrolet had two displays at the Javits Center. On the main show floor, attendees could participate in a Street Fighter tournament, with the daily winner receiving a gift card, or grab a free T-shirt before snapping a selfie in front of a pink Camaro. The call to action was a perfect fit for Breast Cancer Awareness Month: For every Camaro selfie posted on social media with #IDriveFor, Chevy donated $5 to Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, an initiative by the American Cancer Society.

Booming techno beats emanated from Chevrolet’s second display on the north concourse, where DJ Gabriella Nicole entertained the costumed crowd alongside three vehicles: the Bolt EV, Corvette, and Equinox, all decked out in Disney themes. The Bolt paid homage to Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday, the Corvette was decorated with Disney princesses, and the Equinox celebrated the 25th anniversary of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Jack Morton Worldwide declined to comment on the promotions at Comic Con, and a rep from Chevy was unavailable for comment at press time.

The spirit of Comic Con

Not far from that display was another magical experience: Audible’s large, otherworldly Harry Potter-themed booth. Here, hordes of fans celebrated 20 years of the beloved books and movies by getting to experience the pensieve, a dish that lets someone review other people’s memories. The booth was a partnership with Pottermore, the global digital publisher of Harry Potter and the Wizarding World.

"Potterheads" could choose vials "containing" the recollections of characters, and place the vials in a pod to activate a multisensory experience. A transparent screen provided special effects.

Outside the booth, fans could step up to a special screen and flick a wand to activate a GIF selfie that could be shared across social media.

"We were delighted to offer an unforgettable experience at NYCC that powerfully immersed people in the Wizarding World. Sharing this listening experience with NYCC guests through the pensieve, and Audible every day, is something we’re proud of," says John Harrobin, SVP of marketing at Audible.

Meanwhile, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman walk into a bar. That may seem like the setup for a joke, but such occurrences were the norm. So was the presence of Brooklyn Brewery’s Defender IPA, the event’s official beer for the seventh straight year.

"The brand recognition at this point is strong," says Sam Itzkovitz, brand marketing director for the brewery. "We change the label every year. There’s different artwork so it’s fresh, yet recognizable."

Repetition is the mother of learning, so the Brooklyn-based global brand made sure to connect with fans well in advance of New York Comic Con.

"Our [paid] social media campaign ran from August 1, when the new Defender IPA was released, through Comic Con," she explains. "Our call to action evolved over the course of the campaign, in tandem with ReedPop’s [show organizer], to create a cohesive message for fans across multiple platforms and to tighten the link between our brands."

Opening doors for brands

According to Itzkovitz, the show has "opened the doors" for Brooklyn Brewery to tap into a unique community and reach a new audience.

"It has been an amazing way for us to speak to this crowd who may not have come to discover our brand or craft beer in general," she notes. "Every year, we’ve sold out by the end of NYCC. Last year, we sold close to 400 cases."

As Brooklyn Brewery could not have a booth on the show floor, the challenge was driving fans to the bars on the concourse, as well as outside the venue. The Defender character appeared on signage at the center’s many cafés. In addition, the brand had its social and digital teams covering the event live.

"That was a resource for those who were at Comic Con, but the content was also relevant to those who weren’t there," Itzkovitz explains.

Defender IPA was available at a variety of bars within walking distance of Javits, including Beer Authority, Beer Culture, Barcade, and New York Beer Company. Leading up to Comic Con, some of the bars did pint glass giveaways featuring the Defender character, as well as raffles for passes to Comic Con and themed pub crawls. During the event, participating bars served Defender IPA and featured the Defender character on their menus.

Comic Con may be over, but Brooklyn Brewery’s mission to quench the thirst of the masses is never complete. The company has a social campaign that will continue throughout the rest of the year to support the beer — which is available all year — as well as other ReedPop programming and events.

Comics for a cause

Chevrolet wasn’t the only brand at Comic Con to raise money for an important cause. ReedPop, the company behind the event, hosted the eighth annual charity art auction benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The auction let fans bid on more than 150 pieces of original art donated by comic artists, with all the money going to the nonprofit. This year’s donating artists included Marvel Comics’ Humberto Ramos and Mark Brooks, Kim Jung Gi, and DC Comics’ Jill Thompson.

"One of the main reasons we chose St. Jude is because we feel it’s an incredibly worthy charity to help children and we want to do whatever we can to raise money for them," says Mike Negin, C2E2 (Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo) event manager at ReedPop and this year’s auctioneer. "When we first started this auction in 2011, there were probably less than 50 people in the room. Now, it’s probably between 450 and 500."

According to Negin, the auction grew organically over the years, thanks largely to the artists.

"We don’t do paid media for this," he explains. "The reach has been pretty big without having to use paid marketing. ReedPop itself has really been pushing the auction every year. We have a very large reach, so we’ve been continually pushing and promoting it. Each artist over the years has become so invested in the auction. We get a lot of the same people who donate year upon year. So they push it through their social media channels, websites and word of mouth. The reach has grown exponentially because of that."

Comic Con’s official social media channels have been particularly effective.

"We’ve used Instagram, Twitter and Facebook," Negin says. "A lot of the talent also used the same. Instagram seems to be the most popular at the moment; we see a lot of stuff resonating on there."

Word of the art auction is also spread through popular art websites such as DeviantArt, and Gemstone Publishing, the latter of which promotes the auction via a newsletter called the Scoop.

The auction has grown not just in attendance but also in the amount of money raised for St. Jude. Negin estimates the initial auction raised $7,000 or $8,000, a figure that grew to almost $55,000 last year. All told, NYCC and C2E2 have raised almost $400,000 for the hospital.

"The ReedPop marketing team really shows care when it promotes the auction, so its help has been tremendous. The same thing with the talent," Negin says. "I see the artists continuously pushing their pieces. It’s not like they push it out one time and they’re like, ‘Alright, I did my thing.’ They constantly support us. Between us and them, we’re fighting the good fight and getting the good engagement."

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