In an increasingly fragmented entertainment landscape, connecting with fans is essential for home entertainment marketers.
In addition to traditional media, social media and other online platforms, consumer conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con International, New York Comic Con and WonderCon can provide a unique opportunity to reach fans.
One of the biggest meccas for fans, celebrities and studios remains the annual San Diego Comic-Con, which draws more then 130,000 attendees and this year runs July 18-21. Other shows are catching up, and some brands have gotten big enough to sustain shows all by themselves, including Disney’s D23 Expo. All these confabs give marketers access to a pool of consumers who are enthusiastic about their titles.
“The Cons can be meaningful amplifiers of awareness and engagement, given their high-profile nature and broad consumer appeal,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing at Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “They pose a special opportunity to generate visibility and reach among entertainment enthusiasts seeking exclusive interactions and even wish fulfillment with their favorite entertainment properties.”
“Conventions are a great way for us to spread our messaging and increase awareness of our films to a captive audience of both general entertainment fans and specific genre groups,” says Kristina Fugate, SVP of film marketing at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “In addition to attracting hundreds of thousands of fans to these events, social media posts and social media influencer stories have pushed the convention’s reach far beyond their physical location. Additionally, entertainment press coverage of these conventions is global in reach and helps us get our marketing messaging to a much wider audience.”
Consumer shows are “absolutely” a key tool for gathering consumer eyeballs, adds Mary Ellen Thomas, VP of TV marketing for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
“We are able to directly reach our core target audience and the media that covers the genre as well as media for a broader audience,” she says. “The core fan will not only absorb the information, but because they are at a premiere event that allows them some exclusivity, they will spread the word for us through word of mouth and social media.”
Lexine Wong, senior EVP of worldwide marketing at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, agrees.
“These conventions provide a unique opportunity to speak directly to a core audience who know these properties and have followed them since they were in comic or video game form,” says Wong. “Unlike any other outlet, these events enable a space in which both the studio and the fans benefit equally and celebrate the properties via first looks, products and direct engagement with creators. When approached with that fanbase in mind, conventions can be ideal for driving awareness and creating advocates for our upcoming releases.”
“Conventions like these draw dedicated fans from a wide range of demographics and can provide an excellent opportunity to reach a receptive audience in an engaging environment,” adds Brenda Ciccone, SVP of worldwide publicity and communications at Paramount Home Entertainment.
Instances of studios pulling out of consumer shows, particularly San Diego Comic-Con, may have been in the news in recent years, but that is not the case with marketers in the studios’ home entertainment divisions.
Indeed, these shows are more relevant than ever, says Warner’s Thomas.
“As these cons become more and more influential across all audiences, they make it possible to reach both our target and mainstream consumers,” she says.
Still, consumer shows can present a challenge to home entertainment marketers, in part because they are so well attended and popular.
“Over time, the Cons have become increasingly crowded and competitive, with properties all vying for the same attention,” says Universal’s Hoffman. “Only the most memorable and unique events and activations are able to rise above the ambient noise to garner distinct notice from press and fans and create a meaningful impact.”
“Depending on the title and the activation, a convention presence can have a positive impact on consumer awareness and interest, but the challenge is to cut through the many titles vying for attention,” agrees Paramount’s Ciccone.
“It is important to be strategic about the properties we bring to the conventions and how we best deploy them to break through to the attendees,” says
Sony’s Wong. “San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con are often the launching ground for big announcements, so anything we would consider bringing must align perfectly with the audience and make sense for our scale and scope.”
One of the key targets of marketers is the online or social media “influencer,” the Web personality/expert/enthusiast who has the clout to promote a title or franchise to its biggest fans. One such influencer is Bill Hunt, editor of TheDigitalBits.com, a source since 1997 for DVD/Blu-ray industry news, reviews and analysis. Hunt is a longtime panel moderator at San Diego Comic-Con, focusing on home entertainment. About five years ago he ended his annual panel with disc featurette producers, but “they still all come to Comic-Con,” he says. “It is a mixture of work and recreation for those guys.”
For the 2019 Comic-Con, Hunt will moderate a Saturday panel for independent supplier Shout Factory! called “A Look Inside Shout Factory!” He’s also weighing in on a panel Thursday featuring “The Inglorious Treksperts” who run a podcast for “Star Trek” fans.
Online influencers such as Hunt help amplify title marketing at a show.
“Originally our convention ‘bang for the buck’ came from press days with filmmakers and talent, press coverage of panels and activations, and screenings for convention attendees,” notes Warner’s Fugate. “While those are still relevant today, social media coverage from conventions has brought our activities and messaging to a much wider audience. The creation of custom hashtags related to our films showcased at Comic-Con along with coverage of events posted by social media influencers definitely enhance the awareness of the content that we are promoting at these events. We also use conventions as buzz builders, stretching between announce and street date. This worked well for us when we had Iron Giant: Signature Edition panels with director Brad Bird at both WonderCon and SDCC.”
In targeting influencers, “there are a variety of approaches to consider, from talent panels, Q&As and signings, to high-tech activations and innovative ‘surprise-and-delight’-type of moments,” says Universal’s Hoffman. “Being organic to the brand and developing a one-of-a-kind experience is key.”
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Separating the marketing for the title from the cacophony of promotional activities is key.
“When approaching influencers at events, we look to create experiences that are shareable and memorable,” says Sony’s Wong. “We try to create unique and original interactive opportunities that they can’t get anywhere else.”
“Offering exclusive first looks at our properties and providing in-demand talent (production and actors) to represent those properties and give special insight proliferates the ‘must have’ sensibilities about our product,” says Melissa Hufjay, VP of publicity at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
“Fans and influencers are inundated at conventions with content, activations and experiences,” adds Stuart Herriott, executive director of publicity at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. “So, we have to make our convention activities really stand out from the crowd. We put great effort into creating unique experiences for convention attendees, such as a 1980s video arcade and a replica of the bathroom from The Shining for Ready Player One, and for the chance to see the Batmobiles from all of the Batman films and the TV show, including George Bariss’ original 1960s vehicle, for Batman’s 75th anniversary. We also offer key influencers advanced exclusive access to our activations prior to opening, which allows them to post their stories early and help build title awareness.”
For Ready Player One, the Warner team brought an immersive experiential activation to San Diego Comic-Con last year. Featuring iconic sets and moments from the film, the installation contained two Ready Player One-themed escape rooms, which tested fans’ knowledge of 1980s culture; re-creations of several sets from the film; a full arcade; props and costumes from the film; and photo opportunities accompanied by custom hashtags. The “surprise” element exclusive to WBHE was a faithful re-creation of the Overlook Hotel hallway, elevators, the doors to room 237, and the iconic bathroom from The Shining, along with atmospheric sound and visual effects. WBHE hosted a media and influencer preview prior to the activation opening that included a private guided tour and stand-up and photo opportunities. In keeping with the retro 1980s themes included in the film, Warner designed and created a VHS copy of the film and gave it to press along with a copy of the film’s soundtrack on vinyl, which was released by WB’s Water Tower Music. The highly coveted VHS giveaway was signed by Ernest Cline, author of the Ready Player One novel.
“Last year’s Ready Player One immersive activation reached 3.2 million users across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and secured a 93% increase in RPO followers during SDCC as compared to the same time period one month prior, and also resulted in a 140% increase in social media mentions of RPO during SDCC as compared to the title’s announce week,” says Warner’s Fugate. “The Comic-Con activation definitely created a strong social media presence and broadened the audience for the film’s online following, creating heightened awareness to complement our traditional marketing, media and publicity campaigns.”
Traditional panels during the show also can create buzz and boost titles.
“We see great success both from our Comic-Con premieres but also when we anchor our titles with Con presence,” says Warner’s Thomas. “For example we had a Batman: The Animated Series panel at San Diego Comic-Con last year and timed our preorders to our panel. We saw an extraordinarily large number of preorders come in immediately.”
Photo ops help with viral spread as well. For New York Comic Con in 2015, the Universal team re-created the towering entrance gates to Jurassic World. The 34-foot-high and 60-foot-wide gates were installed in the main entrance hall at the Javits Center, leading fans, press and influencers from around the world into the exhibition hall.
Supplemented with foliage, smoke effects, and of course, the film’s score, the installation also featured Zulu the Velociraptor. The raptor made special appearances throughout the convention for photos, fan interaction and media coverage.
In another photo op strategy, for the release of the hit film Bumblebee, the Paramount Home Entertainment marketing team brought a towering Bumblebee to WonderCon this past March.
“The whole point of these conventions is for consumers to interact with their favorite properties and with other fans who share their enthusiasm,” says Paramount’s Ciccone. “The key to winning over fans is to offer a unique experience that resonates with them in an authentic way.”
While marketers don’t necessarily time home entertainment releases to take advantage of consumer show exposure, they look for shows that might line up.
“Once we’ve determined our release timing, we consider whether an opportunity to leverage a Con aligns with a respective campaign’s strategic marketing goals and priorities,” says Universal’s Hoffman.
“Fortunately, our late-spring theatrical tentpole titles often fall into San Diego Comic-Con timing,” says Warner’s Fugate. “So, while not necessarily a factor in dating our home entertainment titles, Comic-Con’s July timing is often beneficial for some of our year’s biggest films.”
Warner’s franchise and animation team, however, does time certain releases to take advantage of San Diego Comic-Con.
“We anchor several of our titles to follow our presentations at Comic-Con,” says Warner’s Thomas.
The Warner Bros. studio home entertainment divisions are planning a major presence at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con International, with premieres of new animated and horror movies, celebrations of iconic character anniversaries, and immersive fan experiences for major theatrical releases heading to home video.
“We are hosting world premieres of Batman: Hush, The Banana Splits Movie, Teen Titans Go! vs. Teen Titans, Lego DC: Batman — Family Matters and Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island,” says Warner’s Hufjay. “We are celebrating Scooby-Doo’s 50th Anniversary and the 20th Anniversary of ‘Batman Beyond.’ We’re also spotlighting Critters Attack! with The Banana Splits Movie in a combined horror panel.”
“We will have fan activations for Pokémon Detective Pikachu and Shazam!,” says Warner’s Fugate. “Both will be interactive and immersive and will be fun for all Comic-Con attendees and will have lots of photo opportunities and prize giveaways. We will also be screening a documentary on the history of the character Shazam! which will be introduced by Asher Angel, who played Billy Batson in the film.”
The activations will be adjacent to the Omni Hotel near the convention center.
The Pikachu activation will offer guests a chance to explore an immersive walkthrough pop-up of the film’s Ryme City, including photo ops featuring a neon cityscape, the marketplace, film prop displays, an infinity room and characters from the film. WBHE releases the film digitally July 23, and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Aug. 6. Fans can also visit the Chilladelphia Winter Carnival from the superhero film Shazam!, which will be available digitally and on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from WBHE just before the convention begins.
The world premiere of the DC Spotlight: Shazam! documentary will take place at 6 p.m. July 18, at the Horton Grand Theatre. The documentary will stream later this summer on the DC Universe service.
While Disney in recent years has reserved its consumer show promotional activities for its own D23 Expo fan confab (taking place this year Aug. 23-25) in Anaheim, Calif. Marvel Studios properties will be highlighted on at least two panels at San Diego Comic-Con. Anthony and Joe Russo, the directors of this summer’s $2.77 billion-earning blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, will be hosting a panel in Hall H at 11 a.m. July 19. The title arrives on digital July 30 and on disc Aug. 13. Also, Marvel Studios president and producer Kevin Feige and “surprise panelists” are scheduled to take the stage in Hall H at 5:15 p.m. July 20. Some form of an Avengers reunion is in store at SDCC, according to rumors cited by online site Deadline, with some of the cast members showing up at one of the panels.
Continuing a trend at San Diego Comic-Con in recent years, the streaming goliaths will also be out in force promoting their original properties. Among other events, Amazon will promote its new series “The Boys,” co-created by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and hitting screens July 26, with a sneak-preview premiere and press event July 19. The series follows a group of vigilantes who embark on a quest to take down selfish superheroes The Seven, a group who abuses their powers rather than using them for good. Netflix will promote its new series “The Witcher,” starring Henry Cavill as a monster hunter, at a panel July 19. The series is based on the bestselling fantasy books.