Brands and their marketing companies are in an arms race for social supremacy at the San Diego Comic-Con and here are a few of my favorites.
I love the San Diego Comic-Con, I love exploring the exhibit hall, I love the panels, and I love the frenzy of the fans. It’s a unique convention experience and as long as you are OK with crowds it is amazing. There is so much to do in and around the convention center one person couldn’t possibly get it all. I was busy all day and barely hit half of what there was.
You may notice that this list doesn’t really include much of the core convention itself. Yes, I know there was a boatload of fantastic programming at SDCC this year. The infamous Hall H line up which included new content from the Kingsman: Golden Circle, Justice League, Stranger Things, Atomic Blonde, The Walking Dead, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Infinity Wars. Was chock full of stars and fantastic new trailers but I can’t say that any of them was a highlight for me. Not because they weren’t great, they definitely were, and if you haven’t already watched Kingsman’s Archer team up or the new Thor trailer, even I would question why you are still reading this.
No, I skipped the legendary hall because I didn’t want to waste an entire day stuck inside, or another entire day waiting to get in (Seriously people lined up more than a full day before to get in on Saturday). I skipped most of the panels in general in fact. Many of the trailers, Infinity Wars & Black Panther excluded, were made available immediately and the studios live tweeted the antics of panel attendees so i made my compromises.
Despite my love for the core convention the spectacle has grown beyond its walls and as great as those panels are there is a lot to experience at Comic-Con. Almost the entire Gaslamp district is now involved from Mr. Robot linking with restaurants to feed fans for free, to parks being swallowed up by fan engagement events (or activations as they are officially known). Shows and movies face off in an attempt to be the biggest, coolest, or most fun a fan can have. Here are a few of my top experiences this past week at SDCC.
The Atomic Blonde Screening
On Saturday night there are a lot of options for fans. Bars are hosting events across the Gaslamp, some just taking advantage of the crowds other holding exclusive events but even if you aren’t on a “list” you’ll find a place to party. I headed out to a screening of the upcoming Atomic Blonde complete with reception. Universal took over the Horton Plaza Park for a happy hour that included free drinks, courtesy of Stoli, and bavarian themed snacks.
The DJs rocked some classic 80s tunes while fans got their pics with the “blondes” circulating at the party. One of the things I liked most, besides the free Moscow Mules, was how laid back it was. Being an outdoor event, there was plenty of space & little to no line ups which was a welcome respite from the excessive crowds just about everywhere else.
Afterward, the crowds were welcomed to bring the party into the Horton Plaza Theatre to see the film almost a week a head of general release. Fans were given wigs and sunglasses for some promotional pics before Charlize Theron and David Leitch dropped by to introduce their film. Then, of course, we got to watch the film, which kicked total ass by the way. The whole evening was a lot of fun and left some room near the end to still hit a few of those parties.
Blade Runner 2049
Alcon Entertainment set up the Blade Runner 2049 experience designed to take you into the world of Blade Runner. Beginning with a VR experience coupled with Dbox seating. If you don’t know those are movie theater seats where the chairs move and rumble along with the film. Combined with VR is it pretty cool. We flew through a digital recreation of the Bladerunner world, before pursuing our suspect into a crash in a busy market place.
When the VR ended we removed the goggles to see that market scene, complete with the crash, recreated in front of us. Actors portrayed cops, vendors, customers, and more. I was even tested to see if I was a replicant (I am apparently). The experience was capped off with snacks and, perhaps more importantly, a flight of Johnnie Walker Whisky including Red, Black, & Blue.
SyFy Fan Fest
SyFy has attended SDCC for several years usually promoting one or more of their shows. This year they took a different approach shifting away from promoting their own things specifically instead in favor of celebrating fandom itself. Their Fan fest was a multipronged assault on the Gaslamp including a cosplay karaoke bus, Trivia Trolley (with CASH prizes), a lounge with all the essentials, parties, panels, and swag.
Their streamlined new logo and pithy taglines were all over the place. Zachary Levi, who’s own NerdHQ was conspicuously absent from the con, hosted SyFy’s own mini panels which were live streamed and even played games with the stars. Fans were invited to parties at their off site event or just chill in the SyFy lounge where you could pick up free water (very important in that Southern California sun), snow cones, or a charge for your phones. SyFy’s street teams were also working hard to make sure any many fans could get their hands on the sweet swag. Fanny packs (yeah, I guess those are back), bags, caps, and sun glasses flowed freely as if SyFy would not be happy until everyone in attendance had something.
Mr. Robot has a history of great fan engagement but this year was truly fantastic. Fans could visit the Bank of E and register for ecoins, the shows fictional digital currency. If you visited the Bank of E in person you could pick up your very own ecoin bank card, but you could also register online and save yourself at least one line. Once registered you were given credits for which you could to order food at various establishments around the Gaslamp district. That’s right, free food and good food at that.
Believe it or not, multiple free lunches was not the best part of this activation. The USA marketing team used the Bank of E as a starting point for an intricate series of puzzles that involved several locations around the Gaslamp. Fans dedicated enough to track down the clues were rewarded with an immersive experience that allowed them to step into the world of Mr. Robot.
Mr. Robot generously buying lunch for thousands of people may have topped my list if I hadn’t snagged a pass to one of the most exclusive and awesome off site events of the show. The folks at HBO teamed up with Campfire NYC to take s few lucky fans into Westworld.
I made a vow to myself a few years back, when the lines for Hall H were growing out of control, “I will never line up over night for a panel.” And I never have, I have not lined up to see Marvel and DC go head to head every year, I didn’t even line up for the 50th Anniversary Star Trek Panel. Nothing, I proclaimed, was worth wasting my expensive hotel room for a night sleeping on the concrete marina. Luckily I only had to camp out in the Hilton Bayfront for this one.
It was 100% worth it though. Walking into my appointment with Delos I was blown away by the amount of effort and detail the team at Campfire had gone to execute this activation. The actors were impeccable, even as participants tried to test their responses with random questions they stayed true to their greeter host personalities. The rooms and halls offered small details like the directory and doors labeled for different recognizable departments from the show or the actor’s seemingly innocuous background behavior.
I was invited to sit down for an interview to determine what kind of adventure I was looking for in Westworld for. The abstract personality questions were delivered with conviction in what was both an exhilarating and slightly uneasy soul searching experience. After a summary of my personality, which seemed strangely accurate given the short period of participation, I was rewarded with a Westworld branded white hat and sent into the Mariposa Saloon.
The second part of the experience was just fun, in the dimly lit saloon we enjoyed several cocktails with a little flare. Flaming liquor, shaved ice, and a little conversation with the ‘locals’ topped off this experience. It was immersive and felt uniquely personal in the middle of an event that caters to tens of thousands. It took just over half an hour but it was probably one of the coolest things I have done at Comic-Con in the past few years.
Like I said there were a lot of great things to see and do at the convention. Brands and marketers continue to one up each other by providing not just swag but full blown experiences. A few others that really stood out for me. The Expanse escape challenge, where you and four other people race another team to solve a series of puzzles in order to escape a doomed ship. It linked with the show really well and was just challenging enough to make it fun. Plus winners walked away with the Expanse season two on Blu-ray.
The Gifted DNA testing lab, set up by Fox for their new X-men related show, invited participants to get tested for the x-gene for fun but also had their DNA submitted for a real analysis that would be mailed to them at a later date. It is probably a pretty basic analysis but still kind of cool. Wrecked Island Bar and the Adult Swim Carnival, both provided chill playgrounds for fans, and in the case of Wrecked, refreshments. The fun and games came with great swag at the Adult Swim activation, especially if you’re a Rick & Morty fan.
If you want to see more from my whirlwind weekend you can take a look at the gallery below or take a look at my Twitter / Instagram feed. Did you get a chance to go to the convention last week? Share your favorite moments in the comments below and join us on Discord, on our Facebook page, or Twitter.