Comic-Con Marketing Blitz Reaches Peak TV Status

Weddings and tigers and winter, oh my.
Courtesy of Lesley Goldberg

With one full day now in the books, San Diego Comic-Con has become one of the most striking displays of the Peak TV era.

With nearly 100 panels dedicated to new and returning TV shows, an overwhelming display of interactive booths on the exhibition floor as well as massive activations surrounding the convention center, the competition for viewers (or subscribers/ad dollars, depending on the platform) at this year's fan confab has reached a feverish level.

Comic-Con, which attracts hundreds of thousands of fans of all ages from across the globe, is often considered a key launchpad for new fall shows, with the outspoken fanboy crowd seen as early tastemakers. Winning over the crowd — with many fans spending much of their time standing in line to get into over-stuffed ballrooms — can help generate good buzz, and in turn, signal a hit. Only the competition for eyeballs on-screen — as well as at the San Diego convention — has hit overdrive. (And we're just talking about TV here, not film, comics, etc.)

Fox's rookie X-Men drama The Gifted has odd banners urging Con attendees to get tested for the "mutant" gene with a nearby installation actually offering said testing. The side of the Hilton Bayfront — across the street from the convention center — has been taken over by FX's Marvel drama Legion, with the cabler also moving into the neighboring park area with installations for Archer, Legion and American Horror Story, the latter of which is bypassing a panel this year in favor of a late-night water display. Also featured: freshman Snowfall, with the 1980s cocaine drama offering branded shoe laces in what seems like a stretch for Comic-Con. Speaking of out of place, Comedy Central's Broad City is in San Diego, too, with a massive coloring book art display promoting the show's return — and, yup, a panel this weekend. There's even elevator doors wrapped in Fear the Walking Dead and Walking Dead adhesives. 

Across the street from the convention center, NBC is well aware that its long-gestating genre drama Midnight, Texas launches on Monday. The network has taken over the corner area by re-creating sets from the show that few have seen. Down the road, History's Knightfall has built a storage unit of sorts offering attendees a place to store their haul. And beyond that, AMC has teamed with the San Diego Parks Department for a huge Walking Dead "Deadquarters" area featuring re-created characters and a small (netted) batting cage. HBO has also brought winter to San Diego by taking over an empty storefront and transforming it into a lengthy Game of Thrones immersive experience. The same is true for Westworld, too. Syfy, rather than put down roots, has Orlando Jones officiating (legal!) weddings as part of a pop-up chapel, and has a drumline clad in network-branded capes playing geeky theme songs marching all over the place. Behind the convention center, History is going to set a boat on fire as part of a Vikings-themed funeral and TBS has created an "island" to support second-year comedy Wrecked. And we're not even inside the convention center yet! Petco Park, home of Major League Baseball's San Diego Padres, also has banners for ABC's Once Upon a Time — which is rebooting itself with a largely new cast — and another Marvel show, ABC and Imax's big bet The Inhumans — hanging from the top of the stadium. Netflix has also taken over the sides of two huge buildings to support another Marvel drama, The Defenders, as well as Stranger Things season two. Both shows are featured prominently in Netflix's interactive event nearby with fans waiting in line for more than an hour to get inside and see … nothing they haven't really seen before. But hey, it's all selfie friendly!  

The push for The Walking Dead is hard to miss as the star of the AMC zombie drama's face adorns all Comic-Con badges. Those, of course, must be swiped on a, yup, Walking Dead-themed security pillar in order to go in or out of the venue. And in a change, Netflix is joining The Walking Dead with banners inside the convention center for Bright, among others. (And we're old enough to remember when all the lanyards were sponsored by Dexter and Showtime, with the premium cabler now barely visible at the Con after sitting it out completely last year.) 

On the exhibition floor, Warner Bros. has life-sized Supergirl and Arrow Funkos, wings from Lucifer and a small version of The Big Bang Theory's living room for photo-ops. The Walking Dead has selfie opportunities with a silicon Negan and another with a cheesy stuffed tiger. ABC has a hologram Captain Hook from Once Upon a Time and an activation around freshman The Crossing, which is promoted on trolly cars with large wraps that more prominently feature the phrase, "From the network that brought you Lost" than any imagery of the Steve Zahn starrer). Other trains are branded with Seth MacFarlane's face to support Fox's The Orville, which is also making its Comic-Con debut. Oh, and Conan O'Brien is here, too, taping a series of SDCC specials with his Funko-styled face also popping up around town.

So how do you even cut through? Who are the winners in the dizzying Comic-Con marketing blitz? Honestly, it's nearly impossible to measure. But then you remember: Comic-Con is a fan event and a happy fan who is willing to tune in, post selfies, tweet, tell a friend and leave San Diego happy? Maybe everyone's a winner. (But those offering a place to sit, shade, free drinks and a charging station are typically everyone's favorite.)