Big booths, panels, previews set the standard

Celebrity appearances. Extravagant parties. Industry buzz. Summertime film premieres. It’s not Cannes — it’s Comic-Con.

The convention most famous for the number of attendees dressed as Captain America has evolved into an important industry event in the last five years and now companies show up ready to make a big impression on the fans.

“There’s no middleman here, no filter,” says DreamWorks marketing exec Mike Vollman. “When we come here with ‘Transformers’ we’re talking directly to our audience and if they get excited about what we do here they tell everyone on the Internet about it.”

Few things have as much of an impact on fans as fresh footage or previews of upcoming projects. An advance screening of the pilot episode of ABC’s “Lost” at last year’s show generated good buzz among fans.

Warner Bros. learned last year that having no footage from “Batman Begins” disappointed fans who at the time thought the omission indicated problems with the picture; this year the studio has “Superman Returns” director Bryan Singer coming in from Australia to present a special look at the film on Saturday.

“Footage really makes a huge impression at Comic-Con,” says Steven B. Miller, VP of business development and strategic planning for Disney Publishing Worldwide, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary as a comics publisher. “When we showed footage (last year) from the ‘W.I.T.C.H.’ television series, it was just remarkable how many kids stopped to watch and check everything out.”

Paramount will show fans a sneak peek of its fall CBS series “Threshold” and screen an episode of sci-fi cable skein “The 4400″ in separate panels. “If you have a show that touches this audience like ‘Threshold’ or ‘The 4400′ do, this is really the place you have to go,” says John Wentworth, exec VP of communications for Paramount TV.

Celeb appearances are also a crucial aspect of generating and/or sustaining buzzes for projects. Animation company IDT is hosting panels that boast big names like Stan Lee, John Landis, Rob Zombie and Todd McFarlane.

“It’s different when you hear someone like you talking about something that interests both of you. It’s more meaningful,” says John Hyde, chief operating officer of IDT.

Sony also thinks taking it to the fanboys and -girls pays off. This year, the studio’s booth will feature the motorcycle from next summer’s “Ghost Rider,” a movie based on a Marvel comicbook, and thesps Tom Welling of “Smallville” and Maggie Grace of “Lost” will be on hand to promote “The Fog.”

Sci Fi Channel has been focused on Comic-Con’s importance for a long time. “It’s really a year-round issue for us because this has always been our core audience,” says Adam Stotsky, the cabler’s senior VP of marketing and creative.

The company will erect a 19-foot high, 30-foot-by-60-foot booth that incorporates lounging, meeting and viewing areas and an “ectoplasmic” exterior. “We’re constantly talking about it and looking for ways we can use the opportunity to start our promotions campaigns off with a bang,” says Stotsky.

This year, the channel’s promoting its upcoming Dean Devlin-Bryan Singer mini “The Triangle” as well as staple series “Stargate SG-1″ and “Battlestar Galactica.”

Lions Gate sees the convention as a chance to have direct dialogue with fans of its genre fare. “We’re premiering ‘The Devil’s Rejects’ at Comic-Con because this is where our viewers go to find out what’s cool and you have to focus on giving back at a place like this,” says John Hagerman, the company’s president of worldwide marketing. “These fans are dedicated and they want to see things first.”

Even with the focus on turning a booth into an event for fans and industry professionals alike, no one is quite sure exactly how much impact it all makes.

“Buzz is an intangible thing,” says Robert Oswaks, exec VP of marketing at Sony Pictures Television. “Sometimes it’s serendipity and hopefully that’s some of the buzz you can start creating at a place like Comic-Con.”

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