When Wired decided to go to Comic-Con six years ago, the magazine came up with an interesting way to be part of the annual fanfest without having to actually join the masses that pack the San Diego Convention Center: come up with a space that lets you avoid the crowds.
The company’s Wired Cafe, situated on the rooftop deck of the Omni Hotel in the city’s Gaslamp Quarter, quickly became a respite for celebrities who are asked by studios and TV networks to promote their movies and TV shows.
While the nightly party scene during Comic-Con becomes a miniature version of Hollywood with its exclusive VIP parties held poolside on the rooftops of area hotels, there were few options during the day.
That gave Wired an opportunity to not only promote its publication, but also incorporate marketers that are looking to connect with celebrities the way Hollywood is trying to get in front of consumers at the Con.
“Originally, we wanted to find places to put the Wired brand on display that would allow us to stand out but in an organic way,” said Wired publisher Howard Mittman. “We are trying to provide an oasis in the center of Comic-Con for VIPs without creating another generic photo opportunity.”
The Wired Cafe’s guest list is limited, given the venue’s size that only allows 350 people at a time, but thousands stop by the space during the week to mingle or grab some food. In turn, the velvet rope invites helped elevate Wired’s profile and turn the space into a highly in-demand destination among attendees and those trying to get the coveted passes.
“The level of exclusivity is only aided by how many A-listers are (sharing their experiences via social media platforms),” Mittman admits. “There’s a great reciprocal response from fans” as a result that gives them “access to experiences they might not otherwise have.”
Talent stopping by the Wired Cafe in the past has included the casts of “True Blood,” “Game of Thrones,” “Arrow,” “Vampire Diaries,” “Teen Wolf” and “Twilight,” as well as Hugh Jackman, Joss Whedon, Seth Green, Thomas Jane, Rachel Bilson and Zachary Levi. This year, confirmed attendees include Ben Kingsley, Mike Judge, Evangeline Lily, Melissa Leo, Rob Lowe, Freddie Prinze Jr., Robert Rodriguez, Shane West, Kellan Lutz, Kevin Smith, Tyler Posey, Matt Walsh, Bree Turner and Wesley Snipes.
A little self-promotion by stars also takes place. This year, “True Blood’s” Stephen Moyer is introducing WEEV, a social video app he created. Moyer will be on hand Friday to demo the app.
But the Wired Cafe isn’t exclusively for celebrities. Since the beginning, Wired has touted the cafe as a haven for journalists and bloggers looking for a quiet place to file their stories. Wired, after all, is a magazine.
“There’s a huge blogging component of the cafe,” Mittman said. “That’s been a big part of its success — as a place that offers free Wi-Fi, food, drinks and a place to work.”
HBO has sponsored the venue’s bar multiple times, turning it into Merlotte’s from “True Blood,” for example. This year, the theme is the ice wall from “Game of Thrones’,” recent season to replicate the snowy location from the series. The Ommegang Brewery will have a new craft beer on site developed for the series.
“Comic-Con itself is an inherently visual experience,” Mittman said, and “given the visual nature of Instagram, it makes it a natural” for themed installations like the “Game of Thrones” ice bar. “We try to make things as photo friendly as possible so they can be captured and shared.”
That injection of creativity has helped attract sponsors, including Subaru and Patron in the past. This year, Ben & Jerry’s will serve up its newest ice cream flavors and create a concoction with Ommegang beer, while Oculus Rift, whose virtual reality goggles are being used by Warner Bros., Legendary and Fox on the convention show floor to promote “Into the Storm,” “Pacific Rim 2” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” will provide a demo that offers a 360-degree view of “Games of Thrones'” world.
MakerBot will showcase its largest 3D printer to produce giveaways such as a Wired Cafe logo, while American Airlines will pay for the free Wi-Fi available to guests.
Wired Cafe hasn’t been alone in trying to provide a respite from the convention center.
In the past, 20th Century Fox’s homevideo division has offered similar lounge-like spaces. This year, Samsung, Xbox and Marriott have their own. With the right location and promotion, another brand could easily give Wired a run for its Conde Nast money.
As long as Hollywood continues to spend millions to take its projects and related talent to San Diego, those destinations aren’t expected to go away anytime soon.
“What we took note of was that so much of what was happening at night were competing parties, but no one was trying to find substantial opportunities during the day for VIPs, the 5,00 actors, writers, directors, agents, musicians that come to Comic-Con,” Mittman said. “Wired started the cafe to court those people and give them a place to relax and get away from the masses. It’s been a success from year one and become one of our most popular programs.”
Mittman says the end result has helped create “an affinity toward Wired in how we tell stories” and a “sensibility of the brand.”