Smart Promo: Warner Bros. Creates Demand, Buzz for TV Shows, Movies with Comic-Con Freebies

Massive bags and hotel keycards featuring TV shows, movies are hard-to-miss must-have items in San Diego designed to generate hype

Warner Bros. Builds Buzz for TV
Warner Bros. Builds Buzz for TV
Warner Bros. Builds Buzz for TV
Warner Bros. Builds Buzz for TV
Warner Bros. Builds Buzz for TV

Hollywood knows it has a captive audience it can promote its movies, TV shows and videogames to when it goes to Comic-Con — make that around 130,000 people that pack the San Diego Convention Center and the hotels, restaurants and bars that surround the venue.

But over the past sixyears, Warner Bros. Television has figured out how to cleverly turn them all into walking billboards.

WBTV’s marketing team will once again supply attendees with their first freebie when they pick up their badges, with each individual receiving an oversized bag featuring the SDCC logo on one side and an image of one of the studio’s TV shows, an upcoming movie or direct-to-homevid feature. In the past, it’s also included a videogame.

But this year’s batch will feature a twist: seven shows — “The Big Bang Theory,” “Arrow,” “The Following,” “Revolution,” “Supernatural,” The Vampire Diaries” and “Teen Titans Go!” — will get bags that feature detachable capes for the first time and can easily turn into a backpack.

WBTV has produced the the bags for six years; they were initially handed out for two years at Warner Bros.’ booth before becoming the official bag of Comic-Con for the past four years.

In addition to the TV shows, Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment will also produce bags for “Godzilla,” “300: Rise of an Empire” and “The Lego Movie,” out next year, along with DC’s animated film “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox” and the classic “Batman” TV series of the 1960s.

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The bags are unavoidable.

Measuring 19-inches by 21-inches, the plastic vinyl bags are large and can’t be missed as attendees lug them through the show floor of the convention center and around downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, filled with other freebies and purchases made during the four-day fanfest.

While other studios and networks also hand out bags — like Syfy, “MythBusters,” “Shark Week” and “Pan Am” in the past — the size of WBTV’s giveaway is clearly meant to capture the attention of the Comic-Con crowd. And that’s the most impressive aspect: Attendees are only happy to carry them, despite their cumbersome size and obvious role as a marketing tool. This year’s bag is actually smaller than in the past when they were slightly larger at 24-inches by 29-inches. They were made smaller to turn into backpacks.

Still, few promo items generate the kind of elation or disappointment WBTV’s bags elicit depending upon which one an attendee receives (they’re handed out randomly). As a result, they’ve also become collectibles, with fans of specific shows or movies eager to trade with others to get the right image. The items have also showed up on eBay each year for people who couldn’t make the trek to San Diego. And it’s pretty common to find individuals carrying bags from previous years.

Yes, there’s even a YouTube video featuring one of the bags from 2011 and … cats.

One thing’s for sure, WBTV has figured out how to effectively turn advertising into a highly demanded piece of promotion, at relatively little cost, that the audiences it’s trying to reach are eager to covet.

WBTV’s promo effort doesn’t end during registration at the convention center.

Attendees staying at 30 hotels in and around downtown San Diego will also receive one of two keycards featuring images from CBS’ “Person of Interest,” produced by J.J. Abrams and WBTV. Around 40,000 keycards will be produced.

Show is the only series getting promoted at hotels this year — at least through the keycards — versus previous years, which featured “Arrow,” “Supernatural,” “Alcatraz,” “Fringe” and “Smallville” on keycards. One keycard features stars Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson in character as Reese and Finch.

Warner Bros. has also been producing the keycards for six consecutive years.

Created by Jonathan Nolan (“The Dark Knight” trilogy), “Person of Interest” is returning to Comic-Con for its third year, where it will also host a panel to promote the upcoming third season. Show is executive produced by J.J. Abrams, Nolan, Greg Plageman (“Cold Case”) and Bryan Burk (“Revolution”).

Altogether, WBTV hopes the marketing efforts will help raise awareness for its new and returning fall series.

“Everything we do at Comic-Con originates from a place of ‘how can we create a great experience for our fans?’ said Lisa Gregorian, chief marketing officer, Warner Bros. Television Group. “We prepare months in advance for the tracking of our earned media and ROI,”  “We also track sentiment and engagement across social media to ensure that our fans were happy with our efforts.”