At Comic-Con, Brands Join Forces for Big Activations

Think of it as a team-up

With the expenses of travel, lodging, venue rental and (of course) the challenge of outdoing your competitors, San Diego's Comic-Con is a place for strange bedfellows—and not just the couple dressed up as Bullwinkle and Slave Leia.

Brands looking to maximize their presence while minimizing cost may find themselves partnered with any number of unusual businesses. Take Hulu, for example. The digital video network threw a party for its upcoming animated comedy The Awesomes, with creator Seth Meyers in attendance and network brass rubbing shoulders with geek royalty like Nerdist podcaster and frequent panel moderator Chris Hardwick. The sponsor? Jack Link's Beef Jerky. To be fair, Hulu positions itself as a general-interest network, so perhaps that one's at least understandable.

Kick-Ass 2, which co-branded with Playboy to the extent that its huge party was plastered with bunny logos in movie costumes, also sort of made sense. But how about Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag? The Ubisoft video game franchise had easily the most elaborate activation at the Con: a huge, tall ship docked in the bay behind the conference center where toymaker and comic book artist Todd McFarlane showed up to sign action figures he'd designed based on the game's characters. Below deck were demos for the game manned by piratical attendants; aboveboard there was a barber's chair, several steady-handed hairsmiths and various costumed conventioneers waiting for a Schick-branded shave and a free can of shaving cream (in an airline-friendly size). Creed franchise fans came from as far away as India to get on the ship. One gent in a Batman getup refused to remove his cowl and reveal his identity to the barber; the results were efficient, if unlikely to start a trend.

Next to the vessel, a Discovery Channel explosives expert fired off a cannon over the bay to cheers from the crowd. But the king of multibranding was Star Wars. Ostensibly, the Lucasfilm booth was really an agglomeration of licensees in a single area—clothing retailer Her Universe; Star Wars novels publisher Del Rey Books; even Petco, the company that had its brand plastered all over San Diego before the Con (to be fair, cosplaying pets are pretty great). By and large, folks staffing the booth and manning the entranceways were volunteers. "They take it super seriously," said one network publicist. "They all want to be asked back next year, and if they don't do a good job, there are a bunch of people waiting for that spot."

Even the talent was hard-pressed to make the most of the Con personally. "I would love to go down artists' alley, but I don't have the time," sighed Meyers at the Hulu bash (fellow comedian Scott Adsit has a legendary sketch collection). "We got in last night, and we're flying out tomorrow."