If hundreds of wig, glitter and corset vendors, a family-friendly area with a pint-sized runway and scores of famous glamazons aren’t enough of a draw, here’s a compelling tidbit about this weekend’s DragCon: There will be drag queens in go-karts.
For the first time, there will be actual drag racing, dubbed “RuPaul’s Kart Race,” at DragCon 2019 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The three-day event, from Hollywood production house World of Wonder, home of RuPaul’s Drag Race, may have started out as a niche gathering for the LGBTQ community five years ago but it’s grown to become a marketer-heavy mainstream convention with media, big pharma and CPG partners.
Its audience, split evenly between straight and gay attendees and heavy on millennials with a 40% male audience, swelled to 100,000 people for the New York and L.A. versions last year. Numbers are expected to climb this year, starting with the L.A. show, which runs through Sunday. (NYC is scheduled for September).
While beloved television franchises like Star Trek pioneered the fan fest decades ago, it’s a hot trend these days for networks to host their own multi-brand IRL experiences. NBCUniversal’s Bravo just announced BravoCon, set for New York this fall, and true crime-centric Investigation Discovery’s IDcon recently had a sold-out event for amateur sleuths and armchair detectives.
Though we’re living in the screen age, “Consumers are still craving that in-real-life experience to connect directly with their favorite brands and talent and other like-minded individuals,” says Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, co-founders, World of Wonder Productions, and the masterminds behind DragCon, which has its roots in “a tribal gathering” that’s evolved into more of a “family reunion,” they say. “It’s a party and a celebration across generations, gender and demographics.”
Sponsorship spending has grown 170% since DragCon in New York last year, with short-form mobile video platform TikTok, Lyft, Gilead Pharmaceuticals and T-Mobile among the marketers now involved. (World of Wonder hired a brand partnerships executive earlier this year to keep up with and continue to stoke the demand).
Several fast-growing DTC brands will be at DragCon L.A., like Mally Beauty, as well as Sugarpill and Morphe. Some companies will use the floor to debut new products: Anastasia Beverly Hills will roll out its collaboration with Alyssa Edwards, and Trixie Mattel (the “Backwoods Barbie”) will unveil her new cosmetics line.
DragCon, which saw $8 million in merchandise sales last year, is an Instagram dream, no filters necessary. It’s often described as an explosion of eye candy and a sort of Disneyland for adults, presided over by RuPaul himself, who will be DJ-ing from the TikTok main stage, a more elaborately produced area than in past years, the founders say, with performances planned from Nikki Blonsky, Rebecca Black, Allie X and Adore Delano.
TikTok launched a social campaign leading to the event, with giveaways, makeovers and other potential perks for anyone tagging their posts with #ServingRealness, “showing their true selves” and living their best drag lives.
Parents have brought their kids since the early days, Bailey and Barbato say, so two years ago they added a dedicated children’s area, with fashion shows, story hours and arts and crafts.
“Kids love drag queens just the same way they love Marvel superheroes or Disney princesses,” say the execs, who hint that the event may expand beyond its two current cities. “Drag culture resonates across demographics.”