Nearly Everything Is Branded at Comic-Con

Bates Motel bathroom door, Teen Wolf WiFi

Attendees may show up at San Diego Comic-Con as superheroes, but they turn into advertisements as soon as they walk through the fan-stuffed door and onto the floor of the convention center.

As folks settle in to wait for the doors to open, they awkwardly flirt, adjust their free backpacks—each of which comes with a detachable cape advertising a Warner Brothers property (from The Lego Movie to DC Comics to The Vampire Diaries) and admire or mock the costumed attendees nearby. The guy who came as Waldo is going to have to put up with people yelling "There he is!" for the whole four-day weekend.

Branding opportunities abound. The skirted silhouette on a ladies room door wields a knife and instead of "Women," the Bates Motel-branded sign reads, "Normas." Even the free (if extremely spotty) WiFi server is labeled, "Teen Wolf Free WiFi.”

"It's all about brands trying to outdo each other," explained Fearless Media's Cara Scharf. Indeed, the brand activations around the convention range from the mundane to the spectacular.

Legendary Entertainment, the company behind both Pacific Rim and Man of Steel, has an exhibition that is somewhere between a museum and a ride at Disneyland. The first part of the marketing stunt is an exhibition of memorabilia with all things Godzilla on display. After a few minutes of milling around, an "emergency" forces attendees into another room where giant windows open onto a rainy street being stalked by a monster who peers angrily through the window at lizard lovers. The fans are then armed with mini-posters and released into the wild.

Veterans of the convention are remarkably uncynical. In fact, plenty of the exhibitors are fans themselves. Take Kevin Shinick, showrunner for Cartoon Network's MAD and serial Comic-Con attendee. “It has gotten to the point now—this is my sixth Con, I think—where they're like family reunions," said Shinick. "There are people you don't see except for once a year."

Shinick canvasses the Con for new talent—plenty of young hopefuls bring their portfolios—but he also gets to participate in Cartoon Network's huge presence. It's another Warner Brothers property, and Warners has a dominant status at the convention befitting its control of DC Entertainment, Turner, The Hobbit franchise and sundry other shows via its television production arm.

New movies are being promoted enthusiastically—there's a huge exhibit for The Hobbit that looks like the movie's final setting of the Lonely Mountain, but Marvel and its parent corporation, Disney, aren't exactly lying down on the job, either. You can't walk 10 feet without seeing a poster for Thor: The Dark World, and the Con is swarming with folks talking about ABC's upcoming drama, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

But the reason all these expensive activations are here—and there's no way the Godzilla blowout is less than a five-figure investment—is to see what the fans are interested in. Though Summit Entertainment has a lower profile than, say, Syfy—which, across from the convention center, has set up a huge facsimile of the café from its show Defiance—people are already lined up as of this writing for the Ender's Game panel, which won’t start for several hours.

"Being able to talk to the fans directly is what I really love about the Con," said Shinick. "It's really great to be in a room with people who are interested in what you're working on. I mean, I say I've been going there for six years, but before that I was there every year as a fan."