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Committed: Targeted Marketing for the Geek-Curious

Outside of comic books themselves, there is very little advertising for comic books, online or on television. Targeting non-comic book readers could be effective, but are the corporations who own comic book publishers really trying to sell comic books?

It seemed like there was universal acknowledgement of the fact that the dorky television ads DC used to promote the new 52 #1’s worked at getting some new readers into stores. Sure, plenty of those people were simply lured in by the fact that they thought they were buying some collectible first issues (adorable), but at least they were new or lapsed readers, i.e. people who don’t usually buy comic books. At my local stores there was a lot of talk about this, about the new readers and how, ultimately, they’d be a bit disappointed by the books, since they weren’t to everyones taste. But the important thing was that the ads were reaching a new audience.

Now it seems we’re back to normal, with comic books only advertising in comic books. Continuing to aggressively market to the people who are already buying comic books, even though that market is already being bled dry, makes no sense at all. Why not market to a whole new crop of people? To continue to target the people who already know about comic books is insanity. One of the most useful and dramatic changes that I’ve seen in my own work in marketing design is increasingly targeted marketing, particularly online.

Have you noticed that when you look up a flight or a hotel on a website, for a few days afterwards, all of the banner advertising you see on most other websites will be pushing flights or hotels. It is almost as if someone is watching you and recording your preferences (they are.) You can either decide this is some insidious 1984/ “Big Brother” type of thing, or you can be happy that the completely obligatory advertising is at least something you might be vaguely interested in. Advertising is one of those necessary evils and as far as I’m concerned, if there have to be ads, I’m fine with them using cookies to track my movement and chuck something slightly interesting at me.

The way it works is that, for example, if I read an article on this site about Captain America, I should then be followed around the internet by ads for the Captain America comic book. This is marketing 101, it makes no sense not to target us. I’m not saying I like advertising, but why not bloody use it? More importantly, if a person who doesn’t know about this comic book news sites like this one, is reading about the Captain America movie on Entertainment Weekly (or some similar non-comic book specific website), why aren’t they being targeted with comic book ads when they leave that site? I work in this industry, I know that this is how other industries do it, this is not some futuristic fantasy, this is the kind of basic junk that every business engages in.

My scientist friends tell me that the science on The Big Bang Theory renders it almost unwatchable, and from my point of view the comic book aspects of it are pretty painful too (not so much inaccurate as just laughably out-moded and implausible.) Here’s the thing though, whether you find The Big Bang Theory depressing, accurate or hilarious, (or all three) isn’t relevant. What is relevant is that the sitcom machine that is Chuck Lorre put out a sitcom targeting the geek-curious (is this an accepted term? I’m using it to describe people who are interested in experimenting with geeks, geek culture, or feel that they may actually be a geek.) And to a certain extent it has worked; while not all my geeky friends watch it, a lot of our friends and families do, and they think it relates to us (annoying, but there you go, we’ve been targeted.)

So why aren’t comic book publishers putting out ads during The Big Bang Theory, or Portlandia, or whatever else has geek appeal to the geek-curious? I’m not talking about prime-time ads, these shows get syndicated and if late night informercials about cleaning cloths can afford a commercial spot, surely Time Warner can throw together some quick ad for a comic book. Of course if you wanted to effectively target potential comic book readers on TV, you could just advertise during anything on the Independent Film Channel, which is apparently what DC do (that’s the only place I’ve ever seen ads for comics, for the new 52 and for Fables.) That’s a very broad audience, so then they could target the ads more effectively by having a broad range of ads, each one tailored to suit the tastes of the people watching various shows and movies. A Daredevil comic ad could go on during an action movie, or a Wonder Woman comic ad could be aired during a soap opera, you get the idea.

None of the above is happening though. No targeted advertising for comic books, not online or on television. This could be because publishers don’t think there is a big enough potential market for comic books. Or it could be because publishers don’t really control the purse-strings of their own marketing. Ultimately, the owners of the big comic book publishers (Time Warner and Disney) aren’t about pushing books, but creating iconic brands which they can then sell peripherals for and use to sell other products that they own. We’re all operating under the assumption that the aim of all of this work is to create and disseminate good comic books for people to read. But the people who are actually responsible for selling them aren’t really trying to do this at all, they don’t care, they just want to make something that can sell a lot of toys, gum, sandwiches, coffee, clothes, etc.

All of this leads to marketing embarrassments which further demean the medium and turn off potential new readers. It is just too depressing to think about and it makes me hate capitalism (which is stupid, because I can use money to buy comic books.) If big corporations continue to milk the most obvious brands in the tackiest ways, there will be no meat left on their bones for future consumers. I wish that marketing executives could see that effectively marketing good comic books now is what will ultimately lead to more sellable brands in the long term. Invest in the future, consider quality, enjoy true content. Is this really so much to ask?

23 Comments

Excellent points. As a self-publisher, I’m thinking of all the ways to market my comics outside the box. Why aren’t the big companies doing the same? With their shrinking mind-share, I don’t think using superheroes to sell toys, gum, and sandwiches is a sustainable plan.

I have been followed around the internet by comics advertising, so I’m sure Marvel has tried that route.

Some of the questions I ask myself whenever advertsing comes up:
1) What was the last ad that changed MY mind about buying a product?
2) How much is this going to cost? Is there enough revenue to support it?
3) Will new customers be able to obtain the product I’m advertising?

I’m with you, Sonia. This should definitely be happening more.

I’ve been followed around by superhero related ads… most notably ads for Marvel’s digital comics. But that’s pretty much it in terms of comics ads. Pretty much everything else is superhero movies or something tangentially related.

You also bring up a good point about “The Big Bang Theory”. They market that show to geeks (clips of it are playing on the TVs every time I go to GameStop, and every “New 52″ I’ve read has had at least one ad), but I don’t know any geeks that watch it. You said you know a few (which I find surprising), but that it’s mostly family and friends who think they’re somehow “tapping in” to our geek culture. Every time I’ve tried to give that show a chance, it smacks of pandering. It’s just the most stereotypical, offensive, annoying nerds yapping about junk science and year-old video games.

Hmm. I guess this just kind of turned into me ranting about how much that show. Whatever, I stand by it. That show sucks.

*how much I HATE that show.

From the people I know that watch BBT regularly, it seems to me the geeks & scientists that hate it are the ones that take themselves too seriously.

It’s sorta like the Luke Ski parody of Jeff Foxworthy’s “redneck” bit, “You might be a Trekkie”

“Someone asked me what the difference is between a ‘Trekker’ and a ‘Trekkie’
As near as I can tell, a ‘Trekker’ is a Star Trek fan;
a ‘TREKKIE’ is someone who INSISTS you call them a ‘Trekker’….”

Wont someone think of the children?

I mean, seriously go after the kids. As a comics community we’re getting older, new readers need to be younger, and continue to sustain the industry once we are dead or enfeebled. Get some good YA material kicking around, plug it during their programming and they’ll buy it. Kids buy anything that’s on TV. That’s science fact.

Also TJC, I mentally added “I hate that show,” to the point where I was surprised to see your correction. I also am not a fan. Is it so hard to write nerds, or at the very least stay somewhat topical on what is en vogue in Nerdom?

BBT is fine. It’s no more stereotypical about geeks than King of Queens is about fat delivery drivers or Friends is about friends or Three’s Company is about swingin’ roomates. I think one thing geeks would do well to try and do it get the stick out of their ass about how they’re precieved. Try taking a little joy in self-depricating humor, you’ll feel better. And you can take some pride in the fact that at least your stereotype is the hero of this story.

I’m not ok with targeted advertising using cookies. There’s a great episode of Parks and Recreation where Ron Swanson throws out his computer when he finds out about cookies.

I did see DC commercials for the “new 52″ during Doctor Who on BBC America, so I guess that’s something. But I really don’t think commercials will have much of an effect. I always think it’s weird when I see commercials for novels on TV. It just doesn’t seem right. If they really want more people to read comics they’re going to have to lower prices and support more genres than just superheroes. There are probably people who would read comedy, romance, horror, or sci-fi comics but don’t like superheroes. Selling comics with magazines would help too because they’d be much easier to get. If I wanted to buy Newsweek I could get it and be back home in less than 5 minutes, but I have to travel an hour out of my way to get comics.

Those food-related pics… hmm. Do McDonalds/Burger King/etc still do Happy Meal toys? I know that cheap plastic junk probably only costs like, 2 cents a piece, but comics on that mass scale couldn’t be much different. Chuck out the cheap plastic, throw in a cheap read instead!

That’s just ONE thing. ONE thing that would reach multi-millions of kids (and inevitably get thrown out by the parents when they see all that sex and violence in it… Which will just make the kids want more… )

Here’s a couple of other things that my friends and I touched on over the course of 2 years:

You have big budget movies coming out, yet only once have I seen a book deal connected to the event. Here in NY over the Iron Man 2 premiere, Midtown Comics handed out leftover copies of Iron Man free books to like the first 100 entrants to the movie. Wouldn’t DC or Marvel do something so simple at selected opening theaters?

DC makes a big deal online and to viewers about their DC Nation block on Cartoon Network and yet in the 4 weeks since its “premiere”, Batman Brave & the Bold was cancelled with 2 repeats and Young Justice had 2 repeats… Last week their wasn’t ANY DC programs. Doesn’t CN still hold the rights to JL/JLU and Teen Titans to plug the gap until fresh episodes come in?

Marvel has it’s late night Disney XD weekend blocks for their programming and it has been going on for 2-3 years now but I have yet to see commercial one for the comics. Movies..yes…. but not the books or even the digital libraries/downloads. At least DC has had commercials on SyFy and BBC America as previously stated. Heck I have even seen Dark Horse commercials in the same timespan….Big Bang Theory and Chuck have actually done more advertising by books and posters in the background of their stories… and now I can put Alcatraz and The Fades on that list as well.

I think the big comic companies consistently drop the ball in getting the word about books and events out to the unwashed masses…. losing chances to increase revenue streams….

…but then again I’m just an aging, nerdy street punk from Queens, NY. What would I know about big business?

When I was at the big Toronto con this Summer it seemed like 1 in 50 people had a Big Bang Theory “Bazinga!’ shirt on. Then again, BBT has huge ratings in Canada. If the same percentage of people watched it in the States it would be the highest rated show by far.

I don’t see much marketing for prose books either. I guess they hope that people who like to read will just show up in bookstores. But of course, that doesn’t expand the readership, which is why it’s only dedicated readers who ever buy books, except for hot bestsellers and movie source-material. So publishers and booksellers are working with a small, stagnant market and whining about their future prospects.

This sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

I mean, I read, but that’s because my parents made sure to take me to the library and gets books for me when I was young, so I developed a love for the hobby. I read comics because after watching Batman/Superman Adventures as a kid, I asked my parents to buy me comics. Nobody targeted me, I had to go do it myself. And if the companies are satisfied with only getting the minority of people who are willing to seek out hobbies and entertainment themselves, fine. If they want to be financially healthy, then they’ll learn to market. That’s a lot of why TV and movies are bigger industries than anything involving books. Not just because they’re easier to consume and appeal to the lowest common denominator, but because THEY ACTUALLY GO AFTER PEOPLE.

Although as pointed out by sandwich eater, comics have accessibility issues (of both content and product) beyond the marketing. But some competent marketing and a real commitment to develop the industry would go a long way.

Ah well, 90 years. We had a good run, didn’t we?

Big ups to Basara for the Luke Ski ref.

Did anybody ever see, back in the day, the Ultraverse ads that supposedly aired on TV? Anyone know if they’re on the YouTube or anywhere?

As to “marketing to kids”: DC recently had some Justice League comics in cereal boxes. So there’s that.

I loved this line, Sonia: “Sure, plenty of those people were simply lured in by the fact that they thought they were buying some collectible first issues (adorable)”. It’s that (adorable) that did it.

I loves me some Hostess Sno Balls, but I would be worried to consume something called “Glo Balls”. I think Bruce Banner also has that, no?

I suspect that Warner and Disney see the comics as merely IP farms, and since the rewards are so much greater for everything BUT comics, they don’t really care about expanding the comics market. Which of course is dumb, since expanding that brings in more fans, which encourages creators to come up with more IP, which generates more money…

I think online marketing is probably the way to go — I’d imagine these days the “geek-curious” are more online, and I believe that TV audiences skew older.

I assume the COST of ads on IFC is so much less than on most other channels, so that’s where the companies advertise. I’d say the companies would consider the “product placement” on BBT, etc as much “advertising” as they want to invest in.

I believe, although I haven’t seen it definitively, that Warner OWNS BBT, and that’s why they place so much DC stuff in there, and why it was advertised in the DC books so much when it hit syndication.

Which leads me to my mini rant on BBT. What a crap show!!! My god, I watch it for several minutes at a time, no laughs, barely a smile, and I’m pretty easy to crack up. And it’s not even comics/geek related stuff that’s not funny. The entire thing is awful. I don’t know how it’s survived so long (oh, wait, Warner owns it and wants that sweet sweet syndication cash).

It’s so awful it makes me look at other sitcoms that I used to enjoy and just get sick of them, too. Why did I watch Two and a Half Men? Hell, I’m even starting to not love Everybody Loves Raymond, but that may just be because it’s on 1000 times a day. (I still kinda like How I Met Your Mother. Mostly.)

One other thing the devil’s advocate in me wants to point out is that comics have survived this long without doing advertising in other venues, so perhaps it’s a bit alarmist to think that comics won’t survive without advertising. Probably the bigger problem is that there are so many other things competing for people’s attention, and most of those are shiny and move, where comics require some imagination and just…sit there on the page. I also think I’ve read recently that the percentage of people who read for pleasure is down a lot.

One serious problem with comic books are, sorry to say it, comic book stores. It is insane to only sell your product in speciality stores. With a few exceptions, this is what the comic industry does. I know that they are available digitally, but they also need to go to the supermarkets and convenience stores. These were the first places I ever discovered comic books. Use the impulse buy, make them available for kids to present to their parents for purchase. And make them cheaper. Parents would buy a two dollar comic book, but they would probably balk at a 3.99 comic.

I want my Marvel Crunch n’ Munch :(

I don’t hate BBT because I find it offensive or anything. I hate it because the main characters annoy the ever living snot out of me. I almost feel like Ogre from Revenge Of The Nerds when I watch that show and have to resist violent urges. Abed from Community is probably more my kind of fellow geek. As oddball as he is and as crazy as he may come across, he’s still a lovable character and I find him hilarious.

@ Daryll B., DC Nation has not launched yet. There was a preview last November but the launch will probably be in March. Both Marvel Universe and DC Nation seem to be (hopefully) going where I thought they should gone for years and really promoted the YA stuff to kids. I especially hope that they will actually promote the comics based on the shows. All of DC shows have had comic series that sometimes live even longer than the actual shows but I could imagine that there might have been just that much more readership if they were actually promoted during the shows.

@ Deetz, I still owe a few pounds to Marvel Crunch N Munch. I was such a sucker for the promise of a Spidey or Wolverine card on the inside.

@DBishop Thx for the correction, I figured that it would have been ready to go to start the year and with their extensive library, DC would maintain the spot until new episodes would be ready to go.

@Travis I know of one or two broadcasters on YouTube that had the Ultraverse commercials. Here’s one for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXlTvUgUj7A

I hate to bring this up,but how do you justify to a non-reader the cost of a comic? I started reading/buying comics when they were 12 cents. Most adults I speak to these days who may be interested in trying a book are shocked when I tell them how much the price has increased. How do others handle that?

I guess people just love or hate Big Bang Theory.To each their own.

Let me clarify, since I didn’t make it clear enough in my earlier post (and therefore I understand all of the repsonses arguing with it), I don’t like that show as a matter of opinion. I don’t think it’s funny. In fact, it’s one of those shows where almost every joke strikes me as painfully unfunny. Y’know that feeling when a joke is so bad, you feel bad for the actors? Like late-seasons MadTV? Yeah.

I guess I just picked on the “stereotype” angle because it seemed appropriate to the tone of the article. I’m not one to actually get offended about stupid things like a sitcom. If anything, the only giggles I’ve ever gotten from “The Big Bang Theory” have been from thinking “Wow! This whole show is about ‘nerds’ or ‘geeks’, and obviously none of the writers know a single person who would identify themselves as either.”

So, yeah, if I came off like the type of person that fires off “How DARE you?” letters to TV producers, I apologize. There’s something wrong with those people.

I loves me some Hostess Sno Balls, but I would be worried to consume something called “Glo Balls”. I think Bruce Banner also has that, no?

When I was a teenager, I would get Glo-Balls every once in a while. It was pretty painful. Glad those days are (mostly) behind me.

So, the Blue Lanterns, being eternally hopeful, suffer from the blue Glo-Balls? Is that what we’re getting at here?

@Daryll: thanks for the link to the Ultraverse commercials. I’m looking at them on a computer with no sound, but wooooooowwwww, those are…oh my. I sure hope the recent DC ones have been better! I forgot that Ultraverse came out around the time EXTREMMMMMMMMEEEEE sports started getting popular. Oy I feel old.

@TJ, no need to justify disliking BBT. Your reasons are sound, and the show is terrible. Like I said, it’s so bad it makes me question why I’ve ever liked ANY sitcom!

One of, if not the biggest problems with comics is how low profile the medium is to the general public. What compounds it is how several in comics seem fine with being out of the mass public eye. Several things hold comics back; age-old business practices, pricing, availibility, single genre-dominated content, Big 2 v. Indie game, etc.

Creator Owned comics have a better position at reaching the mass public than the Big 2. From the jump, independent creators are trying to get the word out about their books any and everybody.

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