With numerous experiential activations taking place under one umbrella, San Diego Comic-Con saw the emergence of branded installation areas, which featured numerous smaller activations inside. Think of them as the lands in Disneyland, if each land was appropriately devoted to a given network and each ride was an immersive experience.
In this article, Haunting will help recap San Diego Comic-Con 2019, the various immersive installation areas, and what expectations to have with each.
Note to Readers
All of these experiences are FREE, meaning you do not need a San Diego Comic-Con badge, you do not need to purchase tickets prior to the event, and you do not need to spend any of your money! All you need to do is wait in a line, and you can attend all of the immersive activations/experiences in this article. Further, all of these exist outside of the San Diego Comic-Con convention halls, with only some very minor experiences within the convention. There are a handful of other activations in addition to the ones in this article, but we were unable to attend them this year.
Amazon Prime Video Experience
Lines & Experience: With a 60,000-square-foot location, Amazon felt luxurious, welcoming, and most importantly, experiential. The majority of each line was shaded by overhangs or umbrellas, and volunteers walked around regularly passing out free waters and temporary tattoos themed for the activation. Further, when guests entered, they were handed a small bag of six coins, each embossed with the logo of one of the three properties: Carnival Row, The Boys, and The Expanse. These coins could be traded for fruit popsicles, otter pops, assorted fruits, pretzels and cheese, and kettle corn. Finally, Amazon hosted a cosplay corner where professional-grade photographs could be taken of your costumes, and you could relax on padded seating, in the shade, while you drank ice cold water and regained your energy.
Activations: To promote three of its key properties, Amazon teamed up with Ross Tipograph (who produced with the Sleep No More team) and Tom Salamon to write and direct three main activations: Carnival Row, The Boys, and The Expanse. Each of these activations centered around a resistance and an authority – and with common theming, the experiences felt cohesive and similar.
The centerpiece for all three of their shows was a 40-foot tower that became a 360-degree stage show every hour. These shows were exciting, eye-catching, and brimming with action-packed stage combat. Each property was captured here: guests could see the thrilling conclusion to Bronwyn escaping the police to climb to the top of the tower and hang fairy wings at the top; guests could listen to Belters chant Our Air, Our Water as they fought for a home that belonged to them and completed a stunt-filled training simulation; and guests could witness a protest against superheroes as civilians screamed F#ck Supes from the tower. Most of these experiences were breathtaking with powerful stunt work from the likes of Cason Mac (Majestic Rep’s Krampus), Ana Zimhart (Blackout), Alice Ford, Eric Sun, Evan Copage, Mami Ito, and Daniel Locicero. These experiences were successful of entertaining audiences with eye-catching action as they waited in lines or rested in the comfortable seating area.
The tower was the immersive stage show, which rounded out Carnival Row’s sandbox style, The Boy’s puzzle style, and The Expanse’s multi-track style. I wish the actors could have exited the first floor of the tower and explored the ground floor, interacting with audiences more – but we understand that there are many factors preventing that. All in all, the tower was a wonderful way to unite and bring together the entirety of the Amazon Prime Video Experience.
Take Home Items: To make each activation even more memorable and create positive brand associations, a gift was provided for attending each one. We’ve talked about how important the take-home item is for generating positive associations with a brand in the past, and Amazon’s research definitely told them the same. The Expanse gifted guests with a high quality, black mug with lid; The Boys handed out an enamel pin stating F#ck Supes!; and guests exited Carnival Row with a new set of cardboard wings that moved when the appropriate Snapchat filter was activated.
Conclusions: Amazon excelled in creating a user-friendly atmosphere that invited guests to come in, hang out, and create memories. Each activation was well worth the wait in line, incorporated a different style of immersive theater, and had powerful writing, acting, and directing. And the shimmering box tower united it all together, ensuring that Amazon felt like a cohesive hub for their properties.
FX Fearless Forum
Lines & Experience: Located at the Hilton Bayfront Park, just adjacent to the convention center, the FX Fearless Forum is an essential location for those going to SDCC. While the grass has since disappeared and now the location is a dirt lot, the forum is still a gorgeous sight. Large white structures look regal and at night, a projection mapped gallery is displayed against them, highlighting FX Network’s programming with stunning visuals.
Apart from the visuals, the Forum offered two innovative and helpful elements: a fast-pass inspired reservation system and sunscreen. First, for those early risers, guests could scan their RFID badge (received upon initial check-in) to get a reserved time-slot. They could then come back at that time to wait in a separate, much short line. This idea is genius, and makes the lines at the FX Fearless Forum a breeze – because you don’t need to wait in them.
The second highlight for the FX Fearless Forum was the It’s Always Sunny sunscreen station. Labeled Let’s get SPF-ed Up, this booth had no line and provided guests with free sunscreen. This was essential and so needed for those who needed sunscreen in the bright San Diego sun.
Activations: FX made the brilliant decision to hire JFI Productions to write and direct American Horror Story 1984. This was the horror highlight of SDCC and was easily one of the best activations overall. JFI knows horror and they succeeded.
The other FX activation, What We Do in the Shadows, was hidden to the side of the hotel and resided outside of the FX Fearless Forum. It’s important to note that the FX RFID badge was needed for this experience, despite its location. The remoteness also kept lines short, and the experience was elevated due to its more intimate feel.
Take Home Items: FX was generous with their free merchandise this year. There were more lines for free swag than for immersive activations. Guests could line up to get a free snapback hat with the logo of any of their favorite FX shows on it. In a separate line, FX offered the choice between multiple vinyl decals and cell phone cases showcasing their properties. And in a final line, guests could get temporary tattoos in the style of The Mayans.
Conclusions: The FX Fearless Forum was a worthy contender for Amazon Prime’s powerhouse of a hub. With quality merch, sunscreen, and a reservation system, the experience at FX prepared you to experience more at SDCC, which contrasted slightly with Amazon’s invitation to come in and stay a while. But there’s no argument that the immersive activations were top-notch this year.
Lines & Experience: AMC Deadquarters successfully immersed audiences in the shared universe of The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, and Telltale/Skybound’s games of the same name. A car warning Keep Out, a bird cage dropping to attract a nearby zombie, and smoke curling through gaps in the metal of a crashed plane – this was a playground for anyone who loves this series.
We were able to enter through the back of the downed plane and took pictures in its cockpit. We flipped buttons and played with the yoke of the plane–everything was interactive. For the more daring in our group, we climbed into the treehouse to view the wasteland below. We lowered the birdcage, attracting zombies, and then swung down on a knotted rope to safety. The zombies were even kind enough to pose for a picture with us.
Hidden around back, AMC offered an indoor area focused on their latest games. Groups were able to mock-audition to be on The Walking Dead, in which we received a katana and had to fight off hordes of virtual undead. We also played jewel phone games and the latest TWD VR game.
Finally, the line for the activation was shaded and remained relatively short.
Activations: With only one activation, Winter Escape, it was easy to find. While previous years focused on photo ops over immersive experiences, the activation was a welcomed change and greatly improved the experience. The inclusion of weather effects felt innovative and contrasted wonderfully against the other offerings at SDCC.
Take Home Items: AMC’s Deadquarters was focused on charity. Instead of providing free merch to guests, they asked for canned goods and $10 or $20 donations. For each donation, guests are given a Hilltop coin and a shirt.
Conclusions: With a simple premise of immersing audiences within the The Walking Dead family of properties, the photo opportunities and immersive activation made this the best year for AMC’s Deadquarters to-date.
NBC’s Gaslamp Coverage
Lines & Experience: NBC’s immersive activations could be found spread out across the downtown Gaslamp district. While relatively close, this area did not require a separate line to enter – but in turn, Brooklyn Nine-Nine had a longer line with little to no shade. Luckily, The Good Place and Superstore pop-ups had easy lines and were inside and air-conditioned.
Activations: Brooklyn Nine-Nine reigned king of NBC’s activations. As the only truly interactive and engaging immersive experience for NBC, Brooklyn Nine-Nine succeeded in crafting a uniquely funny and clever experience that pitted three teams against each other for the prize of being the best.
The Superstore pop-up was located in the Hard Rock Hotel’s main lobby and offered custom photo opportunities and a customer service desk with exclusive giveaways. The Good Place was a re-branding of Maryjane’s Diner at the Hard Rock Hotel, serving up the same food at higher prices, and offering a small audio and light experience mid-meal.
Take Home Items: With no central hub, the Superstore pop-up served as a make-shift area for the giveaways. By scanning our wristband, we received free exclusive merch, including a The Good Place-themed tote bag. Despite the staff of The Good Place’s Interdimensional Hole of Pancakes having themed shirts, there was no free or paid merch here (unless you took the placemat). And Brooklyn Nine-Nine provided a nice themed pin after experiencing their hilarious activation.
Conclusions: While NBC had no segmented area to contain all three of their pop-up events, being in the heart of the Gaslamp district surely made up for it, providing them with a high level of visibility. Brooklyn Nine-Nine was a comedy smash and Superstore offered memorable merch, but The Good Place failed to hit its mark for us.
Fox’s Animation Domination
Lines & Experience: Spanning 24,000 square feet, Fox’s Animation Domination was a carnival-themed attraction, aimed at attracting younger audiences to play games and win prizes. While we didn’t stay long at this area, there were plenty of games to play, as well as a 70-foot-tall Ferris wheel to ride.
The lines seemed relatively short and were shaded by the nearby trees. Employees were handing out water regularly for free, providing a pleasant experience and much needed rehydration.
Activations: There were no immersive activations at Fox’s Animation Domination.
Take Home Items: While we didn’t play many games, every player was given a pin for participating. These pins where themed with one of the following properties: The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, and the upcoming Bless the Harts. I was able to win an Animation Domination-branded head scarf for beating the shoot the water at the target game.
Conclusions: Fans of immersive activations didn’t find any experiential entertainment here; but for those with younger kids or a desire to relax to some ice cold water, Fox’s Animation Domination was a welcomed debut to the SDCC scene.
San Diego Comic-Con is embracing the power of experiential marketing – and in doing so, network hubs are becoming increasingly popular. There is a clear trade-off between visibility and total footprint; but most networks this year proved that despite being off the beaten path, providing strong activations, a pleasant user-focused experience inside, and memorable giveaways are essential to creating positive brand associations. Fans were not afraid to wait in a long line to see their favorite shows come to life, especially when there was shade, sunscreen, and water to improve the experience.
So fans, come to San Diego Comic-Con next year. Networks and agencies are hiring some of the best and brightest creative minds in immersive entertainment to craft these experiences – and they’re free. Take the time to drive down from L.A. to experience this wonderful event for yourselves.
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