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Brief Published: 28 Jul 2016

Trends from Comic-Con 2016

This year’s Comic-Con festival in San Diego (July 21-24) drew an estimated 130,000 pop culture fans keen to discover what’s next in the world of sci-fi and fantasy entertainment. While many of the major studios stayed away this year, Marvel and Warner Bros were out in full force promoting their upcoming slate, including Wonder Woman and Justice League (which won’t be released until November 2017).

  • Black Superheroes Matter: This year’s Comic-Con was dominated by Marvel. The studio’s ever-expanding cinematic and televisual universes grew even larger, particularly on Netflix where we’ll see new shows for superhero characters Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Luke Cage is the first major Marvel property with a black lead, “the perfect hero for the perfect time” according to Cage showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, when the issue of civil rights in America is once again of vital importance in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    Coker called Luke Cage the “Wu-Tangification” of the Marvel universe, referencing pioneering New York hip hop crew Wu-Tang Clan, and acknowledged the influence of gritty US TV series The Wire. See our blog post Marketing to Generation Hip Hop for more on how hip hop culture is reaching new mainstream audiences.
  • Surprise Marketing: In an upcoming report we’ll be exploring the growing trend of anti-advertising, where brands ironically expose the mechanics of engagement as a way of differentiating themselves from traditional marketing ‘tricks’. The brands at Comic-Con have a different problem, exemplified by the controversy around the recent Ghostbuster reboot: how to appease fan desire for a constant flow of new information (movie marketing campaigns, as we see with Justice League, can now sometimes run for 18 months before release) without over-hyping.

  • US studio Lionsgate took an innovative approach for its upcoming horror flick The Woods, by revealing at Comic-Con – a mere two months ahead of release – that the film is actually the official Blair Witch Project sequel. US entertainment blog Crave believes “we’ll see a lot more of these surprise last-minute announcements in the future as a way to fix a broken [marketing] system that makes everyone a little tired of upcoming movies before they’re ever released.”

  • Digitally-Enhanced Realities: As we describe in our latest Pop Culture Round-Up, Pokémon Go has taken over the world in just a couple of weeks. Augmented reality’s first big mainstream moment should bring cheer to those brands touting AR and VR experiences at Comic-Con, as everyday consumers become familiar with a technology that has thus far not caught on outside early adopters. The most advanced VR campaign came from broadcaster USA Network for its show Mr Robot. An entirely new 12-minute VR film was produced for Comic-Con attendees and users of VR app Within. In keeping with the show’s tech-hacker theme, the video was broadcast simultaneously across platforms at a prearranged time, and then permanently deleted.

  • Meanwhile, Amazon created a VR experience for its series The Man in the High Castle, enabling fans to virtually enter the world of the show, while Warner Bros teamed up with augmented reality firm Blippar to offer attendees AR-enhanced bags that revealed exclusive content when viewed through the Blippar app.

For more on pop culture media and marketing trends, see our Pop Culture Round-Ups.