A Call to Ads

Sometimes I wonder about things. Arty medium difference economical things...

I've mentioned finances and how they affect the Comics industry in a few of my recent posts, and I'd like to expand upon some of that while tackling a whole other industry: the Advertising industry. More importantly, I want to address the connection between the two industries and the wide potenial for the Comics world's deals with the ad men of Madison Ave as I see it.

So "Kick-Ass" (@kickasscomic) is one of the hottest comics on the stands right now (when it comes out). I haven't read every issue yet (the last issue of the first volume, #8, came out back in January). I happen to think it's pretty over-done violent junk, but who am I to judge the tastes of the people.

"Kick-Ass" also just received the silver-screen treatment (@kickassthemovie) and made a somewhat disappointing weekend release that, however, hasn't dropped off in huge numbers since. In the weeks leading up to the adaptation's arrival in theaters this giant billboard could be seen in Times Square here in Manhattan:

Pretty sweet, right? Well, I can't enjoy it because all I can think is why couldn't it be this:

Comics billboard advertising. Why not?

Well, I think to myself: Self, comics can't have billboard ads because the amount of money the rental agency charges the ad agency who charges the person who gets the advertising contract is too huge for the number of people who are expected to see it and then follow their nose into a comic-book store or into a box-chain bookstore and ask for the Comics & Graphic Novels section.

An unfortunate truth, I guess.

Films cost millions of dollars to make and make tens of millions of dollars in revenue, so the ad agency charging the production company can be paid tens of thousands of dollars and in turn spend thousands of dollars on a giant fucking billboard.

So the problem is one of scale or, perhaps more accurately, perceived scale.

But perceptions can be changed, can't they? We just had the annual Free Comic Book Day this month and although it wasn't a failure by any stretch of the imagination, it was pointed out to me by a comic shop manager friend of mine that his boss HATES Free Comic Book Day (@Freecomicbook). Why?

Well, because it's a day on which he is required to shell out money (although not a lot, something like ¢8 a comic-book) for product that he is then going to be expected to give away for free. If he doesn't give the comics away, he looks like a jerk. If he absconds from the whole event, he looks like a jerk who isn't current with the times. So far, financially, this has all worked out because so many people come into the store looking for something free and leave with a few things that aren't free that the store makes enough money to cover the expense and then some. But he still hates that he's giving the product away and there's something else. There's a bigger problem here:

Most of the people coming in are comics readers already because most of the promotion for the event appeared in places comics readers look.

I can understand his point of view even if I don't agree with it. (As I wrote the next day, I saw quite a variety of people.) Most specifically I can agree with the undeniable fact that comics still don't get promotion in the same way the other arts do.

Graphic novel ads on Times Square billboards. Why not?
Comic-book ads on television. Why not?
Magazines, newspapers, radio, subway cars. Why NOT?

Because less people read comics? No. That may be the truth, but that isn't why these ads don't exist. There are ads for all kinds of things that have no market whatsoever in reality. That's the American way. Sell 'em something they don't need! Advertising isn't based on reality it's based on expectations about reality:
Perceived economies of scale.

Whether changing the perception will magically change the reality or vice versa I have no idea, but I do know there are some softball ways to start this process. In fact, some of them are already underway.

Facebook user-designed ads which can be set up to direct a user to a Facebook page are so cheap and, as a result, are appearing for comics, webcomics, and comics-related events. That's really exciting because not only is that advertising in the face of people who theoretically want to see it, it's designed directly by the artistic creators/event planners for those people.

But these are probably called-up from text-search algorithms based on the user's habits. So they'll see these ads only if they already happen to be on Facebook pages with words like "webcomics", "comic-books", "artists", etc...

Marvel advertises for its Digital Comics Unlimited streaming subscription service on all kinds of websites. They have a bunch of them, they look like this:

Not exactly as professional looking as I'd like. It is a web banner ad; it doesn't really need to be too fancy but it only looks marginally better than the user-designed Facebook ads!

The "Scott Pilgrim" people at Oni Press (@OniPress) and Universal Pictures (@UniversalPics) really have a good thing going. They've printed up bookmarks that have an ad for the upcoming film adaptation on one side and an ad for the soon to be completed graphic novel series on the flip side.

"SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD" (the movie adaptation)
"An epic of epic epicness."
in Theaters August 13 & @ www.scottpilgrimthemovie.com

*Turn it over...*
"SCOTT PILGRIM'S FINEST HOUR" (the sixth and last graphic novel)
plus! "Catch up on Scott Pilgrim at your local Comic Shop!"
in Stores July 20th & @ www.scottpilgrim.com or www.onipress.com

Now that's smart marketing. You see one side, it excites you and you learn about either the adaptation or the source material when you flip it over!! The film gets advertising, the comic gets advertising, the customer gets a free bookmark. Each side is the same size and in the same place and thus gets the same exposure. Both are true to their respective logos and designs/aesthetics. Nobody behind this marketing tool made an a priori assumption about the number of people potentially interested in a film or the number of people potentially interested in a graphic novel. It's trying to get as many people as possible interested in both and as a result probably has gotten a maximum number of people interested in the related product. Everybody wins!

I don't mean for this post to be a series of admonitions and accolades. All comics companies could be doing more to promote the Comics medium in mainstream avenues.

I saw a Las Vegas comic-book store make shockingly good use of advertising in a large theater in the weeks after the release of "The Dark Knight" two years back. They placed Grant Morrison's recent issues of "Batman" in a nice fan shape (with Alex Ross' gorgeous cape and cowel cover on top) with the deluxe Batman movie dolls Warner Bros. released in a small glass case next to the concession stand. Why couldn't DC Comics do something like that on a huge scale?

Why didn't "Kick-Ass" the movie have a teeny tiny bump play before it started in the theater for the Comic Shop Locator service? Did you even know such a public service existed? 1 888 COMIC BOOK. Really.

Why don't the mid-level to major-level companies create a multi-million dollar coalition (they've done that before on at least two occasions I can think of, off the top of my head) to buy ad space in People magazine or The New Yorker or time on WFMU (I'm told they love Dan Clowes over there. Fantagraphics, you're not taking advantage of a golden opportunity!) or during the goddamn Super-Bowl or ANY OF THE MILLIONS OF MAINSTREAM MEDIA SOURCES SELLING ADVERTISING TIME/SPACE?

I don't mean for this to be about what the Comics industry is doing wrong. This is not a badgering admonition. I mean for this to be about what more the Comics industry could be doing right. This is a call. A call to the weapons that lay waiting at the feet of the Comics industry.

I believe in marketing comics, because I believe in the power of the Comics medium. Sometimes, I wish the publishers and advertisers believed in marketing comics too. Maybe the recent acquiring of Marvel Entertainment by the Walt Disney Company will enliven things in this department a bit. I wrote a bit a few weeks ago about the first appearance of Marvel merch in Disney stores. Disney owns radio stations and television channels up the wazzoo, so are we going to see Disney/Marvel making use of those outlets for more than just cartoons of varying quality starring Marvel characters?

I hope so.

~ @JonGorga