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?