After one attends several San Diego Comic-Cons it becomes increasingly difficult to be impressed by any of the many marketing campaigns that dominate the city's convention center and the surrounding Gaslamp district and harbor areas throughout the four-day pop culture extravaganza. From giant images that drape buildings to Pedicab signage to costumed characters and scantily clad models maneuvering through the thousands of people who are coming or going to or from the convention center at any given moment, there are only so many things that marketing and promotion specialists can do to get their messages across. Chances are regular Con-goers have seen it all before … or so I thought, until I saw the expansive campaign for "Defiance," Syfy and Trion's upcoming scripted science-fiction series and massively multi-player online game of the same name.
The biggest and boldest facet of this campaign – one that generated hundreds of thousands of impressions – was a formidable building drape over the towering San Diego Marriott Marquis that featured the cast from the franchise and its title treatment. This image could be seen from virtually any vantage point around the Con and throughout the city. (This mammoth "Defiance" poster competed for attention with one for the upcoming NBC series "Revolution" that was similarly draped over the Hilton San Diego Bayfront at the opposite end of the convention center from the Marriott. But the "Revolution" drape revealed almost nothing about the show. The "Defiance" drape introduced the cast and established its post-apocalyptic setting.)
On a somewhat smaller but even more elaborate scale, Syfy transformed the heavily trafficked restaurant at San Diego's Hard Rock hotel into Café Defiance. The result was an impressively detailed promotional environment, right down to the custom designed menus, pens and napkins that complimented much larger wall displays. One couldn't walk through there without becoming intimately familiar with the franchise. Café Defiance was the site for a press breakfast Friday with the cast of the upcoming series (some of whom will make appearances in the online game) and executives from Syfy and Trion. (Syfy has maintained a significant presence in this particular restaurant for many years, having transformed it during previous Cons into Café Diem, a setting from the series "Eureka.")
While the Marriott drape and Café Defiance generated awareness with tens of thousands of Con-goers, Syfy drilled down into the media itself by creating two environments that generated talk among professionals from the television and gaming communities – one in the Wired Magazine Café, located in the Omni Hotel, the other on board the TV Guide Magazine yacht, docked directly behind the convention center.
I never made it inside the Wired Café, but if the excitement level in that space was even half that on board the TV Guide yacht it was another win for "Defiance." The TV Guide yacht, which made its debut last year, has very quickly become an eagerly sought out rest and relaxation zone in which television stars can take a break from the non-stop interviewing, autograph sessions and other appearances that come with promoting one's series at the Con. They are asked to pose for photos in the yacht's second floor photo studio, and to sometimes do brief video interviews, but they are otherwise free to eat, drink and hang out until their next appointment. From what I saw during two visits to the yacht, most of them were in no hurry to leave. (I think the TVGM yacht bar may have been the coolest at the Con, perhaps because during my first visit to the yacht "Game of Thrones" creator George R.R. Martin was holding court there, along with many members of the "Thrones" cast.)
The interior of the yacht was filled with pillows and banners featuring the "Defiance" title treatment, and special "Defiance" cocktails were available to anyone who wanted them. Most effectively, there were several video-game consoles along one wall at which visitors could play an early version of the "Defiance" game and presumably begin generating buzz about it within the industry. (The game was especially popular with young male stars, in particular the guys from "Game of Thrones" and Syfy's "Being Human.")
All of this promotion – along with a giant banner inside the convention center -- must have worked, because a panel for "Defiance" held early Friday night in one of the convention center's mid-size rooms was filled to capacity, which doesn't often happen with unknown television franchises that do not boast major stars or show-runners and are almost a year away from their premieres. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the cast of "Defiance" includes two actresses who are very popular with the Comic-Con crowd: Julie Benz ("Dexter," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel") and Jaime Murray ("Dexter," "Spartacus," "Warehouse 13").