Girls at Comic-Con Find Marketers Ready for Them
New York Times
August 10, 2010
For years, the stereotypical Comic-Con International attendees were male comic book fans who gathered every year in San Diego to dress as their favorite superheroes and debate esoteric topics like which Green Lantern is the best ring slinger and whether Darth Vader wears socks.
But as comic book fans grew up, married and raised children, a new fan base emerged: their daughters, who have grown up in a world ruled by Supergirl, Princess Leia and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
And marketers, including publishers, toy manufacturers and Hollywood’s entertainment giants, used Comic-Con 2010 last month to promote products for girls and to build anticipation for new ones.
Mattel, for example, used Comic-Con to promote several toy lines for girls, offering an exclusive set of its Polly Pocket dolls dressed as superheroes.
Mattel also promoted a new franchise, Monster High, which features dolls, books, clothing and accessories for girls, as well as animated webisodes that highlight the high school experiences of the awkward yet fashionable teenage offspring of legendary monsters.
While Polly Pocket has been popular among preteenagers for years, Monster High is a fledgling brand for Mattel. The franchise received a robust introduction in June, wider than usual for a toy line not based on a movie or television series.
Dolls, plush toys and electronics are already in stores, and a clothing line is available exclusively at Justice, a retailer of preteenage brands. The first of a series of books, written by Lisi Harrison, a best-selling author for young adults, is scheduled to be published Sept. 1, and Universal Pictures has acquired the film rights to create a live-action movie musical.
To broaden the franchise, Mattel is planning to focus on Internet and television marketing. Monster High has its own Web site and a fan page on Facebook, and a TV commercial that introduces the characters to viewers began running last week. And Friday — notably, the 13th — the ghouls of Monster High will haunt YouTube with the debut of a Monster High music video directed by Nigel Dick, who has directed videos for Paul McCartney and Britney Spears, among others.
Mattel executives say it is putting a premium on storytelling in the webisodes and series of books. That marketing approach allows girls to connect with the characters of Monster High, said Tim Kilpin, general manager for Mattel brands.
“Kids identify with and relate to the characters because of the story line behind them,” he said. “There’s a universal truth behind Monster High. Who doesn’t feel like a freak in high school?”
Toy makers and comic book publishers often offer exclusive products at Comic-Con. They are often moderately priced and produced in small numbers solely for those who attend the convention. Because they are not available at mass market retailers, they usually become highly collectible after the convention.
Seeing an opportunity at Comic-Con, Hasbro offered a special edition of its My Little Pony in 2006. It was so popular that Hasbro brought it back in later years. It added a Littlest Pet Shop exclusive last year, and this year, Strawberry Shortcake.
“What started out as a small, core group of collectors has evolved into family entertainment,” John Frascotti, Hasbro’s chief marketing officer, said. He said having exclusive figures at an event like Comic-Con offers Hasbro a way to go beyond its traditional marketing strategies of television and print ads because parents and children have a chance to share an experience and meet the toy creators and designers.
“Brands like Strawberry Shortcake, Littlest Pet Shop and My Little Pony have a very female collector base,” he said. “A lot of moms who grew up with the brands are sharing the brands with their daughters.”
On the premise that girls often look up to real-life heroes, Warner Brothers Consumer Products, a division of Warner Brothers Entertainment, teamed up with the gymnast Nastia Liukin, a five-time Olympic medalist, for an apparel collection called Supergirl by Nastia, which features the Supergirl S shield logo and is available exclusively at J. C. Penney.
Ms. Liukin is promoting the line with a five-city tour featuring gymnastic exhibitions, fashion presentations and styling tips from Ms. Liukin. The tour began last month in New York; cities on the itinerary this month include Glendale, Calif., and Orlando, Fla.
The apparel will be supported by a promotion including a national print campaign with circular advertising and direct mail. Integrated social media marketing is offered through Supergirl.com, which has been revamped to feature the collection and music, videos, and Facebook and Twitter updates from Ms. Liukin. She will appear at Supergirl Jam, an athletic competition on Aug. 22 in Venice Beach, Calif.
DC Comics, another division of Warner Brothers Entertainment, will collaborate with MAC Cosmetics on a line of cosmetics. MAC will create a limited-edition collection for spring 2011 that will feature the Amazon princess and include lipsticks, eye shadows, blush and nail polish. To create a little buzz about a partnership, Warner gave away iPhone cases stamped with the Wonder Woman and MAC logos at Comic-Con.
The women who are stars of the Marvel Comics universe are featured in a new series called Girl Comics. Marvel plans to publish three issues of Girl Comics, an anthology written and drawn by women, as part of its Women of Marvel celebration, a yearlong campaign. The first issue was released in March and featured She-Hulk arm-wrestling with Iron Man on the cover.
Michael Pasciullo, senior vice president for brand planning and communications at Marvel Entertainment, a unit of the Walt Disney Company, said Girl Comics appealed to girls and boys. “Good writing is good writing; good art is good art,” he said.