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When brands go geek: The business of Comic Con

People, Person, Adult
  • Comic Con attracts an audience of millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha
  • 55 percent of Mena population is aged under 30
  • Brands must appear authentic to appeal to this cohort

As the Middle East Film and Comic Con, the largest popular culture festival in the region, takes place this weekend, it is not just cosplay and comic fans who will be in attendance.

This year big brands are upping their pop culture marketing in a bid to stay relevant to the region’s growing young geek culture demographic.

The 11th edition of the event is expected to draw big crowds, with celebrity appearances by A-list pop culture stars such as Stranger Things and Black Widow actor David Harbour; Andy Serkis – the actor behind The Lord of the Rings’ Gollum; House of the Dragon and Doctor Who actor Matt Smith; and Star Wars C-3PO legend Anthony Daniels.

“[Comic Con] has one of the most passionate and loyal audiences you can find,” Arafaat Ali Khan CEO of Waverider Entertainment, an IP content creation and management company centered around pop culture and entertainment, told AGBI.

“Businesses have always wanted to reach this demographic, but they are some of the hardest to reach because they are savvier and they’re not as easy to influence.” 

Comic Con combines a mix of Generation Alpha (those born in or after 2010), Gen Z (born between 1995 to 2009) and Generation Y (millennials, born from 1980 to 1994) like Khan, who is also a former organiser of Comic Con and the founder of artist and influencer marketplace POPC.

Arafaat Ali Khan of Waverider Entertainment says the geek demographic are “some of the hardest to reach because they are savvier”

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, people under the age of 30 constitute more than half (55 percent) of the population across the Middle East and North Africa.

This population is expected to double in size during the first half of the century.

A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund said the major changes in population age structure will mean that adolescents and youth population in almost all countries in the region will increase, expanding the share of the working age population but with fewer dependents to support.

This new, young but working age population could generate a “demographic dividend” because it will be left with more disposable income, which can in turn spur greater consumption, the report said.

Khan said the “old methods of marketing” are too formal and do not work well with the Comic Con crowd because they are quick to dismiss inauthentic voices pressing for a sale.

“If you’re a bank and want to reach this tribe of people, sure you can go on TikTok to find them – but they’ll see straight through you,” Khan said, noting that Mashreq Bank and Emirates NBD’s Liv. are among the brands doing activations at this year’s festival to try and attract new, young customers.

“Geek culture is bigger than ever right now” according to Dubai-based comics writer and artist Sachi Ediriweera

With movies, TV shows and games coming to life via activations, Comic Con is a “prime opportunity” for brands to interact with consumers, Lucy Chow, author of Changing The Game: Discover How Esports and Gaming are Redefining Business, Careers, Education and The Future, said.

“There is nothing that can substitute face-to-face and emotional connection,” Chow said. “It is a fact that people are willing to go into debt to pay for experiences, more than material goods.” 

The rise in popularity of events also coincides with the rise in spending on live entertainment, particularly among the younger demographic, she added.

The global entertainment and media industry is poised for strong growth and expected to approach $3 trillion in revenues by 2026, according to a report by consultancy firm PwC.

Advertising should account for nearly 35.1 percent of all industry revenue in that year.

“Geek culture is bigger than ever right now,” award-winning designer and comics writer and artist Sachi Ediriweera said.

“But if a brand wanted to engage across audiences that like gaming, film, TV and comics, they have to target each audience separately. Comic Con makes it easy to target everyone all at once.”

Ediriweera said businesses across all sectors are realising that bringing in pop culture references through sponsorships of certain products makes brands seem more relatable. “For example, Audi doesn’t have any business promoting their cars in a Marvel movie, but for them it’s great brand value to have Tony Stark seen driving a next-gen Audi,” he said.

Comics and their movie and games franchises are multi-billion dollar industries.

According to Fortune Business Insights, the global comic book market is projected to grow from $15.35 billion in 2022 to $21.37 billion by 2029.

Marvel, a company worth $53 billion as of 2021, publishes more than 40 percent – approximately $282 million – of all comic sales in stores in the US, international research data and analytics group WordsRated found.

Public global box office numbers reveal that Marvel movies, in total over their lifetime, have grossed $26 billion dollars.

As brands look to nurture their next generation of customers, aligning with the interests of this demographic is essential, and profitable.

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