I didn’t realize I was a walking advertisement until it was Too Late

The San Diego Comic Con is the holy land for creative geeks. Nearly 130,000 people descend upon the San Diego Convention Center for 4 days in late July. With so many people, of a specific demographic, confined to a limited space, it’s a marketing breeding ground for the movie and television industries to make big gestures. You can’t avoid it. Movie poster images cover entire sides of hotels, hotel keys have pictures of the latest superheroes, hotel elevator walls are plastered with celebrity images and even hotel rooms aren’t safe as housekeeping will slap on mirror decals to promote some zombie video game. It’s hard for the book industry to make a dent to the over-saturated & over-stimulated attendees.

comic swag

Swag from the 2012 San Diego Comic Con

Publishers and authors have to do something special to get noticed or they risk finding their marketing dollars in the trash can as attendees only have so much room in their luggage to take home swag.

In 2011, GR Codes were the latest marketing rage. All the major booths asked attendees to scan codes with smart phones to enter their contests (and collected our contact information in the process). Publishers went one step further and offered codes to be taken to websites with exclusive book content like chapter samplers. By the time I approached the Randon House Audio booth, I was a GR Code junkie. I finally got the app to work on my phone and I had to scan everything. Most of the codes were on business cards or flyers but Random House Audio went a step further. They had fake tattoos. I grabbed one that looked cool, a yellow dragon, went to the ladies room and slapped the image on my left forearm.

The yellow dragon fake tattoo with a QR Code

The yellow dragon fake tattoo with a QR Code

Weird stuff started happening. I found myself being stared at a lot. This *never* happens to me. I was in a room with people wearing complex costumes and people with multi-colored hair so there was nothing about me that said it was okay to stare. After making sure my clothes weren’t inside out or that I hadn’t sat on someone’s lunch, I made the connection that people were looking at my tattoo. Looking isn’t the right word. I got a lot of approving head nods, thumbs up and eyebrow lifts. At one point, I had one woman point to my arm with her right hand and place her left hand over her heart. Somehow I had faked my way into the cool crowd and I had to keep up the façade the entire day. I plotted about who I could discreetly ask what the title of the book was called without being kicked out of the club. In the meantime, I thought about the novel. My only clue was a yellow dragon so I imagined it was a paranormal novel with epic dragon battles, knights in shining armor and damsels in distress.  Not even close.

I should have paid better attention to the book covers...

I should have paid better attention to the book covers…

So why did I select this marketing effort as one of my all-time favorites? When I got home from the Comic Con, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book moved to the #1 slot on my must-read book list. This happened, despite the fact that once you put a QR Code on a non-flat surface, like the curve of an arm, the code doesn’t work. What did work? The love of the story, expressed from the readers, who spotted my fake tattoo. The moral of my story… surrounded by hundreds of thousands and thousands of dollars worth of marketing strategies, word-of-mouth proved to be the most successful.


About Jessie Smith

Health Care Worker by Day, Aspiring Author by Night and 24/7 Staff for Riley (Corgie/Tibetan Spaniel Mix)

Posted on March 13, 2014, in Auth: Jessie Smith and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I think ComicCon is probably a lot more fun than the conferences I usually attend for Teh Day Job (although one of them does have a Kilt Day…)


    • Hi EJ – LOL. The San Diego Comic Con is unlike any other experience but I’m a big fan of any conference where people come together and creativity is produced!


  2. I never know where the discussions on this blog are going to go and I love that! Today we started with San Diego Comic Con illustrating the power of word of mouth and ended with fun versions of Typhoid Mary. 🙂

    Loved your story, Jessie. Definitely want to go to a con with you. Did you know that the 2015 World Con is in Spokane? I’ve never been to a con but got tickets for this one already. I have a guest room…hint, hint.


  3. Thanks Jamie! I wish I could figure out how to start the word of mouth process but that’s like trying to find the holy grail. 🙂


    • I think you start the word-of-mouth process by existing. After that, other people have to pass it along. With virality, you might have a Patient Zero, but then it has to expand under its own force to become an epidemic. If you have to do all the work yourself, I think you’ll only get so far. Even Typhoid Mary, as infectious as she was, only affected about 50-some people. Um, but we are FUN Typhoid Marys!


      • May we all find the path to the word-of-mouth. Wait, I have learned to be more clear. *positive* word-of-mouth and not legendary in a way such as Typhoid Mary 🙂


  4. Excellent point. With so much how-to advice floating around we often forget the best strategy is word-of-mouth. Thanks for the reminder.


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