Tagged: Bonfire Agency

Ed Catto: Nerd is the New Normal


Geek culture has come a long way. Half the time, I still don’t think that many of us can quite believe it.

I can’t believe that for Monday night television, I can choose between CW’s Supergirl and a young Batman in Fox’s Gotham. After that choice is made, I can’t believe I can then watch a Vertigo comic, Lucifer come to life the next hour.

And I can’t believe that in the groceries my wife brought home, I just unpacked Avengers cheese sticks.

avengers-hero-twistsGeek Culture is everywhere.

Back In the old days, professing to the world your love of Geek Culture, be it comics, Star Trek, science fiction or any other flavor of nerdom, meant that you’d be subject to ridicule, derision and scorn. The world at large didn’t respect your hobby. Instead they just quietly put you into that “nut” or “weirdo” category and tried hard to forget about you.

I’m one of those comic fans who never took a break from it. Weekly trips for comics have been part of my life as long as I remember. However, that presented some difficulties for me in the late 70s during my high school/college/post college year dating years. In fact, I recall more than a few relationships, usually the third or fourth date, where I’d have skewer my courage and come clean. The conversations would typically go like this:

Me: “I have to tell you something about me that you don’t know.”

Her” What’s the matter, are you a serial killer or something?”

Me: “No, it’s much worse. I read and collect comic books.”

Her: “Oh dear, God….NOOOOOOOO!!!!”

tpautosBut things have changed now.

As I recently related, my family gives out comics for Halloween and that propels us into the “cool house” category. I was recently was invited to be a part of the Marketing Executives Mentoring Program, a conference at Cornell’s School of Business. I was honored to be part of a very impressive assembly of marketing professionals.

Remember that moment in the Star Trek episode when Spock gets married, and Kirk and McCoy remark, in awe, that that the legendary T’Pau is part of the gathering? That’s what this event was like for me – about 40 times over.

With this in mind, you can imagine that I found their reactions to Geek Culture all the more validating. Maybe they were all just being polite, but the executives and the business students were fascinated when I discussed my business and marketing efforts in Geek Culture as co-founder of The Bonfire Agency. They wanted to hear more, not less.

the-caped-crusade-batman-and-the-rise-of-nerd-culture-150x225-6793839And last weekend, it was invigorating to again be the go-to person when the world at large had questions and comments about the newest super hero movie, Doctor Strange.

Like so many Geeks, I enjoy the spotlight and the elevation from outcast to valued expert. It’s a refreshing change.

I just finished an engaging book called The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon. He outlines the many changes of the character, and franchise, called Batman. In particular, he chronicles this story alongside the rise of geek culture.

Weldon writes quite a bit about the relationships between nerds and normals. But that dynamic is rapidly changing. Nerds used to occupy a place in society below the “normal” population. But not anymore. Passionate fans of Geek Culture are now perched in a unique spot in the social structure’s hierarchy. Not necessarily above but certainly not below. And so often they are positioned as experts. It’s a long time in coming, but it’s a nice spot to be in.

Now it’s time for to nibble on one of those cheese sticks.

Ed Catto: It’s an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World

PastedGraphic A

At the recent Baltimore Comic-Con, I presented “It’s an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World” which was both a nostalgic look back at how brands connected with pop culture fans and how brands connect today.

Sea MonkeysAnd I’ve got to say, it was invigorating to be part of such an exciting convention. The convention center is in the heart of their downtown, and the entire, upbeat weekend was an encouraging contrast to the agonizing images of Baltimore from last April. I’m not saying problems don’t still exist, but the Baltimore Comic-Con presented us all with an optimistic and hopeful weekend for this city.

For “It’s an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World,” I tried hard to balance my presentation between nostalgic, backward glances of ads in old comics and the brilliant innovative ways that brands now connect with Geek Culture. But to be fair, a lot of the old ads were so surprisingly goofy, especially through the lens of 2015, that it was hard to resist taking the audience on an extended, smirking “field trip” through the marketing of yesteryear.

batman_model_comic_book_adWe talked about the classic ads, like Sea Monkeys, but also about some of the clever and absurd ads, like those for muscle-building programs and part time jobs selling shoes.

During the presentation, I also took a closer look at two classic brands that engaged in long running campaigns specific to comics: Tootsie Roll’s Captain Tootsie series and Hostess Twinkies (and Fruit Pies) long running single page adventure strip ads. In fact, Hostess’ ads are so memorable that they’ve inspired a plethora of satire ads over the years.

PastedGraphic-4And for today, we talked about KFC’s clever onsite marketing at San Diego Comic-Con last summer. As part of a media partnership, Kentucky Fried Chickens place Col. Sanders statues in cosplay outfits, in various parts of San Diego’s downtown and Gaslamp districts. (And I’m sure you all know by now that cosplay refers to the practice of dressing up as pop culture character for a convention.) Fans were rewarded when they found these statues, and amplified KFC’s marketing messages via social media. And closer to home, we explored how my agency, Bonfire, helped Guinness connect with passionate pop culture fans as a sponsor of the Harvey Awards. These awards, honoring creativity and craftsmanship, are held annually at the Baltimore Comic-Con.

So, the title of this presentation was, in retrospect, misleading. It’s not really an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World anymore. Not traditional ads, anyways. But it is a world that eager for creativity and accepting of marketing messages – as long as they are authentic, entertaining and appropriate.  So keep your eyes peeled, and don’t be surprised if you see the next corporate mascot having fun with cosplay –just like everyone else.