Thursday, January 24, 2008

LCS Marketing

Let's say you run a comic book shop. It's been going well for a few years, and you've made enough extra money that you'd like to try making a TV commercial. You clean up the shop as best as you can, and mention to your regular customers that you'll be filming at a specific time/date and that, if they stop by during that time, there's a good chance they'll be able to appear in the spot.

This is what's going on at my Local Comic Shop today. (Theoretically, they're finishing up as I write this in fact.)

I have two problems with this. First, I have to question the effectiveness of a TV commercial for the narrow target audience that would respond to it. Maybe if you're able to ensure that it airs during Star Trek re-runs, I could see some justification for it but broadcasting is not the best approach for most products/services in today's world. The second problem is one that I honestly don't know if I would have anticipated prior to actually seeing the shop prep for the camera today: namely, the customers who did show up for the cattle call.

There were four guys hanging out at the shop today, a few hours in advance of shooting the commercial. All four of them were pretty stereotypical in what you'd expect comic shop patrons to look like: scruffy, overweight 20/30-something males wearing t-shirts sporting the logo of their favorite superhero. (One of them had a nasty case of B.O. as well, but that at least won't transmit over a television. Two of them were arguing about some obscure semantics of "Countdown" but I daresay that their actual dialogue, even if it continued during filming, wouldn't be used.)

Now let's think about this for a minute. You want to promote your shop to a wider audience, right? You've probably already got a pretty good lock on the local fanboy community because they're the ones most likely to actively seek out stores just like yours. So you're going to want to get your name out there to people who might not otherwise come into your store. Like, say, children. Or relatives of comic geeks. Or maybe the occasional comic reader who's usually content to pick up trade paperbacks at Barnes and Noble.

Is a store full of Comic Book Guy look-a-likes going to speak to any of those people? Seems unlikely to me. In fact, I'd bet that it would turn people off, as it would look like a clubhouse for emotionally stunted man-boys.

The shop went wrong on two fronts, as I see it. By opening the filming up to a cattle call approach, that removes a lot of control from the people who should maintain it. They're not selecting which customers appear, and therefore aren't guaranteed to get a reasonable mix of people. That leaves a significant portion of the shop's image (i.e. the type of people who frequent the shop) up to chance.

The other issue is that they chose to film in the middle of a weekday afternoon. I'm sure this was largely dictated by when they traditionally have the least amount of business that might get disrupted, but that also means that they're inherently limiting the types of customers that might even be available to appear in the commercial. All but the youngest children will be in school. Business professionals will be stuck in their cubicles. Stay-at-home parents will be in the process of picking up kids or finishing the day's shopping. Your pool of potential "actors" will be limited to retired individuals and lower-end wage earners who work an unusual schedule. I certainly don't want to demean either of those groups, but that's going to result in a relatively homogeneous-looking clientele.

You ever watch any of the commercials for Flying Colors? They almost always have a diverse mix of people showing up in the store. Different ages, races, genders, financial statuses... The store looks clean and tidy and all, but more significantly, it looks like a comfortable place to shop that doesn't only cater to a specific type of person.

Now it's possible that, as a shop owner, you might want to market yourself to the smaller niche of stereotypical fanboys, but I think that'd be an extremely risky proposition, given the state of the comic industry as a whole. Also, given that this particular LCS sells a decent number of independent books, I'm fairly certain they're not looking to narrowcast themselves quite that much.

I might also note that I was in the store a couple hours before they began work on the actual commercial itself, so it's entirely possible that a greater variety of people were scheduled to show up more immediately prior to filming. The store employees, as I noted above, were pretty busy so I didn't bother them with too many questions. But I do know that there definitely was a cattle call approach taken, as the small stack of flyers still sitting on the counter indicated, and that at least four of the folks who showed up were not exactly what I would consider prime examples of the store's customer base.

But, hey, what do I know? I've only got an MBA with a concentration in marketing and have spent years studying the comic book industry; I clearly have no justification to rant about this kind of thing.

6 comments:

Matthew E said...

I know there's a comic shop in Thunder Bay that has commercials running during their local CTV affiliate's broadcast of Heroes. Struck me as a smart thing to do.

Rockin' Rich said...

There's a comics shop in Boca Raton, Florida that runs a spot on local cable TV here.

Textbook example: several attractive young ladies and several fat white guys.

LOL... as they say.

Rick said...

My local comic book shop filmed a commercial in the store. Instead of being in the commercial, he gave me the very important job of sitting in the basement guarding a bee in a jar. I'm not sure exactly why this was so important, but I did it anyway.

The commercial turned out real good.

Cody Machler said...

Just to offer a counter-example, I had a very different experience with TV commercials when I still had my store. The commercial was filled before we opened, and with no customers present. It was simply footage of the store, overlaid with a hip soundtrack, narration, and graphics.

The local cable provider offered fantastic prices; typically $5-$25 per spot depending on the channel and time. I focused primarly on the Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, MTV, and FX. Part of the deal included promised spots in the 10PM to midnight timeframe.

Dozens of people found us through that commercial when we first opened. A few months later, a handful of new people would walk in each week and say, "I saw your commercial during Adult Swim," so I definitely think it was worth it. Plus it was fun.

I won't say a TV commercial will work for every comic book store, but it really fit the image and atmosphere I tried to create.

Pj Perez said...

Flying Colors?

Guy in Capt. America t-shirt? Check.
Owner making awkward hand gestures? Check.

However, I will say they're well-produced spots that DO indeed show a diversity of shoppers and the store's layout nicely.

Then again, what else would you do if you ran a comic shop and wanted to appeal to a mass audience? Go the CES route and hire hot models to appear that have nothing to do with your product?

Hmm ... I would love to direct a commercial for a comic shop and have it full of characters like "High Fidelity," except talking comics and not records. THAT would be a hell of a spot.

FlyCoJoe said...

Hi Sean---

Thanks for the name-drop and link!

We've been doing successful cable TV ads for more than ten years.

Over the last several years, we've had "b-roll" shot on FCBD--- that's a great way to make sure there are people in the store!

Years ago, I sent a postcard to my entire mailing list with the lines "Want to be a TV star? Flying Colors is shooting new TV commercials..." then went on with the details.

The best time for us to shoot those ads (for us and the video crew) was a Thursday afternoon in the summer. Very few guys showed up. We had more than 200 show up to be in the spot, probably 150+ were women and kids, and we shot most of them individually against a blue-screen backdrop, holding their favorite comic book or GN.

My ads are purposefully simple and direct. I own the store, I'm on the ads delivering the message. That works because I'm also in the store and in the community. The advertising complements our other community involvement.

As for the "awkward hand gestures", you wouldn't believe how many people mimic the "thumbs-up" sign when they see me. It may be corny and even "awkward", but it sure works.

And that's the point of any advertising, isn't it?

So since we're on the subject of advertising, let me drop in a plug: Flying Colors is remodeling (we'll be closed Mon 1/28 and Tues 1/29).

To show off the new look, we're hosting a free instore concert on Friday February 8, featuring Oglio Entertainment recording artist WISELY.

Check out his new CD at http://eveocativepop.com and be there for a fun time. Wine and cheese and desserts will be served.

Best!

Joe Field
http;//FlyingColorsComics.com
Concord CA