More on Ads in Comics From an Experienced Source: Interview With Kris Longo

As a followup to my post a couple of weeks back on disappearing ads in comic books, I had the chance to speak with Kris Longo. He’s currently with the Bonfire Agency, a marketing company aiming to connect companies with fans. (They were the ones behind the CBLDF laptop case ad, for example.) Before Kris joined Bonfire, he sold ads for DC Comics for 13 years, so I really appreciated learning from his knowledge of the field.

During his time at DC, they aimed to create ads that were authentic and meaningful to the audience, such as the Converse shoe ads that used different historical versions of the DC characters. Those ads, because they spoke to fans in a way that didn’t insult or belittle them, were universally well-received, and they translated to sales — the shoes “sold through the roof.” It took six months of pitching to set that up, though.

Converse Superman adConverse Batman adConverse Catwoman adConverse Flash ad

Kris’ take was that declining ad sales was a problem that’s true of magazines in general. Ad budgets these days are smaller, so placements in print are more competitive. Companies are spending less and wanting more impact, so they aren’t spreading out their ad purchases among as many different venues, and they’re often switching to digital. A print ad might be included in a deal as a “bonus” to the paid digital placement. It’s not that any particular sales category has rejected comics; instead, it’s about looking for specific opportunities to align brands with what’s going on in comics.

In general, comics have a great story to tell advertisers. While other print venues have reduced circulation, some comics have had a growth spurt, and readers are much more emotionally involved with comics than with other magazines. Media buyers have to be educated on how much of a relationship comic buyers have with their shops and their “every Wednesday” routines, as well as the way comics are read cover to cover. (That’s not true of magazines.) Buyers, many of whom don’t have any experience with comics, expect feature packages targeted to different subjects planned months in advance; they don’t realize that comics are ongoing stories, not like other periodicals. It can take “herculean effort” to get awareness and comfort level up on the advertiser side.

That’s one reason for Bonfire launching their Comics United ad network, which started with Kris’ hiring at Bonfire in January. The agency is banding together a number of comic publishers — including IDW, the Image imprint Skybound, Top Cow, Aspen, Zenescope, Boom, and Dynamite — to create a buying situation with a million circulation based around a core of comic readers age 16-30. The advertising community needs higher circulation numbers, and counting publishers’ readership in total makes them a challenger to consumer magazines. Bonfire aims to raise the profile of comics as a viable media outlet in print and digital. The first ad placed through this program is expected to run in June.

In many cases, these paid ads are replacing house ads and other internal promotion pages, often on covers or right-hand pages located in the first half of the book. The goal is for this supplemental income to help boost the publisher’s projects. There will also be an all-ages-targeted group with a half-million circulation. The first ad placed there will be a back cover for Lego in books on sale in May.

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