Last year, Adult Swim took the festival space by storm with its first two-day festival, combining comedy, music and interactive experiences in one dynamic setting.
On Nov. 15 and 16, the network returned to downtown Los Angeles, this time at the Banc of California Stadium, allowing fans to indulge in all-things Adult Swim: special performances, exclusive screenings of Rick and Morty, and even a mechanical hot dog.
“Some people thought we were a little crazy for getting into the festival marketplace at this point in time, but everybody recognized that we brought something different to the table,” said Jill King, SVP, marketing and partnerships, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim and Boomerang.
“Unlike other festivals, we have a brand that speaks to people in a real way and has for years,” said Jason DeMarco, SVP and creative director, on-air, Adult Swim. “When people think of Adult Swim, they have a set of things that they think about that we represent. We don’t have to define our festival identity over 10 years. Our festival identity is defined by who Adult Swim is, which I think makes it a lot easier for people to wrap their heads around.”
This year’s venue served as a substantial expansion from last year’s event at Row DTLA. That opened the door for new and returning activities such as cat jousting, the Meatwad Dome and a giant Morty slide to take place among live music and comedy performances. It’s Adult Swim’s way of putting its unique stamp on the festival market despite its newcomer status.
“No other TV network could even put on a festival that anyone would care about because they don’t have a strong enough brand,” DeMarco said. “Adult Swim has enough of a musical and comedic identity that if we throw them together it doesn’t feel off. It feels natural to us and to the people that come.”
This year’s lineup included live musical performances from Jamie XX, 2 Chainz, Vince Staples, Rhapsody and more on the festival’s cat-themed stages. Also included was a live edition of The Eric Andre Show, its hit late-night comedy series hosted by the titular comedian and Hannibal Burgess.
“And then you have stuff like Dethklok or Captain Murphy that you literally couldn’t see anywhere else because we made those happen,” DeMarco said. “As long as we can keep doing that, we stick out more in the festival landscape.”
The festival’s inception also stemmed from the desire to bring fans together. That’s similar to San Diego Comic-Con, where the network goes all-out with live performances and activations.
“We know that our fans are connecting on social, in our chats and on streams, and they’re craving real experiences,” King said. “They’re craving the opportunity to come together. They have that with San Diego Comic-Con, but that’s just one moment that’s part of a much bigger convention. This gave us a chance to break out, have our own thing and create a space where they could come together.”
It’s that mentality that also drove partnerships with Fanta, Wendy’s, State Farm, Inkbox and more. Each company collaborated with the WarnerMedia Ad Sales team to add to the overall experience and engage with their target audience in a memorable way.
“This audience is so savvy to advertising that you’re not trying to trick them,” said Jennifer Cohen, SVP, entertainment content partnerships, WarnerMedia Ad Sales.
That includes PlayStation 4, who integrated their latest release, Death Stranding, with Rick and Morty through the Rickflector, a machine that transports fans directly into the animated series.
Meanwhile, Inkbox, a rising temporary tattoo company, joined the ranks by sponsoring real, permanent tattoos of iconic Adult Swim imagery.
“It’s great for people interacting with the brand to see these kind of brands in real life. It’s not like a 30-second commercial that they’re putting out. That, to me, just hits [audiences] in a different way. When they do it so well and organically, it’s not offensive,” Cohen said.
That idea of discovery, whether it’s a new or old company, was a central theme for this year’s festival. In addition to sponsors, the lineup itself serves as an opportunity for fans to be introduced to other Adult Swim properties.
“Some viewers are not going to be aware of every single thing that’s on our network… You forget how fractured our media landscape is and how hard it is to know what’s going on everywhere,” DeMarco said. “[The festival] provides a way for people to look, learn about other stuff that we’re connected with. That’s how you grow your brand. It goes from, ‘I like Rick and Morty’ to ‘I like all of these other things from Adult Swim… They’re not just a Rick and Morty fan. They’re an Adult Swim and Rick and Morty fan. That’s how you build a brand that matters.”
And that brand expansion will continue when HBO Max debuts in May 2020. The teams at Adult Swim and Warner Media Ad Sales are already exploring new ways to tap into the forthcoming streaming service, incorporate it into future projects, and continue building fan experiences.
“We’re going to drive people to HBO Max, and they’re going to drive people back to us,” DeMarco said. “We know that the younger generation discovers shows for the first time on streaming services and then they come back to the linear service to watch them. So ideally it’s a feedback loop that’s helping each other.”
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[All photos courtesy of Adult Swim].