Archie and Friends Hang Out at ... a Luxury Hotel?

Comic Book Featured at Riviera Resort Marketing Event in Exchange for Unpaid Placement

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Aficionados of the world of Archie comics are accustomed to seeing rich Veronica Lodge talk about her wealth; her best friend, Betty Cooper; and her red-headed paramour, Archie Andrews. Some readers might be taken aback to hear the teen wax eloquent about something else: the Riviera Resort in Palm Springs, Calif.

Betty and Veronica: Palm Springs Weekend
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Betty and Veronica's 'Palm Springs Weekend' includes some liberal product placement.

"Betty, this place is awesome!" the brunette teen coos in a new comic digest that comes out this week. "Luxury at its finest!

An ad-agency copywriter couldn't have put a nicer coat of polish on it. The Riviera didn't pay for the placement, but its appearance in Betty & Veronica Digest No. 193 is the result of an informal marketing partnership between the hotel and Mamaroneck, N.Y.-based Archie Comic Publications. And there may be more on the way.

Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica seem most at home when they're taking classes at Riverdale High or just hanging out at Pop's Chok'lit Shoppe. In days and weeks to come, however, the storied comic-book characters will be jetting to a number of glitzy locales, if writer and publicist Hal Lifson has a say in matters. Mr. Lifson, who writes Archie stories with some regularity, said he is intent on crafting tales that mention popular tourist attractions or other sites, fostering closer ties between the comics company and the glitzy venues.

'Heavily tied to marketing'
"This is not typical Archie stuff, as you can see. It's not just generic Archie writing, where Betty and Veronica are starting a baby-sitting service," Mr. Lifson said. "It's heavily tied into marketing." Future stories in the works focus on the teens visiting the famous Abbey Road studio in the U.K. and celebrating the coming 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Each of these events could give Archie a tie-in to place or an event that would drive publicity.

Simply put, Archie sees a chance for a little publicity -- no more, no less. "We're not looking to really get anything out of it," said Victor Gorelick, co-president and editor in chief of Archie. "Being able to have the characters go to some of these famous places is great for us. It gives a little education for one, which is nice for our readers, and they turn out to be fun stories, and it's good publicity for the area."

As part of the proceedings, the Riviera and the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism this week hosted a comic-book launch party, featuring Mr. Gorelick and Ron Dante, the lead singer of the bubblegum band known as the Archies, known for their 1969 song, "Sugar, Sugar." Complimentary copies of the comic featuring the Riviera hotel were distributed, while TV screens at the event showed Archie comic clips. Party-goers were slated to drink "Betty Cooper shots."

Sounds glitzy, but executives at Archie will have to step carefully. Unlike comics focused on superheroes or cowboys, the world of Archie Andrew is a world of innocence. While Reggie Mantle, Dilton Doily, Moose and Big Ethel may engage in crazy hijinks, their world is one that has always been steadfastly removed from mature concerns such as sex, violence and, more often than not, commerce ever since the first Archie comic was published in 1941. Indeed, the comic company raised eyebrows in 2006 when it announced it would experiment with comics that depicted Betty and Veronica in more realistic -- read: adult -- fashion.

Complaints in the past
Audiences treasure the characters' naivete, which makes it tough to embrace nontraditional forms of advertising in Archie pages, Mr. Gorelick said. Because the comics are aimed at younger readers, parents have complained in the past when Archie titles featured a specific brand of cookies in one of the panels, he said, or when a comic ran a four-page ad insert using the Archie characters but featuring Hawaiian Punch.

Meanwhile, other comics publishers have steadily indulged in the kind of product placement in which money changes hands. In 2006, Time Warner Inc.'s DC Comics, home to characters such as Batman and Aquaman, published "Rush City," a six-part miniseries that contained promotional support from General Motors' Pontiac. The hero of the comic drove a Pontiac Solstice. Marvel Entertainment has used Nike swooshes marks and Dodge cars as part of the artwork in some of its titles. The placements came as the result of larger ad buys. Comic-book geeks will also remember ads from the past in which Superman and Batman were shown talking about Hostess Fruit Pies or other baked goods.

Archie's Mr. Gorelick appears interested in such stuff, but nothing too overwhelming. "I'm not crazy about doing that product placement all the time. If it's just here or there, it's not too bad," he said. "I wouldn't make it part of the story. It would be incidental."

Will Archie get closer to advertisers? Can the Archie vibe remain intact if marketers are woven more closely into the comics' fabric? The answers may not be clear at present, but in comic books, the story is often "to be continued."

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