COMIC BOOKS MOVE FURTHER INTO BRAND INTEGRATION

Top Cow Comics Follows Dark Horse Comics With Mazda Placements

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LOS ANGELES -- Following Dark Horse Comics' earlier efforts with in-story product placements for BMW, Top Cow Comics and the Spacedog branded-entertainment company are pioneering the concept further with the production of a graphic novel featuring Mazda's RX-8 sports car.
Mazda is about to become the vehicle of choice for the super characters of Top Cow Comics.



Spacedog, together with Top Cow (the publisher behind the popular “Tomb Raider” and “Witchblade” franchises), have previously integrated Boost Mobile and Peavey Guitars brands into graphic novels.

Now they have partnered again to develop and publish three such novels that will integrate advertisers into the storylines, and potentially springboard to other formats like TV and mobile entertainment through a development deal with Fox Television Studios.

Mazda as Excalibur

Mazda will appear in the first, “Revved,” which revolves around four special vehicles, all of which are made with a piece of the same magical metal found in the Holy Grail, Joan of Arc’s armor and King Arthur's Excalibur, among other legendary icons. Imbued with the same powers as the icons, the cars’ drivers embark on a series of dangerous missions. The automaker’s RX-8 sports car will be featured in the book, as the story’s Excalibur.

Irvine, Calif.-based Mazda North American Operations is overseeing the project for the automaker.

The second property, “Wight and Associates,” tells the story of attorneys at a legendary law firm who have made a deal with the devil.

Mazda won’t be the first automaker to appear in a comic book. Last year, BMW partnered with Dark Horse Comics to turn its popular online series “The Hire” into a series of six graphic novels that featured the company’s vehicles. But Mazda’s role in “Revved” may expand beyond just the printed page.

That’s because Spacedog has bigger plans for its books.

Fox television production deal

Through its production deal with Fox Television Studios, the company will simultaneously co-develop the graphic novels into live-action TV shows and other properties for distribution across the Internet and mobile devices.

“We’re working together to develop the kinds of ideas that translate across every distribution channel, from graphic novel to television to Internet and to mobile,” said David Madden, Fox Television Studios exec VP-scripted programming. Fox Television Studios is currently producing FX’s “The Shield” and “Thief,” and the reality show “Inked” for A&E.

As a result, marketers that appear in the graphic novels could also be integrated into the other formats once they are produced, providing them with multiple opportunities to reach the lucrative 18- to 34-year-old demo to which the graphic novels are expected to appeal.

“There is a mandate for these types of collaborations,” Roger Mincheff, founder and CEO of Spacedog, said of the deal with Mazda. “Spacedog’s entertainment division was created to bridge the gap between the entertainment and corporate worlds. We are committed to marrying the very best in storytelling to relevant brands by leveraging our relationships with our clients. By incorporating them into story lines with an organic approach, we ultimately help build their brand, and at the same time provide the marketplace with original, compelling content.”

Spacedog clients

Spacedog is upping its branded entertainment efforts after building Web sites and other interactive elements for clients such as Top Cow, Pfizer, Qantas Airways, Fox Sports and Interscope Records.

Mazda is in the midst of getting ready to roll out several new vehicles in its lineup, including the CX-7 crossover SUV that arrives in June and the MazdaSpeed3, due in September. Both models are expected to receive considerable exposure through product placements, outside of the deal with Spacedog and Fox.

The company said it was attracted to the graphic novels because it fits in with the fun, youthful image that Mazda is going after, and that comic books can serve as a “big word-of-mouth launching pad for our target audience,” said Don Romano, VP-marketing of Mazda North American Operations. He added that comic books are a “very open medium to show off our cars in ways only this medium can do.”

At the same time, the company also views branded entertainment projects like the graphic novels as a way to enhance the image of its vehicles after they’ve already been introduced to consumers.

Beyond TV spots

Take Mazda’s RX-8, for example. The vehicle rolled into dealership showrooms as a 2004 model. The integration into the comic books will simply give the sports car additional exposure it may not get from traditional TV spots or other media spending.

“Throwing a new product into a movie no one has seen doesn’t produce results,” Mr. Romano said. “We find where it [branded entertainment] works best is once the car is out there and people have had a chance to know it. Branded entertainment helps the familiarity.”

Financial terms of the partnership between Mazda and Spacedog were not disclosed. The deal between Spacedog and Fox was brokered by Josh Schechter, a manager at literary management firm Intellectual Property Group, who will serve as producer on all three projects. Gary Randall, with whom Fox TV Studios also has an overall deal, will serve as executive producer of “Wight and Associates.”
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