We bring Hollywood to San Marcos

ComicCon's Adult Swim Funhouse can make money

Hadley's robot humps no more but sits in workspace in North County.
  • Hadley's robot humps no more but sits in workspace in North County.

When horror maestro William Castle parked ambulances outside theaters showing Macabre in 1958, it was a publicity stunt. Today, it would be called experiential marketing, and the operation might well be handled by Hadley Media in San Marcos. (Especially since Hadley, which has leaned toward television and Comic-Con, was just purchased by Rancho Bernardo’s more movie-centric outfit Grandesign.)

Adult Swim Funhouse

At 2014 ComicCon

At 2014 ComicCon

Founder Patrick Hadley started a magazine in 1994, sold the URL in the first dot-com boom, and began “doing events for our print clients. Virgin Megastore was our first. We got an RV, wrapped it, and went to college campuses in Boston and New York City, handing out CDs and T-shirts. I said to myself, This is kind of cool. You can make money doing fun stuff.”

Back then, “a lot of our projects were about getting attention from passersby. Now it’s about getting attention everywhere. With the fragmentation brought on by digital media and cable television, people aren’t as focused anymore. Experiential marketing is new ways to get attention,” especially on social media and major media outlets. That’s where “the real money, the real action is.”

The event is ground zero; the attendees are the blast wave, but what you want — what you can measure — is fallout.

“In the end, it’s going to be media and social media impressions. Those are the things that prove it’s worked. But back in the day, the measurement was how excited people were getting. It’s a feeling — that what you just did was really cool and people are buzzing about it. I used to tell people all the time, ‘We bring Hollywood to America.’ People in New York and L.A. see this stuff all the time, but the rest of the country doesn’t. If you bring talent or a cool set with lights and cameras to Oklahoma, that’s really exciting.”

Case in point: Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim Funhouse, a 45-foot-tall showcase for its more outré offerings that debuted at Comic-Con in 2013 and toured college campuses nationwide in 2014. Hadley worked with the network’s creative team to build a portable 15-room maze packed with oddball references to shows such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies, plus a foundational stage and a massive inflatable tent “that had to zip and tie together and stay inflated and stay tethered to concrete barriers” — which barriers, of course, had to be suitably decorated.

The funhouse featured three exits — an inflatable slide, a slit that turned out to be a birth canal, and a tube that led to a cat’s anus. To access the last, patrons had to crawl through a rattling washing machine being humped by a rustic robot. “We found a guy in L.A. who specializes in customizing things,” says Hadley. (If you search #AdultSwimFunHouse on Instagram, you can see multiple videos of the robot in action.) “You could see it in the fans’ faces: that smile, that excitement. Because most people are never going to see something like that. We didn’t have to look at media impressions. We knew.”

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