Conventionally Impulsive

I don’t know if you’ve ever attended a local Comic Con before (as in, not just the major San Diego one), but they are the perfect location for the combination of FOMO (fear of missing out) and impulse purchases to come to a head where you’ll end up leaving with heavy bags and empty pockets.

I do want to get all the positives out of the way first, of what I think is great about having access to a Comic Con event (or offshoots of a similar format):

  1. The experiences: you have the opportunity to attend talks/panels, workshops and concerts; participate in cosplay if that’s your thing; attend meet and greets; and take in the overall vibe of the space.
  2. The community: If you’re a fan of media fully accepted within pop culture or something super obscure, you will find other people with shared interests within this space – and likely make friends if you happen to attend all the same convention events.
  3. The artists/local vendors: “Artist Alley” is a great place to find unique art (prints, pins, clothing, accessories, home decor, cosplay materials, and even themed tea blends!), and an equally great opportunity to support small artists for what they’ve already made or will make by request/commission. A good convention website will even list the artists/independent vendors in advance for you to see what’s available ahead of time or to buy from online if they ran out of stock in person.

Now that it’s clear that I don’t hate the concept of the convention, I do want to talk about how a lot of it felt like it was designed to get you to rely on impulses rather than thinking through a purchase. My experiences are tied to what I’ve seen in the 2010s at Montreal’s Comic Con and Otakuthon (wasn’t my scene, but I tagged along with a friend on a free ticket), so I can’t comment on what much larger conventions are up to nor how things are being run now.

For one, the layout of the convention made it so more than half of the first floor (biggest hall) was dedicated to selling merchandise – and more than half of that space was taken up by larger vendors. I understand fully that for some of these vendors – particularly anything to do with cosplay (namely wigs) – you’d want to be able to assess the quality in person to make sure you’re spending your money on something legit. But where things get overwhelming is how many massive displays – visually noisy or just actually noisy – are competing for your attention (and money). With the space also being so expansive, it’s easy to come back from the upper floors or smaller halls in between the different scheduled activities you’re interested in, because who hasn’t gone window shopping to kill some time? It’s like walking around a Costco that exclusively sold merch for various fandoms.

Regarding FOMO, some of the major vendors will promote convention-specific items, which could be anything from “rare” funkopops to items made to be sold specifically at the convention with the location and year emblazoned on it. I fully understand that rare collectible items will have a place within the convention, particularly for figurines you can only get from another country, rare retro video games, or anything that’s no longer in production. But I’m skeptical about something that is currently in production that they (the vendor) are choosing to make fewer of to create the artificial scarcity. You’re selling to a population that likely are going to be more vulnerable to wanting to make this purchase, whether they’ve had minimal sleep from attending the whole weekend’s schedule (including unofficial after-parties) or are hungry, everyone else in their group is also getting it, or it will give them clout in their online community (where FOMO festers most rampantly). Granted, attendees are mostly adults who can make their own decisions about their finances, but the number of younger people – teens and young adults – who are also in attendance may be more sensitive to feeling FOMO or that they need to have specific merchandise to be accepted in a gatekeeping community (think of the “you’re not a real fan if you don’t have XYZ” mentality).

I have a particular gripe for the merchandising of fandoms that have built-in teams or factions that fans can align with – especially something like Harry Potter and the Hogwarts houses. I’m leading with the fact that I’m a fan of the books (not the author) and enjoyed having received items that had a use (notebooks, coasters, agendas, shirts, etc.) while growing up. However, I think the level of marketing and merchandise attached to Harry Potter is overwhelming. This is nothing against those who like the series and see it as a big part of their identity, or even just like it enough to watch one of the movies every so often, but instead an open question as to why anything that can be turned into something Harry Potter-themed has to be produced? Do we really need cast iron cookware, shower curtains, bumper stickers, and tree ornaments that loudly proclaim what three traits someone might identify with? Probably not, but you can bet that convention vendors will be ready to create a sense of need by having this odd assortment of items on display.

When I attended in 2019, having the mindset of “shop local/small business” mostly kept me away from the loudest and most impersonal vendor booths, but I still found myself waiting out the time gap between panels by doing laps of the main hall. I even went in with a list of artists to check out by booth and what I wanted to get (for myself or friends and family) so that I could stick to a rough budget – but I was still drawn in by the more commercial stuff sold at booths that lead up to the signatures and meet and greet area (it’s almost like they’re relying on the heightened emotional response to seeing someone “important” to you).

What I’m trying to put out there with all of this is: if you’re going to a convention, plan ahead (even make an impulse budget if you feel that’s necessary), and hold off from purchasing something immediately when you arrive – not only will you have to carry it around the rest of the day, you might be able to find something more specific to your interests in the artist section over the mass produced items. Or, ideally, you won’t get stuck with having bought something you don’t really want (… or need) that ends up cluttering your home.