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Scott Kurtz’s ‘PvP’ Webcomic Earns Money with Product Placement Deal

Ask anyone in the know whether it’s possible to be a successful cartoonist in this day and age — online or otherwise — and one title will pop up time and time again, Scott Kurtz’s PvP. Over the past 13 years the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning PvP has, along with a handful of other sites, forged something of a precedent for how things can work in the world of webcomics. Kurtz has built a large and loyal audience through frequent content updates, personality-driven fan interaction and transparent monetization methods including web banners and merchandising. That’s why, as reported by Gamma Squad, the comic’s new foray into product placement with a multi-part storyline featuring Magic: The Gathering makers Wizards of the Coast is a big deal.It’s easy to turn your nose up at product placement when it seems to steer your escapist fiction of choice off a cliff. I’m always distracted by the massive smart phone logos on Fringe and this summer’s Thor was so choked with ads for Dr. Pepper and 7-11 that it took me out of the film during some key moments. On the other hand, unpaid mentions of real-world brands brought an element of realism — if not a shared sense of reality — to Ian Fleming’s classic James Bond novels. Why shouldn’t a hustling comic creator be able to partner with an appropriate brand if there’s a good story to be told?

Inspired by the paid integration of real brands on AMC’s Mad Men (a show about Advertising Agency employees in the ’60s), Kurtz reasoned that his comic about a video game magazine and its staff was already incorporating and even advocating games like Dungeons and Dragons and sci-fi films. All that was left, was to forge the right paid partnership for PvP.

Kurtz broke down what he was looking for on the PvP blog:

- The product would have to be something I believed in.
- The product had to be something I would comment on in PvP anyway.
- The client would have to be forward thinking, and geek savvy, and be able to poke fun at themselves.
- The client would have to understand that the inclusion of their company into the strip would have to serve the greater story or humor.

It took months, but according to Kurtz an organic relationship emerged from meetings with Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The Gathering team that resulted in the game becoming “the official proud sponsor of the PvP comic strip this quarter.” So far the deal has manifested in the form of a roughly two-week WotC-centric storyline that ran through the second half of July until last week, but it’s currently chilling out for a bit before it returns the form of two more week-long stories.

Kurtz isn’t necessarily the first webcomic creator to tap product placement’s possibilities. Earlier this year The Adventures of Dr. McNinja teamed with Capcom’s Ghost Trick for a short, essentially out-of-continuity crossover comic ad pairing the titles’ protagonists. What’s striking about Kurtz and WotC’s deal is that PvP’s adventures with Magic are a canonical part of what could be his life’s work.

As it stands, PvP is in a unique position to continue to harness the power of product placement. It’s a naturally pop-culture friendly webcomic that’s transparent about its business side and works hard not to alienate its readers. The successes of future product placement deals made by other webcomic creators will likely reflect the precedents Kurtz has set here. The failures, on the other hand, could serve as critical online eviction notices for those with the wrong intentions. In time this disparity might lead readers to cast a cynical eye toward new webcomic releases. For now, it’s nice to see a significant tool has been added to monetizing a tough medium.

[Via Gamma Squad]

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