There’s no doubt. Brands LOVE Comic-Con and so do we. But, as the main exhibit hall gets more crowded each year, it’s becoming obvious that grabbing the attention of attendees is extremely difficult unless you’re spending a ton to promote the next summer blockbuster.

Don’t have millions to spend? Here’s a couple ways that brands can make a much more cost-effective splash.

Set Up A Branded Experience Nearby

Any Comic-Con attendee can tell you that San Diego’s Gaslamp District gets infected with Comic-Con madness during the convention. Nearby restaurants feature superhero-themed menus, pedicab drivers dress up in costumes and events organized by fans create a spectacle. Some of the coolest things at Comic-Con actually happen outside of the convention center.

Skipping the clutter of the main exhibit hall, many brands opt to set up brand experiences in the areas surrounding the convention center instead. Some even go as far as taking over entire restaurants and offering free food and services to attendees. This year, Xbox will be setting up the Xbox Lounge at the Manchester Grand Hyatt where fans can play over 25 Xbox games on over 85 gaming stations. Other brand experiences outside of the main convention include The Assassin’s Creed Experience next to the Hilton Gaslamp Hotel and Sony’s Pixel Arcade at the Hard Rock Hotel. By offering attendees something they need – food, a place to charge their phone or even a break from the convention – these brands are able to reach an audience that are happy to engage.

Swag, Swag, Swag

Comic-Con attendees love free stuff. Your brand could have the coolest booth ever but, if you don’t have anything to give away, people will instantly forget what you’re promoting when they get to the next booth. Swag gives Comic-Con attendees something to remember you by as they riffle through their bags at the end of each day.

Whatever you give away, make sure it’s unique or useful. If you saw just how many flyers, buttons and keychains litter the streets of downtown San Diego on Sunday night, you would shed a tear. Branded bags or poster tubes will be used throughout the convention and provide you with free advertising as people move through the event.

Follow #SDCC Closely

Every year, those who aren’t able to attend Comic-Con scour the web for details and updates. You can bet that #SDCC will be the hottest trending topic in social media all week. For brands that won’t be able to make it onto the exhibit floor, setting up a “Comic-Con Command Center” might just be the next best thing.

If you’re able to send a Brand Manager or Social Media guru to the event, use them as your reporter in the field. They can push everything they see out to social media via live tweet, Tumblr posts, Facebook updates, whatever! Take the dollars you would have spent setting up a booth or activation and put them into sponsored posts and paid social.

Whether it’s juicy new details about Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice or a video from the Avengers panel, Comic-Con content is going to trend. By brushing up on the Comic-Con program schedule and paying close attention to #SDCC and Comic-Con announcements as they break, your brand will be able to organically inject itself into trending conversations and take advantage of real-time marketing opportunities.

Go To Another Conference

Over the years, Comic-Con has definitely expanded its focus from comic books into movies, video games and pop culture in general. Comic-Con is a wonderful event that sees attendance by people from all over the world. It isn’t for everyone though and this is especially true for brands. Sure, you can find a way to spin your brand to fit in but “The Zombie Quarantine Zone sponsored by Purell” is definitely a stretch.

If your brand is going to spend the money and man-hours needed to develop, plan and successfully execute a brand presence or activation at an event like Comic-Con, due diligence is required to make sure that the conference is in alignment with your brand and the consumers you want to reach will be there.

Marketing at events is similar to paid media in that not every impression is the same. Speaking to 300 people who are engaged will always better serve your brand than trying to shout at 130,000 attendees who simply won’t care. Whether it’s Comic-Con, SXSW or CES, brands need to know who’s attending these events and make intelligent decisions on whether or not showing up is worth the cost.