Syfy sends real-life cult to the streets of Comic-Con to promote 'Childhood's End'

Nothing says guerrilla marketing like a cult clad in all white staring at the sky on the streets of San Diego.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
3 min read

A mysterious group wandered the streets of downtown San Diego Thursday handing out cards with cryptic messages and staring at the sky. Nick Statt/CNET

SAN DIEGO--The handful of people who may have witnessed a group of individuals wearing only white in downtown San Diego on Thursday can be forgiven for being a little creeped out.

The group, which would not identify itself, was handing out plain white cards and telling passersby not to be afraid, much to their relative unease. Suddenly -- just five or so blocks from the San Diego Convention Center where the annual Comic-Con International convention was in full swing -- the group stopped and began staring at the sky.

As for the cards they were handing out, they read, "Courtesy of Your Benevolent Overlord Karellen. We are not here to rule but to free you. #ThankYouKarellen."

Check the hashtag and you'll find a few dozen very confused Twitter users, none of whom put two and two together (or used Google) to figure out that this may in fact be an elaborate guerrilla marketing campaign. Karellen, of course, is a principal character in science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke's novel "Childhood's End," which the Syfy channel has adapted into a six-episode mini-series due out in December. Karellen is the sole alien communicator of a race known as the Overlords, who peacefully invade Earth and usher in a type of utopia amid concerns their intentions are not what they might seem.

There's even a fake-news Twitter account, @NewWorldStories, to report fictional happenings in the series. Representatives for SyFy, which is owned by NBCUniversal, confirmed the group is part of a promotion for the show.

Here at Comic-Con, this type of marketing, though wacky and confounding, is part of the magic. Once a year, television networks, Hollywood studios, comic book legends and many more famous and not-so-famous figures in the world of pop culture descend upon the San Diego bay front, while attendees dress up as favorite characters, shop for merchandise and spend hours upon hours in lines to see celebrity panels. In the process, San Diego's downtown transforms into a kind of living, urban amusement park where bars and restaurants receive pop culture makeovers and the streets become a competitive playground for brands hawking their newest entertainment release.

"Childhood's End," which will be televised over three days as six one-hour episodes, will have its time under the panel spotlight this Saturday at 11 a.m. PT. The series stars, including actors Mike Vogel, Julian McMahon, Daisy Betts and Yael Stone, will be onstage talking about the audacious adaptation of the sci-fi classic, which has never made it to the screen despite decades of attempts.

The on-the-ground cult is a clever twist, though, and should provide a boost to the mini-series' profile here. That's much needed given the show tends to get swallowed by the giants, which this year include "Star Wars Episove VII: The Force Awakens," "Game of Thrones" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."

At the very least, the #ThankYouKarellen cult will help overshadow the fact that one of SyFy's other highlights this Comic-Con is a panel centered on a third Sharknado movie, appropriately titled "Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!"