Frontline Marketing

Zaxby’s Scores With Virtual Reality Tailgate Experience

John Gaudiosi|

Quick service chicken restaurant Zaxby’s, which has over 700 locations across 17 states, has kicked off a season-long college football virtual reality tailgate road show. The “Zaxby’s Fanz of Flavor” activation features a full-sized wooden barn that houses four HTC Vive VR systems for tailgaters to play a custom interactive experience with.

A custom mobile barn was built to mirror both the finish and look of the new Zaxby’s store environment. The VR experience starts with a waiting screen with a floating, rotating 3D Zaxby’s logo, and then users are transported to a new flagship Zaxby’s restaurant. A holographic Big Z mascot comes out of the floor and is ready for his close-up. This Unity-based experience challenges users to dip into Zaxby’s sauces as paints to create their own Big Z in VR. There’s a wireframe outline of Big Z to follow, or they can just do their own thing within the three-minute time limit. Once complete, an email with a digital photo of the experience is instantly sent, featuring an in-game video of their custom creation that can be shared via Facebook. Each VR bay is connected to a network that sends all the user-generated content in real-time.

While it’s similar in concept to the HTC Vive pack-in application, Tilt Brush, the Zaxby’s version has been built from the ground up for this activation. Everything has been done in a style and tone that matches the Zaxby’s environment.

Will Riley, vice president of brand management and marketing at Zaxby’s franchising, said virtual reality is a component of integrating the different marketing touch points around the love for fans, love of flavor and love for college football to show the community how important they are to the brand. “VR was a way we could immerse all of the sports fans and tailgaters to show them what Zaxby’s is all about,” Riley said. “If you don’t have a Zaxby’s near you, you can still get a feel for it.”

The activation opens four hours before kickoff. Riley said the first event in Austin on September 3 had over 100 people play the full experience, which led to over seven hours of user-generated content.

Zaxby’s has been a sponsor of college football since 2013 through a partnership with IMG. The restaurant worked with IMG to bring this experience to 12 college football games throughout the 2016 NCAA season. The tour kicked off with the September 4 University of Texas vs. Notre Dame game and on September 10 was at TCU vs. Arkansas.

“We’ve looked everywhere from national to local universities, as well as high schools to reach sports fans in communities,” Riley said. “VR was a great way to resonate with sports fans and college students that are up-to-speed with technology.”

Since the virtual reality experience uses cutting-edge video game technology at its core, and college students are the primary target, not only do they understand VR, but some of them have been waiting or a chance to experience it. In addition to the VR experience, there are Flavorize Your Fandom stations for fans to deck themselves out in body paint with help from two master body painters. Food samples or coupons to local restaurants are also handed out to attendees.

Zaxby’s currently operates in 17 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.