April Fool’s Day 2017: Brands Let Loose With Fake Ads

April Fool’s Day is a fond tradition of pranks, jokes and a celebration of silliness, in general. This year, the holiday landed on a Saturday so a number of brands got a head start with some rather ingenious hoaxes.

Twitch: Emote Effects

This hoax makes the top of our list because it seems totally legit. On April 1, Twitch announced the addition of emote effects—animated comments overlaid onto saved video clips. “Your favorite global emotes were once limited to Twitch Chat, but no longer shall you be contained,” the site boasted. Of course, the effect doesn’t actually work, much to the chagrin of a few users.

Twitch April Fools

Google Maps: Ms. Pacman

It has become an April Fool’s Day tradition to transform Google Maps into a game board for Ms. Pacman and it’s available once again. Simply open the app and press the Ms. Pacman icon to change from regular maps to the game.

GeForce: GTX G-Assist

With the help of learning AI, this nifty gadget will keep playing for you when you’re AFK, beat that pesky boss and even order food when it thinks its gamer is getting hungry.

Honda: Horn Emojis

Now honking at people can be more expressive and fun, especially on the highway.


Lexus: Lane Valet

Tired of “left lane rangers” holding up the show? Lexus has the solution I really wish existed.


Nestlé Coffee Mate: Coffee Flavor

Ever wish your coffee tasted a bit more like coffee? Problem solved.


Jim Beam: Jim Beans

“We’ve been making bourbon for 220 years, but some folks still call us Jim Bean. Hint taken. Introducing Jim Beans: aged one day in a tin can.”


L.A. Police Gear – Tactical Rock

Sometimes the most basic tools are still the best. Also makes a handy paperweight.

tactical rock

Progressive: Insurance on Mars

If you’re planning on leaving Earth any time soon, it’s better to go prepared.

Mars insurance

Buffalo Wild Wings: Rally Beard Sauce

Can sauce be delicious, help your team win and help grow a lush beard? BW3 has the solution.


Amazon: Petlexa

Amazon Echo has been updated to understand pets, according to this April Fool’s ad.

Snickers: SKnickers

Because “no one knows nuts like Snickers . . .”


U By Kotex: Pad-Shaped Bandages

Now with wings for extra protection.



Evine: Totes M’Goats DIY Soap Kit

This kit “offered” by the cable shopping network includes an adorable baby goat and everything you need to make your home a complete, although lavender-scented, mess.

KFC: The Bucket

The future of ordering chicken has arrived.

T-Mobile: ONEsie

There’s no reason why you can’t have great cell coverage and be comfortable.


Swim Today: Eu de Chlôrine

Let everyone know how much you swim . . . or bleach clothes with this new fragrance from Swim Today.

Life Storage: She Shed

Ladies, have you ever wished you had a feminine version of a man cave? Life Storage is offering “She Sheds” for $99 a month.

Easter Cheeps, Cheap Ads And Other Must-Read Marketing Stats

This week, we get a glimpse into upcoming holiday plans, internet ad spending and which streaming services reign supreme.

Hopping To The Store

Easter is April 15th, and the National Retail Federation (NRF) has predicted record spending for the spring holiday. Americans who observe Easter will spend $18.4 billion, NRF predicts, a six percent increase over last year. 2017 is expected to see the highest average spend per person—around $152—since the NRF started tracking Easter spending 14 years ago.

Of everything consumers plan to buy, around $5.8 billion will be spent on food and $2.6 billion on candy. Fifty percent of respondents said they plan to buy clothing, up from 45 percent last year—the highest percentage in a decade. Department stores will be pleased to hear that 46 percent of Easter observers in the survey intend to shop there, up from 41 percent a year ago.

Advertising Trust

us_internet_users_who_trust_ads_Internet users in the US trust advertisements more than they did two years ago, according to YouGov. The company’s March 2017 survey asked internet users who see ads at least once a month if they trust the advertising they see, read or hear. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they do, compared to 50 percent in 2014. YouGov found that in addition to being more trusting of advertising, 72 percent of respondents said they feel the ads they encounter are “honest.”

Streaming Satisfaction

There are many streaming services to choose from, but Netflix and Spotify deliver the best customer experience, according to the 2017 Temkin Experience Ratings, based on a survey of 10,000 US consumers. Out of the top 16 streaming media companies, Netflix and Spotify tied for the top spot with a score of 74 percent, followed by Amazon Prime Instant Video and Pandora, tied at 73 percent.

For the first time ever, streaming music services were responsible for more than 50 percent of all US music industry revenue in 2016, according to a report by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Revenue from paid subscription plans brought in $2.5 billion, with an average of 22.6 million US consumers subscribing to streaming services last year—more than doubling from 2015.

Safe or Cheap?

top_10_contributors_to_global_ad_growthWhen it comes to advertising, do you get what you pay for? That may be the case with programmatic ad spending, particularly when those ads appear on YouTube. Several brands have pulled their advertising campaigns from YouTube after finding their ads had appeared next to extremist content. Enders Analysis compared the cost of advertising on the platform, as obtained through several outlets. Higher priced ad placement such as YouTube Preferred offers more control over where ads appear, but most advertisers simply buy YouTube ads at scale, via ad exchanges like Google’s AdX.

“The basic idea of ‘you get what you pay for’ in programmatic video advertising, either in media costs or agency planning and service fees (or both, depending on the type of media), is something we believe that many advertisers have yet to fully incorporate into their strategy for media buying,” said Enders Analysis research analyst, Matt Littunen.

Overall, Global internet advertising expenditure will grow 13 percent to reach $205 billion in 2017, according to Zenith’s new Advertising Expenditure Forecasts. The updated forecast projects that the US will contribute 28 percent of worldwide ad expansion through 2019 and the fastest-growing component of internet ad spend will be social media, which will grow at an average rate of 20 percent a year to reach $55 billion by 2019.

Breaking: New Study Reveals That Customers Buy Things

A shocking revelation swept the marketing world today as a new study revealed a consumer demographic more lucrative than millennials, Gen X, Gen Y and baby boomers combined. Companies with goods to sell are now setting their sights on a group the study refers to as “customers.”

The study released today by NoDuhReally Analytics found that a whopping 100 percent of customers buy things. While what these customers buy varies greatly from person to person, marketers are stunned by the revelation and are adjusting their budgets accordingly.

“Here I was focusing on millennials not knowing that some of them are actually customers,” commented a stunned April Fulles, CMO for an American retailer. “This changes everything.”


Much like consumers, NoDuhReally found that customers consist of a person or persons who a) need or want something, b) have money or credit to buy something and c) buy something. From food to housing, video games to cars, these customers, it turns out, are everywhere. Even children have been observed making such purchases as toys, candy or games.

“I can’t believe this,” said Brand A. Wareness a marketing executive who agreed to an exclusive interview with [a]listdaily. He pointed to a woman across the street paying for coffee. “There’s another one!” He let out an audible gasp and began to weep softly as our waitress brought him his credit card receipt. “I’m one, too! What does it mean?!”

While marketers are scrambling for any available data on this lucrative demographic, the study offers a bit of advice in the meantime.

“Focus your marketing campaigns on those who need or want to buy things,” the report explained. “You may not realize it, but customers are everywhere. Our research confirms that in order to eat, live somewhere and obtain transportation, this group spends money and oftentimes does so just for fun.”

Luckey Departs From Facebook; Paramount Pictures Names New CEO

A shake up in the VR world and Paramount’s new CEO mark some of the week’s biggest job moves.

Palmer Luckey announced that he will be leaving Oculus VR, three years after it was acquired by Facebook. The Oculus Rift headset creator did not provide a reason for his departure, but the announcement comes after a long period of seclusion following a Daily Beast story that revealed that he contributed money to a far-right political group called Nimble America during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, sparking controversy. Until then, he had been the face of the company, speaking at events and gracing the cover of Time Magazine. Luckey issued an apology for his actions in a Facebook post six months and has not appeared publicly since, except to testify at in court in a lawsuit between Oculus VR and game publisher, Zenimax. Today is Luckey’s last day with the company he co-founded.

Stephanie Llamas, head of VR/AR strategy at SuperData Research, suggested that Luckey’s departure could be beneficial for Oculus’ long-term success, stating:

“This is a long time coming. Oculus is failing compared to its competitors and Luckey’s reputation certainly hasn’t helped. With his donation scandal (he donated to an anti-Clinton site) and his part in the Zenimax lawsuit (he was cited as breaking NDA), Facebook has pushed him further and further into the background. There are plenty of VR professionals who can both offer unique skill sets to Oculus and stay out of the press, so his role has become increasingly redundant.”

Relatedly, Facebook has hired Michael Hillman, a senior ex-Apple employee, to head Oculus VR’s hardware design. Hillman has 15 years of experience with design and engineering at Apple, and he will use that expertise to help bring VR hardware to the mainstream.

Viacom has officially named Jim Gianopulos as CEO and chairman of Paramount Pictures. The movie industry veteran brings over three decades of global entertainment experience to the company and his role begins on April 3.

BitTorrent named Rogelio Choy as its new CEO as the technology company prepares to spin off its BitTorrent Live service into a separate company. BitTorrent founder, Bram Cohen, is expected to step away from the company’s daily operations to focus on a new crypto-currency project while Choy replaces Dipak Joshi, who has been serving as interim CEO.

NBC has promoted three unscripted television executives in its alternative programming division. Jenny Groom is taking over as head of the department. At the same time, Lesley Cerwin has been made senior vice president or current programming while Shelby Shaftel has been promoted to vice president of programming and development.

Angela Courtin is stepping down as EVP and CMO at Fox Broadcasting after having been with the company for a year-and-a-half. No replacement has been named yet.

Comcast has hired former global head of live video at Amazon, Euan McLeod as the head of its internet video engineering team. He will be responsible for leading Comcast VIPER (Video IP Engineering and Research), the engineering team that designs, develops and deploys software for internet-based video across TV, mobile and connected devices.

MGM announced that it has hired Sam Toles, the former head of Vimeo’s entertainment group, to the newly created role of VP of digital and new platforms. The hiring comes at a time when the studio is increasing its focus on new forms of content for internet-video platforms.

Google Ventures brought on Craig Kornblau, the former chief at Universal Studios home entertainment, as its first media and entertainment advisor.

Global entertainment company, Topgolf has brought former Starbucks COO, Troy Alstead to its board of directors.

Video game peripheral maker Mad Catz announced today that it is ceasing operations and filing for chapter 7 bankruptcy. The company said in a statement that it was in the process of initiating “an orderly liquidation of the assets of the company.”

Digital games seller, Green Man Gaming has appointed Sam Bennett as EVP of customer experience and communications.

Job Vacancies

VP, Business Development – Twentieth Century Fox; Los Angeles, CA

Digital Marketing Solution Experience Manager – Adobe; San Francisco, CA

Senior Manager, Insights – POPSUGAR; San Francisco, CA

Manager, InsightsPOPSUGAR; New York, NY

Product Marketing Manager, Dynamics AXMicrosoft; Bellevue, WA

Content Strategy Manager, Programming and Acquisition (Sports) – Verizon; New York, NY

Global Senior Brand ManagerKimberly-Clark; Atlanta, GA

Product Marketing Manager Director, Microsoft AzureMicrosoft; Redmond, WA

Senior Marketing Manager – Cushman & Wakefield;  Chicago, IL

Executive Producer, Content MarketingBabbel; New York, NY

Have a new hire tip? Let us know at editorial@alistdaily.com.

Disney Interactive Explains Why ‘Club Penguin’ Migrated To Mobile

Disney Interactive has shuttered its Club Penguin virtual world, a top subscription-based destination for millions of kids for the past 11 years to launch a new mobile version called Club Penguin Island. The subscription-based app has been designed with plenty of video game experiencing, allowing players to embark on island quests, earn special rewards, and take on daily challenges to level up their penguins.

Liza Wood, executive producer of Club Penguin Island, told [a]listdaily that over the years, Disney has seen a shift in kids’ play patterns from desktop to mobile, particularly on Club Penguin.

“We understand that kids are now playing more on mobile, so it was important for us to invest in a Club Penguin experience designed for these platforms as the next chapter for the virtual world,” said Wood. “Mobile games have amazing potential and continues to be a company priority.”

Disney is charging Apple and Android gamers a $4.99 monthly subscription after a seven-day free trial. “Like in the classic game, kids can download Club Penguin Island for free to socialize, role-play and participate in activities around the island,” Wood explained. “The $4.99 subscription gives kids unlimited access to all the features such as the all-new Adventures and Clothing Designer. At $4.99 per month, this is a better price point than the legacy desktop version (of $5.99), making membership even more valuable and accessible.”


The legacy PC experience was showing its age after a decade, which allowed the development team to start from scratch with the new mobile version. Wood said the team was empowered to create a fully upgraded, enhanced experience for mobile.

“Every aspect of the player experience was considered,” Wood said. “The vibrant world of Club Penguin has been upgraded to a beautiful 3D world. We learned that playing in portrait orientation worked best for small hands and designed all our cameras and controls for that. We have also enhanced the chat system with contextual quick chat and a wide range of colorful, expressive emoji. For example, if you’re sitting by the campfire, ‘Do you know any ghost stories?’ will be an option in the quick chat. The new Clothing Designer introduces even more possibilities for kids to express themselves by customizing their penguins.”

Club Penguin Island’s primary audience is kids 6-to-12-years of age. According to Wood, it’s more than a game. It’s a global community. With kids playing on mobile, it means they can engage with their penguin community wherever they are, at home or on the go.

“We’ve built this new Club Penguin experience from the ground up, especially for mobile,” Wood said. “We wanted the experience to be really accessible, which meant developing the game for portrait mode so kids wouldn’t have to stretch their fingers across the screen for long periods of time. From a design perspective, the game has been upgraded to a 3D environment, making it even more immersive and visually appealing. It was important for us to modernize the experience for a new generation of players who are now being introduced to games on mobile devices first.”

Disney acquired Club Penguin back in 2007 for $700 million. The virtual world launched in 2005, attracting over 12 million users and more than 700,000 paying subscribers by 2007. That number ballooned to more than 200 million users by 2013. More recently, Club Penguin’s audience had shrunk to about 5.6 million monthly visitors in December 2016, according to SimilarWeb. There’s no public data on how many of these kids were paying subscriptions.

Over the years, Disney’s brand has faced a lot more competition with targeting kids with services that include YouTube Gaming, Lego Life, Lego Worlds, PBS Kids and Nick.com. Wood said what separates the Club Penguin brand is that it’s a global community that transcends borders.

“Community engagement and socialization have always been important,” Wood said. “We are always listening to the community feedback and implementing changes. As a result, we have a community that is active, passionate and inclusive.”

Disney is marketing the game through a brand new website that will be updated regularly with game highlights and news. The game’s community manager and Club Penguin celebrity, Bobbi, also hosts a new video series:  “Island Insider” that is featured on the CPI blog and YouTube.

“The series will address community questions, provide sneak peeks and communicate major product updates,” Wood said. “You’ll also see Bobbi out and about at events and hosting in-game meet-ups as her penguin, Megg. For our 13+ audience and parents, we have active community portals on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.”

For the Disney super-fans, the developer has integrated some exclusive content in the in-game Disney Shop. Players can try on and buy items featuring popular Disney and Pixar franchises, including Frozen, Finding Dory, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc.

“In addition, we are working with key divisions across the company to partner on exciting initiatives throughout the year,” Wood said. “More on that to come!”

Comcast Xfinity Remains Perfect Fit For ESports Integration

In June of last year, Comcast announced that it was partnering with ESL and Evil Geniuses to promote its Xfinity high-speed internet products in the eSports space. It’s been almost one year, and Comcast remains one of the largest companies to be involved with eSports, and a branded presence at major events such as the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) and most recently, the Halo World Championship. At its peak, the Halo tournament broke digital records, with 135,000 concurrent viewers across Twitch, Twitter, Facebook, and Beam. In total, over 13 million unique viewers tuned in last weekend on digital platforms (higher than last year) and 10.3 million of them watched the competition via Twitter, marking the first time a Halo eSports event was streamed on the platform.

Matt Lederer, executive director of sports marketing at Comcast, talks with [a]listdaily about integrating the Xfinity brand into the eSports space and how the giant internet company plans to grow its presence.

Matt Lederer, Comcast
Matt Lederer, executive director of sports marketing, Comcast

What initially convinced Comcast Xfinity to invest in eSports?

It was one of the easiest conversations that we have had with executives about wanting to invest and partner in this space, which—candidly—I didn’t expect because maybe some of our executives didn’t feel like they were in the eSports demo. But I think the reason why it was an easy conversation and why it has been so positive for us this past year is the enthusiasm, passion and engagement of this segment.

The segment is really what the key thing is here and why we made this decision. Regardless of what eSports data you look at and regardless of what source, what’s consistent is that it’s—for the most part—young, diverse and predominantly male (although it’s growing in the female space). This is not the easiest segment for any group, advertiser or marketer to reach. When we started thinking about how this segment is important, and that our product—specifically the internet product—is core to the enjoyment and participation of eSports, it became a very easy decision.

How was the Xfinity brand integrated into the eSports scene?

We strategically went with a two partnership approach. We have a partnership with ESL that provides a lot of high-powered, high-visibility branding throughout streamed events. That includes branding on the shoutcaster desk and units inside the livestream. Additionally, ESL provides us with space inside certain events such as the Halo Championships and IEM.

Area two is our partnership with Evil Geniuses. Obviously, all the jersey branding is great, but what really is key is that they have two main houses where their teams play from—one in the Bay area, the other in Chicago. Those are now the Xfinity training facilities. The entire area where they play and compete on a daily basis is branded Xfinity. They have our Xfinity internet game product running to their houses, and they’re competing, playing and winning on our product. They have Xfinity X1 video in the house. When they’re streaming content, they’re doing it with the Xfinity branding in their backdrop. When they’re relaxing or doing interviews, they’re doing it with Xfinity branding. So, it has come to life in a really big way.

We went with a two partnership approach because we felt that ESL was a league level partnership and gave us branding across multiple games, players and events. Partnering with a team allowed us to tap into the excitement and passion that fans have directed toward a specific team or game. This approach has given us a nice, broad branding coverage, while also letting us tap into the passion of Evil Geniuses, Dota 2 or Halo fans as they watch the team play.

What attracted Xfinity to Evil Geniuses, specifically?

For one, they’ve been tremendously successful. We do like to partner with successful franchises, entities and champions. The other thing is their two primary locations are inside important Xfinity markets (the Bay Area and Chicago). We’re able to activate the partnership nationally across streamed events, but it has also allowed us to tap into things globally. For example, the Halo EG team in Chicago was cross-pollinated with our NASCAR partnership. We brought the EG team out to Chicagoland Speedway last September, made appearances at Xfinity Zone, and played Halo against fans there. They also competed against NASCAR drivers in NASCAR video games. That local aspect allowed us to do that.

Out in the Bay Area, we’ve had numerous cases where we’ve had local press go to the Evil Geniuses’ house—with that full branding—and do interviews. They ask these guys, “Why Xfinity?” Taking a look at the house and allowing the players to locally talk about why they chose Xfinity and why Xfinity Internet is in their house, helping them to compete and win on a daily basis. We were able to tap into those local opportunities. Of course, since they’re local and in our market, they both have big service coming in directly from us into their houses.

How did the eSports community take to the Xfinity integration?

We’ve been very happy with the response we got, and I credit the team of people here who worked on the eSports partnership. We’ve been really cognizant of how we brand and message, making sure that we’re not coming in there like we do in a normal sort of marketing and advertising basis. We’re in there, respecting the space, and celebrating eSports with them. When you do those things, and talk in that authentic manner, you’re going to see the positive response. We’ve seen the consideration lift from eSports fans toward our brand, we’ve seen strong social rankings in eSports, and Cynopsis nominated us for the best eSports activation award. So, we’ve been very happy with the reception we’ve gotten from the community, teams and the industry.

What was the biggest lesson you learned about engaging with the eSports community?

Halo_Gaming RoomI’m going to bore you by saying the same word: authenticity. It’s about making sure you respect the fact that you need to talk to this group differently and you need to respect them. You have to absolutely make sure you’re not going in there saying, “I can’t believe people watch video games, but hey, I’m here.” No, this is a passionate group of people. Whether they play or watch the games, we’re celebrating it with them. We want them to know that we’re fans as well.

Authenticity is key, and an example of what we did to play into that was that, through ESL, we had the ability to be at events (PAX, IEM and the Halo World Championships) and set up a booth to interact with fans. Normally, we’d hire local brand ambassadors to stand there and talk about the product. What we learned was that we have a lot of gamers that work here at Comcast. They went crazy when we made the eSports partnerships announcement internally. They reached out, asking how they could help. What we did was, instead of bringing out local brand ambassadors to hand things out, we flew employees out—people who aren’t normally at a booth like this. They could have been technicians, or in media or content deals. Whatever they may have been, they were gamers and they knew our product and why it is core to eSports. So, we brought them out and had them at the booths. Not only did they hand out pamphlets, but when they talked to the gamers, they were able to do it in an authentic manner because they were one of them. That’s been very positive.

How will Xfinity grow its eSports integration moving forward?

We’re never going to allow us to get stale. What’s great about ESL and EG is that they’re always with us and talking to us about new opportunities, and willing to be flexible by allowing us to grow in this space. I think you’ll see us continue to find new opportunities to be there and relevant. Our internet product will remain our core message because it’s so endemic to the sport, but how do we start to bring in some of the other products? How do we start to make our video products relevant to the eSports fan? Who do we work with to get some content up on X1? What company experience can we create there to credibly, authentically and relevantly talk about my video product to this space? There’s work on us to do that, but I believe we’re bullish on this category. We believe growth is coming and we are in it for the foreseeable future.

What advice do you have for non-endemic brands that are interested in entering the eSports space?

You have to respect the consumer and be willing to be flexible in how you market and message to this group. If you do those things, you’ll be embraced. If you’re embraced by this young, diverse and passionate segment, you’re going to have some good things happen to you. But you’ve got to be respectful and not just think that what works in other spaces is going to work here. That’s good advice for both endemic and non-endemic brands.

Marketers Join The Conversation With Branded Stickers

From cave paintings to poo emoji, humans have a strong emotional connection between ideas and pictures. EMarketer projects that more than a quarter of the world’s population will use consumer messaging apps by 2019 and a whole lot of people are enhancing their conversations with stickers. While thousands of stickers are available across multiple platforms, marketers are joining the conversation with branded images to share.

It should first be noted that stickers are not emoji. While emoji (those little, yellow faces and small icons) are a great way to express ideas, stickers are generally more versatile in their use. Representing characters and situations more than facial expressions alone, stickers can be added to message threads, placed on top of text, over other stickers and on top of photos. They can even be “peeled” and reused within a conversation. As with their emoji cousins, the sticker phenomenon got its start in Japan before catching on across the world.

Disney princess stickers for iMessage (Apple)
Disney princess stickers for iMessage.

Films are a natural choice for branded stickers and Dreamworks was the first to offer them on Facebook Messenger for Despicable Me 2. Since then, messages within the platform can be embellished with stickers from The Muppets, Lego Batman, Pixar movies and more. On Apple’s iMessage platform, fans can share stickers for Beauty and the BeastPower Rangers and La La Land just to name a few.

Beauty and fashion are a popular theme among branded stickers, as well. Brands getting in on the action include (but are definitely not limited to) Sephora, Coach, L’Oréal, Dove and Nike.

Hungry? Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Burger King offer sticker packs for iMessage among others, for those times when only food will illustrate what’s on your mind.

A 2013 study by OnData found that 35 percent of US smartphone users added stickers daily to chat conversations and 74 percent had used them before. At 43 percent, Indonesia used stickers the most on a daily basis, while Brazil used them the least at 24 percent. WhatsApp was a top choice for many regions in the study, which has since been acquired by Facebook.


Earlier this month, Giphy announced that it wants to make it easier for artists to create animated sticker apps for the iMessage App Store. The company launched 12 stickers apps, each featuring animated sticker designs from a different artist. Each app costs 99 cents, with all proceeds going to the artist. Giphy also quietly acquired Imoji, TechCrunch reported, a startup that had developed a popular platform for creators to build and distribute custom-made stickers and emoji to the messaging masses.

Before you get the idea of marketing with stickers, consider this—Japanese mobile messaging app Line brings in more than $20 million per month selling sticker packs, which typically trade for one to two dollars for sets of 12-to-18, according to data from the company.

Although Apple has yet to release any sticker-related data, the company reports that over 76 percent of active iOS devices have switched over to iOS 10, which now offers stickers.

Fitbit’s Marketing Strategy Has Shifted To Social And Community

There’s no escaping it—we’re all living connected in a wearable world. With consumers largely viewing their wearable devices as an extension of their smartphones, brands are increasingly looking to leverage their line of products to suffice the sometimes insatiable appetite for all things “smart.”

With sustained success for the wearables industry relying heavily on continued user engagement and true value for the products they’re purchasing—almost always at a steep price—stepping away from the early adopters and into mass consumer adoption remains a piece to the puzzle that has not been discovered yet.

Around-the-clock attention to personal health and fitness by way of fitness trackers were once all the rage, but they’ve lost some steam in recent years due to the proliferation of the smartwatch. However, rivals are regularly emerging in both spaces, with Fitbit soon joining the swath of smarthwatch sellers, too.

Fitbit, whose 2016 Q4 revenue were down 19 percent year-over-year, are trying to scale their globally connected health and fitness business by restructuring their accessories strategy and forcing its way amongst a gaggle of gadgets by banking on the social elements and community around an active lifestyle.

The wearables market has evolved from the first wave of fitness trackers from the last decade, and Fitbit is remaining nimble by enhancing their social experience with the redesigned Fitstar Personal Trainer app to connect users and deliver tailored guidance that can help drive behavioral changes. They’ve also procured data-inspired partnerships to integrate the brand with such brands as VirZOOM, Habit and Peloton. The updates should bode well for their active user community that has grown 37 percent.

On Monday, they introduced a new product on the market in the Alta HR, billed as the world’s slimmest fitness wristband with continuous heart rate tracking.

“When looking at the technology adoption curve and utilizing the US market as a proxy, we have successfully captured a large portion of the innovator and early adopter segments in tracker market,” Fitbit CEO James Park said in an earnings call last month. “We believe the early and late majority segments of the tracker market represents an additional significant target opportunity of between 40 million to 80 million new tracker customers.”

[a]listdaily recently caught up with Fitbit and Youmi Bang, senior product merchandising and marketing manager for the company, to learn more about how they are catering to the ever-evolving wearables consumer—and industry.

Fitbit-Alta-HR_Special-Edition_Gunmeta Youmi Bang Marketing Interview alistdaily

How is the consumer appetite for wearables changing? What are the shifts Fitbit has been monitoring?

As you know, Fitbit is a leader in the connected health and wellness space. Our updates earlier this year were about providing the guidance, inspiration and motivation for our consumers to really reach their goals, and lead a happier and healthier life. In the grand scheme, a lot of our consumers are wanting a little bit more guidance and inspiration. What we’ve really done is bring in community, which is really all about connecting our user group with their friends—all while Fitbit motivates them and cheers them on. There’s a social feature that gives the ability to share what you’re doing in terms of exercise, and allowing you to look at articles and share that information.

How does the social and community element open up new marketing opportunities for Fitbit? 

There’s a little bit of a gamification element. We actually see in our data that those who are more socially connected with their friends are actually more likely to have higher activity rates. We actually see more engagement with their friends or groups on an average of 700 more steps. We think that our Feed updates will be huge for our users in that they’ll really be able to connect, feel better about themselves, while being motivated to move more, which is our mission here at Fitbit.

How is Fitbit using consumer feedback to keep the brand nimble?

We’ve heard from our users, and we really want to provide a guidance and personalized experience—which is why we launched Personal Goal Setting in the Fitbit app. The update provides a step-by-step guided process based on insights from data and health and fitness objectives.

How are you leveraging the data that you collect as marketing collateral?

We understand through data what kind of activities and exercises you’re doing. For instance, if you ran 10 miles, we may feed you exercises and personal training suggestions that you could do through our Fitstar Personal Trainer app. With the app, we can offer tailored content through achievable goals that users might want to try the next day.

What kind of messaging works best for Fitbit users? 

We try to reach consumers efficiently through all of the different traditional channels, like TV advertising, digital and social media. Through our update for the Fitbit community, for our existing user base, we activated Groups, which lets you discover and join over 20 fitness, nutrition, wellness and weight loss communities of like-minded people to help support and inspire you on your journey.

How do you see the wearables space developing in the near future?

We’re really concentrating on providing this next level of guidance, and that’s what our software announcements are all about. We’re really excited about our Personal Trainer feature, our community on FitStar. We think that it’s a huge differentiator for Fitbit because we have the entire platform—we have really great hardware, we have really great software, and we now are putting more insight, which is what the consumer wants. We also see in data that having this great platform really retains our community and wanting to buy more products from us and continuing with the Fitbit brand. We see our brand strongpoint when people choose to return to us.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Hitcents Breaks Down NBA’s Impact On Mobile Gaming

The NBA continues to expand its gaming footprint. Developer Hitcents, which recently launched The Godfather: Family Dynasty , has released NBA Life. The game offers a new experience for NBA fans, combining elements of lifestyle role-playing, resource management, and strategy games.

The game puts players in the shoes of an NBA prospect. After signing with the team of their choice, users must balance the competing commitments of an NBA career on their quest to become the best in the league. Players must hire agents, trainers and publicists to help them manage their busy careers—all while making time for workouts, events and appearances as they play through their team’s real-life schedule.

“We are extremely excited to offer an innovative take on a sports mobile game that’s never been done before,” said Chris Mills, president of Hitcents. “Creating NBA Life has been a huge focus of our company for the past year-and-a-half, and we can’t wait to share it with the world.”

Chris Mills, Hitcents co-founder and president, told [a]listdaily that working with Oscar-winning actor, Tom Hanks in 2014 changed the developer’s direction.

“Before these two titles (Godfather and NBA Life), our only true IP-based application was Hanx Writer, created in partnership with Tom Hanks,” Mills said. That app, which turned iPads into a vintage typewriter, was the number one app in over 50 countries. “After we saw the value that his brand brought to our product, we decided to take on more licensing opportunities to help drive visibility for our games in the increasingly competitive mobile landscape.”

Mills also discussed how his studio simultaneously built The Godfather: Family Dynasty and NBA Life over the past two years. “During that time, we gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about what it takes to work with large brands,” Mills said. “We began developing The Godfather: Family Dynasty first and began gaining a good understanding of how every decision we make on these games has an impact on the overall brand. We held ourselves to high standards of quality throughout development.”

According to Mills, the goal of NBA Life was to create a sports mobile game that had never been created before—something fresh and different. “Our goal was to produce something that was aesthetically pleasing and inspiring, while also showing users what it’s like to be an NBA player off the court,” Mills explained. “As we were designing the game, the slogan we kept at the forefront of our discussions was: ‘it’s more than basketball.’”

Mills said this game is one of the first NBA-licensed games that is not solely focused on basketball gameplay, but instead focuses on all aspects of becoming an NBA star. “As a player on your favorite team, real-life NBA players are your teammates,” Mills said. “They are your mentors, the ones walking you through the process of becoming the next NBA legend. You are learning from your own NBA heroes, while also challenging them to scrimmages that will improve your skills.”

Hitcents is tapping into the NBA brand with this game. “We are utilizing all NBA teams and their top players throughout the entire game,” Mills said. “This brings authenticity to the experience, and allows users to feel like they are legitimate members of the League.”

The free-to-play game integrates micro-transactions into the experience. Players can earn and buy special currency called Juice, which supplies users with resources, permanently unlock extra utilities in certain game systems, increase system efficiency, or be used to buy shoeboxes containing special items.

Given that this game isn’t going after the simulation experience of games like 2K Sports’ NBA 2K17, Mills believes it could connect with the NBA’s large female fan base.

“We are proud to say that we’re the first NBA-licensed game to give users the option of choosing to play as a female avatar with an NBA team jersey on,” Mills said. “We believe this is one small step towards a much more inclusive gaming culture, particularly in sports gaming. So many females enjoy watching sports such as basketball, and it seems there aren’t any games out there that cater to this audience. We are hoping NBA Life will give female and male NBA fans alike a chance to interact with their favorite brand in a new and interesting way.”

Mills said the mobile market is developing into a “winner takes all” industry. That’s where the power of a license, especially a global brand like the NBA, comes into play.

“It becomes increasingly difficult to find visibility for new mobile games each and every day,” Mills explained. “The top publishers have the resources and funds to afford the top users, leaving the mid-tier publishers and independent developers behind to figure out how to drive downloads in a cost-effective way. Having an attached brand is known for increasing your chances for App Store or Google Play featuring, and driving cost-per-installs down. However, the more IP-based games that flood the market, the less opportunities having one will afford you.”

Hitcents is relying on the NBA plan to help connect with gamers and basketball fans around the globe. The game won’t have a traditional cover athlete player spokesman to directly promote the title. But NBA players are very tech savvy and the NBA has a lot of social media followers.

“Social media is huge for the NBA and its players,” Mills said. “This is one aspect that we evaluate when choosing which licenses to work with in the mobile games industry. The ability to tap into a large, engaged market is crucial to us when finding the best partner to work with. We plan on tapping into this large user base for promotional benefits, beginning with launch day. We hope to build a strong social media following as the game progresses, and engage with that community on a regular basis. It’s a great way for us to gain valuable information from our users, and use that information to keep the game relevant for years to come.”

Mills said events like NBA All-Star, the NBA playoffs and the Finals are huge opportunities for NBA Life in terms of marketing and game design.

“Our hope is to integrate live in-game events for our users during playoff time, offering fans another touchpoint with their team of choice during an exciting time for the franchise,” Mills said. He also added that, with the NBA fan base spanning across the globe, it’s essential to market NBA Life globally. The game has launched in 48 countries, with six languages coming soon.

“Players can interact with other players from around the world in real-time,” Mills said. “Our crew system allows for 50 players from any location to team-up together while discussing their favorite teams or latest NBA news.”

The game will continually incorporate more live events and social aspects for players to interact with. “Our goal is to provide users with a game they can play during the regular season, and also play in the off season by gearing up their player, practicing, and building up skills,” Mills said. “This gives NBA fans a way to interact with their favorite team and players year-round.”

Zeptolab Unleashes ‘CATS’ To Battle On Mobile

Zeptolab, creator of the wildly successful Cut the Rope games, announced today that it is introducing players to the world of CATS (Crash Arena Turbo Stars). Similar to the puzzle game that launched the company, the gameplay for CATS is deceptively simple—except instead of solving a puzzle to drop candy into an adorable monster’s (Om Nom) mouth, players are tasked with building battle machines driven by cute kitties with attitude.

Although Zeptolab released Pudding Monsters in 2012 and King of Thieves in 2015, the Cut the Rope franchise remains the company’s biggest hit. In CATS, players assemble and upgrade their machines using parts that include wheels, drills, shovels and missile launchers. Once constructed, they pit their machines against creations made by other players. The two vehicles attack each other automatically until only one is left standing. Most battles are done in under ten seconds, making it very easy to participate in a string of championship matches for leaderboard rankings. Players then win additional parts to further improve their machines.

Misha Lyalin, CEO and chairman of Zeptolab, sat down with [a]listdaily to talk about the new game, which is expected to launch for iOS and Android in April. We discuss the new free-to-play mobile releasing amid the ongoing success of Cut the Rope while amazingly avoiding making cat fight jokes.

Misha Lyalin, CEO and chairman, Zeptolab
Misha Lyalin, CEO and chairman, Zeptolab

What is the new game, CATS about?

CATS is a game where you assemble your own fighting machine and battle other people, impersonated as mean street cats. Essentially, the game is about building a machine that will fight other machines. The machines fight automatically, and there are championship rankings for you to progress using different machines and parts.

What lessons did you learn from the Cut the Rope franchise that will help you promote CATS?

Currently, the mobile games market is very mature and it’s very difficult for new players to come in with new games unless they have huge marketing budgets. Cut the Rope established Zeptolab as a gaming brand and we continue—as a company—to show our fans that every time we release something, it’s going to be interesting and exciting. The success of Cut the Rope told us that branding is very important in this business. Therefore, we’ve grown the Zeptolab brand so that you’ll want to play every game we release.

As a result, I think we enjoy a very high viral effect for our games. So, we spend less in terms of marketing to attract the same amount of users that other people (without the brand credit) have to. The importance of branding in games was the biggest lesson for us. We think of every new game as a franchise that will continue forward.

How do you let people know when a new Zeptolab game is releasing?

We’re making sure the industry and the proper news outlets knows about the game. We also have a huge number of people who play our games every month. So, there will be a cross-promotional mechanism, of course. Plus, we will try to get influential gamers to tell their friends. If a game has huge viral potential, then it’s important to get information about new Zeptolab games to the most interested players who will tell other about it.

Will the game include any social features?

You can play against people on Facebook, and we’ll also have things like clans coming. We’ll add more features after the game releases, just as we do with our other games. For example, Cut the Rope is almost six-years-old, and we continue to make new features and levels for it. The same went for King of Thieves, and the same will go for CATS. There will be an update every month with something new and exciting.

Will you be able to brag and show off your machines?

That’s a very big thing. We’re integrating a lot of interesting features right now that will allow you to brag. It’s interesting to show those fights, so naturally, we will make a way to share them with the world. Not just pictures, but I think videos of fights will be very interesting for people to see. We’ve already seen people uploading footage to YouTube with the soft launch.

Are there plans to support larger tournaments?

Yes, eSports is something that we’ve certainly been thinking about. Once we launch the game, we’ll understand the community’s appetite and provide the proper features for bigger competitions. We think the game has a lot of potential for this type of interaction.

Cut the Rope has Om Nom as its mascot. Will CATS have a similar mascot?

Yes, CATS has . . . cats. For example, there’s Uncle Tony. He’s a wise-guy that guides you through the process of fighting other cats. We’re already doing stickers and things with him, so I think he will be the mascot for the game.

Will you be taking advantage of any merchandising opportunities at launch?

We’re waiting for the game to catch on first. Merchandising is something that is in addition to the main gaming business. So, we don’t have any merchandising plans at this point.

What is the monetization model you’ll be using with CATS?

There will be both in-app purchases and advertising. In some cases, you will have a choice to either wait [for parts], pay or watch advertising—just like what we did with King of Thieves.

How do you plan to engage players for the long-term, especially after they’ve reached the top of the leaderboards?

There’s always somebody coming behind to defeat you, so you can’t rest on your victories forever. There will be others who will come and displace you. There isn’t a place where you can say, “I’m number one forever.” You can only be number one for a certain period of time, so you’ll always have to be on your feet, changing up your car with upgrades.

Once you fight other cars, you’ll modify yours to withstand them and fight them better. The more you play, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more things become available to you. There’s endless interest. You can earn different stickers and badges for being the top or longtime player.


How will updating CATS compare to Cut the Rope?

With CATS, we’re looking to update every month. Cut the Rope is different because it’s a puzzle game that has an end, so you build up content so that people can play it more. Updating CATS won’t just be about new body parts, machines and weapons. There will also be new game modes like tournaments and other things we have up our sleeves. I think any big game with multiplayer needs to be updated constantly. King of Thieves gets updated about every two months.

How would you describe the Zeptolab game brand?

Zeptolab is about fun, quality and innovation. We try to find new and interesting game ideas from a mix of different ideas. Then we grind them through a mechanism—we call it the innovation process—to make sure the players will enjoy it. Then, when we finally release the game, we make sure that the quality is top-notch. Every time you get a game from Zeptolab, you should expect innovation, fun and quality. That’s what we strive for and we think that once we do that, the world becomes a bit better. People smile more.

Is it difficult to live up to the success of Cut the Rope?

It’s always tough in any business, especially in gaming, to follow-up a mega-hit with other hits. We don’t think of the new games we do as the next Cut the Rope. But we do think of them as huge games that will be popular with millions of people. Cut the Rope has touched a billion people and King of Thieves has 50 million downloads. We’ll see where CATS is going to go. But I think that the game will be big enough. Not as big as Cut the Rope, because that game was a revelation—swiping your finger across the screen to cut a rope for candy was a “wow” moment when it came to interacting with hardware. We’re obvious past that point. So, in order to innovate and offer something fresh and exciting, we come up with interesting and new gameplay along with different scenarios for the games.

We think that, regardless of how big this game is going to be, I think it’s going to carry the Zeptolab brand forward as a fun, quality and innovative game.