Experiential Retail Pop-Up Shops Are Shifting Brand Strategies

With the proliferation of e-commerce and overabundance of brick-and-mortars, brands are increasingly stepping into a brave new world of high-tech, high-concept experiential retail pop-up shops to convert on the ever evolving shopping habits of consumers.

The retail transformation is not just a fad, but a byproduct of brands pivoting to meet market demands and shift in shopping behaviors—even more so as a steady diet of department stores get dilapidated and left for dead on a daily basis.

No, consumers have not fully given up on physical retail stores and shopping malls and their aging reputation—yet—they’re just excited and looking toward new offerings and experiences, like frequenting showrooming, and stores where they can purchase bespoke products. Mass personalization is a reality—36 percent of consumers said they’re interested in personalized products or services, according to research by Deloitte.

As shopping also shifts online—Americans spent $102.7 billion in online sales over the last three months of 2016, which was 8.3 percent of the overall total of $1.24 trillion in retail sales—retailers are reevaluating their business models to capture sales and consumer affection.

Enter the appeal of innovative experiential retail shops as short-term, fantasy hangout spaces, an industry that was valued at $50 billion last year.

Melissa Gonzalez is the founder and CEO of The Lionesque Group, a company that builds temporary experiential retail pop-up shops for brands. Gonzalez, author of the book The Pop-Up Paradigm: How Brands Can Build Human Connections in a Digital Age, joined AListDaily to weigh in on how brands can connect with consumers through retail experiences.

Melisa Gonzalez, founder and CEO of Lion’Esque
Melissa Gonzalez, founder and CEO of The Lionesque Group.

How are brands building human connections in the digital age with retail experiences?

Melissa Gonzalez: More and more brands are understanding that they still need to create one-to-one moments, even in a global market. They’re doing this by creating “aha moments” in-store, moments that incite a sense of discovery and enlightenment. They’re integrating technology to learn more about customer interests and enable them to create more personalized customer journeys.

Why do retail experiences need to be a part of a brand’s experiential marketing strategy?

MG: In a physical space, a brand can connect with a customer across all five senses and truly immerse him or her into the story and value proposition of what they are offering. Every touch point heightens awareness, makes a connection deeper and is a moment along the customer’s path to purchase that cannot be truly replicated online or via mobile.

How much do these activations typically cost? Can you provide a specific example? 

MG: The amount can range widely and depends on a number of variables—goals determine many of the moving parts. In smaller, turnkey spaces, which are 280-square feet, a brand can create a good experience with a $20,000 budget for rent, design and staff. However, the larger scale, more experiential activations tend to range between $100,000-to-$250,000 on average for a short-term pop-up.

How is ROI being measured from these activations? What are the tools used to measure the impact of pop-up marketing?

MG: There is qualitative and quantitative ROI when measuring activations. On the quantitative side, brands can track foot traffic, dwell times, sales conversions, average cart size and how that compares to online, increase in online engagement and impact on traffic to their website. On the qualitative side, they’ve essentially created an open focus group through their activation where they can learn customer sentiment, what motivates them to purchase or not; how they respond to size, color and fit; how window design impacts foot traffic from week-to-week or month-to-month.

How does the Lionesque’s strategy differ and make it unique from others in the pop-up evolution?

MG: We have truly been pioneers in the pop-up retail format since 2009. We have been part of the evolution on re-thinking how brands utilize physical spaces. We sit at the intersection of understanding how to deliver an experiential in-store environment that is architected for sales and customer learning.

RADEN Pop-Up Store Launch

What are the tentpole events that brands are setting up pop-up shops for?

MG: There is really a wide range of reasons why a brand sets up a pop-up. Most common is testing and building brand awareness. Sales is always a component but what can be tested and learned, and the growth of brand awareness, are top of the list.

How do you envision AR, AI and layered analytics shaping the future of the industry? Is technology giving Brick and Mortars newfound life?

MG: Yes! The advantage online has been the ability to track a customer’s journey, his or her browse history and past purchases, among others, and using that information to inform decisions about what a customer is shown as a recommendation. On the flip side, an online customer can readily learn more and dive into the details of a product—like fabric, ingredients and product comparisons. In store has the benefit of touch and feel, but with the integration of AR, a customer can now have both at their fingertips. AR can bring a product to life right before the customer’s eyes with realistic 3D holograms, making it easier for them to visualize and understand the intricate features of a product and giving them more confidence to purchase. It also enables customers to explore additional options and make personalized modifications while shopping.

Why are AR store displays ads at the forefront and key to sales?

MG: As with all technology, every touch point of interaction is tracked and can provide a brand with corresponding analytics. AR is an invaluable informational tool by creating content and copy within in-store visual displays. A recent study showed that 77 percent of shoppers want to use AR to see product differences, such as a change in color or style. Engaging users through AR leads to longer times spent browsing in-store, increased product interaction time and more fluid product testing.

How is Amazon-Go going to change the face of retail?

MG: Amazon-Go is bringing the concept of self-checkout to the next level by pushing the boundaries of what seamless means by eliminating check-out altogether through the integration of technology, using a network of cameras and sensors to track which items customers grab and automatically charge them at the exit.

What are the big changes you’re seeing in the pop-up space? What’s one trend we’ll see develop over the next year?

MG: The integration of in-store intelligence on the product to consumer level. The deployments of radio-frequency identification tagging and tracking are really just getting legs. The amount of information that can be retrieved from this type of tracking will only expand, as will the way it powers brand to consumer interactions in a more personalized way.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Tribeca Film Festival Unites Digital And Traditional TV Platforms With One Big Screen

The Tribeca Film Festival celebrates entertainment in practically all its forms, from movies and documentaries, to virtual reality experiences, to television. This year’s event marks the second annual Tribeca TV program and it includes a number of prominent television premieres, including the first episode of NatGeo’s Genius, covering the rebellious life of Albert Einstein; Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the bestselling dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood; and Netflix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt as it kicks off its third season, among many more. These premieres are being shown in movie theaters to large audiences and they’re followed by live Q&A sessions with the cast and creators.

Cara Cusumano, director of programming for the Tribeca Film Festival, discussed this year’s Tribeca TV program with AListDaily. “We have a combination of about 15 shows in total,” she said. “They include new series premiering for the very first time, new seasons of fan favorite and critically acclaimed shows, some independent pilots that we curated from submissions, and we have a featured documentaries and sneak peeks. So, we have a cool spectrum of work.”

Cusumano then highlighted some of the most prominent show premieres. “Of the new series, I would highlight Genius from Ron Howard and Geoffrey Rush about the life of Einstein. It’s cinematic, and NatGeo’s first scripted TV show,” she began. “Then, of course, The Handmaid’s Tale is hugely anticipated. One of the executive producers on that, Reed Morano, directed the first episode and is a Tribeca alum. She premiered her first feature film, Meadowland, with us a couple of years ago. The Sinner, which comes from USA Network, is a gritty crime procedural about a murderer that stars Jessica Biel and Bill Pullman.”


Cusumano also emphasized how each show premiere was followed by in-depth conversation with the cast and creators behind them. “That’s one of the ways we do it a little bit differently and bring that festival energy to audiences so that they’re seeing their favorite shows on the big screen with an audience together getting to hear from those minds behind them,” she said.

Insights at the premiere for Genius included how Geoffrey Rush, who plays Einstein said, “We had to get beyond the two dimensional ‘emoji’ of Einstein.” While the Q&A session for The Handmaid’s Tale discussed possible parallels with today’s political climate, actress Ann Dowd stated that she hoped the show would have an impact on society. “I hope the series has a massive affect on people,” said Dowd, “and they picket the White House wearing these costumes [from the series], and we learn to never underestimate the power of morons.”

With both Genius and The Handmaid’s Tale dealing with issues of totalitarian governments, we asked Cusumano if there were any other trends that tied this year’s selections together. “I think one of the things we were drawn to that compelled us to create this section of the festival was how strong the storytelling is—and some of the work being made that we found the most exciting, beautiful and cinematic was happening in the TV space,” she replied. “I mentioned Reed Morano with The Handmaid’s Tale, Ron Howard with Genius, and (director) Antonio Campos with The Sinner. The folks behind The Eyeslicer (an experimental variety show) made the feature, Collective : Unconscious. There’s a kind of bleeding between television, film, online and even virtual reality, which we’re also involving in the festival—and I think the way those barriers are coming down is the trend we responded to the most.”

Netflix, Hulu, NatGeo and USA Network represent a broad mix of digital and more traditional cable channels. When asked how digital platforms were growing in comparison to traditional ones, Cusumano said, “I think audiences are adapting and companies are adapting too.  Everyone is very agnostic about how they share their stories. We found that our audience was just as willing to come to a big theater as they were to watch things on a phone, online or on television. Some of these companies that are embracing the different formats are thriving. We’re certainly reflecting that in the way we’ve structured our programs. Things like our new online works section include Snapchat filmmaking.”

With the online works section and shows like The Eyeslicer shown to an “invite only” audience, where only watchers can invite others to watch, we asked Cusumano if she thought digital platforms were more likely to take risks with their content than traditional television. “Maybe,” said Cusumano. “I think that we’re a festival that likes boundary-pushing creators, so we gravitate towards that in the film, TV and online works programs. But if there are people who have a new out-of-the-box idea, often the internet is a great testing ground for that. That’s the place where they can bring their ideas—where the more institutional companies would want to see that it can be done successfully before they get behind it in a big way. So, I think if people are interested in stuff that’s a little more experimental, they should check out the new online works program.”

Cusumano also discussed how festivals may play a valuable role in promoting the launch of new shows as more audiences turn to digital viewing. “There’s so much amazing stuff out there, and audiences that are hungry for these stories might not necessarily know where to start,” said Cusumano. “So, having a curator who has seen everything come in and present them with 15 new shows or 10 new web series creators [is welcome]. You know Tribeca, you know our face, and we provide an easy access point for audiences to explore. We heard from TV show creators at last year’s festival, and they felt happy, proud and humbled that their work had been selected for a film festival. So, the exposure that we’re able to grant is beneficial for shows and audiences. Hopefully, we’re connecting the two in a very meaningful way.”


We asked Cusumano if binge-watching was having an impact on how the Tribeca Film Festival was presenting its selections. “Yes, it does,” she said. “I think that it depends on the project—each individual piece—and if it’s something that demands to be seen all at once. After we showed O.J.: Made in America [last year], we premiered the entire series in one sitting. People came in and had the whole seven-and-a-half-hour experience. This year, we’re showing The Eyeslicer—and officially, we’re showing one episode, but we’re co-hosting a bigger screening in early May for the binge audience that wants to experience it that way. We and the creators wanted to make it available to them that way.”

Cusumano also noted how binge-watching is, “bleeding over to film as well. We’re doing an amazing marathon event for The Godfather parts I and II on our closing night. That’s going to be an all-day affair, and it’s going to be epic and amazing. The fact that people are so open to experience stories of that magnitude [makes for] a great way to revisit these classic films.”

We asked if the theater experience for established digital shows such as The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt helped to attract first-time viewers. Cusumano said, “Certainly, when you’re familiar with the characters, it maximizes the humor. But I think the episodes will work on their own. If there are people who haven’t seen the show before and are looking to experience it, they can come and enjoy it.”

So, what brings audiences to the red carpet premiere of a single TV show episode? Cusumano explains that “it’s different than watching it at home by yourself. I think people love the access and the cast and being able to ask questions. For some, this might be their only opportunity to see some these on the big screen before they come to Netflix or Hulu in the coming weeks. So, there is a kind of ‘catch it here or you’ll miss it’ moment for these events.”

Old Spice Gets Legendary With ‘The Walking Dead’ Star Steven Ogg

From fighting rival gangs in Grand Theft Auto V as Trevor Phillips to slicing and dicing zombies in The Walking Dead as Simon to terrorizing other hosts in Westworld, actor Steven Ogg has a huge fan base across entertainment.

Old Spice is tapping into that audience through Ogg’s latest character, infomercial host Bob Giovanni, the latest leg in the company’s “smell legendary” line of spokesmen.

“The ideology behind this is more than the freshest scent, it’s the idea that everyone has a journey,” Ogg told AListDaily. “A high number of millennials are just slaves to the grind in the sense that they’re just working to pay the bills at jobs they aren’t happy at. So reaching these people with the message is about finding happiness in whatever you do. It’s about being proud of what you do, being confident in what you do and doing the best job you can in whatever it is you do.”

The commercials use humor to market Old Spice’s Hardest Working Collection, which includes the new Steel Courage scent, Hydro Wash body wash and Old Spice Swat Defense.

“I never thought of the Old Spice brand much before (working on this campaign),” Ogg said. “I mean I used it before, and I certainly gravitated toward them and like that they do this with humor. I enjoy being a part of this, especially since the humor is used to push that message of working hard and finding your own voice in the world. It’s done in a very appealing tone, rather than being all high and mighty.”

Ogg follows Terry Crews and Isaiah Mustafa in communicating Old Spice marketing through humor.

“What Terry, Isaiah and the others have done is having fun with this, which helps get the message out there,” Ogg said. “This Bob Giovanni character is a lot of fun to play. And it translates to a wide audience and communicates to them that, ‘Hey man, do the best you can, find your own legendary status.’ I like that whole idea of working hard to achieve it at whatever you do. And taking pride in it.”

The Old Spice message of smelling fresh certainly connects with the most recent projects Ogg has worked on, whether that’s the deserts of Utah and California in Westworld or the humidity of the Atlanta suburbs in The Walking Dead.

“Confidence definitely comes from good grooming and smelling good,” Ogg said. “If you stink, you’re going to be self-conscious about it.”

Old Spice recently hired Wakefield Research to survey millennial men about working in the modern era.

Some findings tie into the “own the legend” marketing campaign, including the fact that 82 percent of millennial men (ages 18-to-35) who use social media admit to fibbing or exaggerating the truth on social to make their experiences seem more exciting; 87 percent of men feel pressure to “show off” on social media. Where they lived also impacted honesty, with 69 percent of men living in the city are more likely to fib online, compared to those in the suburbs (49 percent) or rural areas (39 percent).

“This concept of knowing that so many people are out there feeling trapped by their work, feeling the pressure and the competition—and it’s not just millennials that worry about standing out,” Ogg said. “We shouldn’t be focusing on standing out any more than children should be focusing on becoming famous. It’s a misguided thing. You should focus on who you are and know your voice. That’s what makes you a legend—it’s about finding your voice and standing out, as opposed to trying to become one of the sheep, or one of the zombies.”


82 Percent Of Gen Z Skip Ads; More Than Half Use Ad Blockers

This week, we’re delving into the world of young consumers, slightly older consumers, programmatic ad spend and a whole lot of gamers across the board.

Gen Z: Snapchat “Yes,” Ads “No”

Reaching what will be the largest generation of consumers is easier said than done, especially when they’re the most skilled at avoiding ads. A Millward Brown study titled AdReaction found that teenagers in the Gen Z generation (defined in this study as ages 16-to-19) will control or skip ads whenever possible.

Eighty-two percent will skip the ad as fast as they can, if given the option. Sixty-nine percent said they will physically do something to distract themselves for 30-to-60 seconds until the ad runs its course, 51 percent will use some sort of technology to block the ad and 40 percent will just stare at the ad until it goes away.

Meanwhile, a survey conducted by SCG found that over half of US high school and college students reported they are on Snapchat at least 11 times a day. The survey confirmed what many already believe—that Snapchat is a popular hub for young consumers—however, it illustrates just how often it gets picked up. Seventy-one percent said they turn to Snapchat six or more times a day and 78 percent revealed they use Snapchat daily, compared to 76 percent who use Instagram and 66 percent using Facebook on a daily basis.

Millennials: The Movie

Fifty percent of millennials believe their life should be made into a movie, according to a study by Viacom Velocity. This research is the basis of Velocity’s original documentary, The Culture of Proximity, which aired on MTVU Wednesday. As a generation that lives online, appearances matter and intimacy is redefined. Seventy percent of millennials choose activities that will give them items to post on social media and almost a third admitted they post things that make their life look better than it is.

And Now, A Word From Our Sponsor

Which style of video ad is the least disruptive? Pre-roll, according to a study by IPG Media Lab and YuMe. Only 17 percent of mobile device users feel that the ad interrupts the content, compared with 60 percent on outstream and 72 percent on mid-roll. While mid-roll ads are more intrusive to the viewing experience, they ranked higher in message recall for desktop viewers at 27 percent, compared to eight percent for outstream. The study also found that 54 percent of consumers found pre-roll ads on mobile are engaging, compared to outstream (37 percent) and mid-roll (44 percent).

Despite recent concerns about where ads are being run, and whether those sites reflect the views of the brand, programmatic ad spend in the US will total $32.56 billion, according to forecasts by eMarketer. Last year marked the first time in which more than half of all US digital video ad dollars traded via automation, eMarketer reported, adding that it will grow another 42.3 percent this year to $9.13 billion. By 2018, nearly three quarters of all video ad dollars will transact programmatically.

Pepsi’s Going To Be Okay

Morning Consult asked two thousand Americans how their opinion of Pepsi changed after watching the now infamous Kylie Jenner advertisement (that has since been pulled). Despite public outcry and a heavy dose of mockery, 44 percent of people surveyed actually had a more favorable view of the company after watching the ad, while only a quarter had a less favorable view. Meanwhile, 32 percent of Americans said the ad made them more likely to buy Pepsi products, versus 20 percent who were less likely.

Gamers March On

ESA has released its annual sales, demographic and usage data for 2017, revealing that 67 percent of US households own a device that is used to play video games. The average gamer is 35 years old, and 65 percent of US households are home to at least one person who plays video games at least three hours a week. Fifty-four percent of the most frequent gamers say that video games help them connect with friends; 45 percent say it helps families spend time together.

Thanks to successful releases like Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, video game spending grew by 24 percent compared to last year to over $1.3 billion in March. According to NPD’s March US digital/retail/e-tail video game sales report, the growth in total physical sales for March reversed nine consecutive months of year-on-year declines since last May.

Hardware spending almost doubled compared to a year ago to $485 million, NPD reports.

“March 2017 will go down in history books as the month Nintendo broke records,” said NPD VG industry analyst Sam Naji. “The Nintendo Switch had the biggest hardware launch for a Nintendo platform and the second biggest launch for any video game platform since 1995, the time NPD began tracking this category.”

NPD’s Top 10 Games By Revenue For March 2017:

  1. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands
  2. For Honor
  3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  4. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
  5. Mass Effect: Andromeda
  6. Grand Theft Auto V
  7. Horizon Zero Dawn
  8. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
  9. NBA 2K17
  10. Battlefield 1

Mazda And El Rey Network Appoint New CMOs

From media networks to content creation, here are the week’s biggest job moves.

Mazda announced the appointment of Dino Bernacchi as their new chief marketing officer for the US. Bernacchi will focus on the overarching role brand communications play in consumer experience with Mazda at all touch-points.

Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, had her contract renewed through June 2020.

Lara Richardson has been promoted to executive vice president of marketing for Discovery, Animal Planet and Science Channel.

Turner’s digital-media sports unit, Bleacher Report, has hired Keith Hernandez as their mew senior vice president of brand strategy and sales.

Alma Derricks is the new chief marketing officer at El Rey Network. The position was newly created to oversee all consumer and trade marketing.

Karlin Linhardt has been named as Subway’s new senior vice president of North American marketing.

Bento Box Entertainment has a new creative director in artist and animator Ben Jones.

Lauren Snyder has been appointed chief marketing officer for Atlantis, Paradise Island, on of the leading destination resorts in The Bahamas.

Jonathan Carson is headed to Mic, a youth-centric digital news and lifestyle media startup. Carson formerly served as the chief revenue officer of Vevo and CEO of Nielsen Digital.

Whistle Sports expanded its executive team with the hire of J LaLonde, who’ll now oversee the company’s multi-platform content development, production and programming worldwide.

Judith A. Shoulak, the North American president for Buffalo Wild Wings, will retire from the restaurant chain, effective June 30.

Roberto Marques, president of Mondelez International’s North America business, is leaving the consumer goods giant.

Casey Carl is exiting his post as Target’s chief innovation and strategy officer.

Job Vacancies 

CMO, Mixed Reality GE Waukesha, WI
Vice President, Marketing Esurance San Francisco, CA
Vice President Marketing American Eagle Financial Credit Union East Hartford, CT
VP, Marketing (Global Underwear) Calvin Klein New York, NY
VP, Marketing & Digital Channels City of Hope Irwindale, CA
Director, Marketing  Fox Deportes Los Angeles, CA
Director of Brand Content & Partnerships  Time Warner Burbank, CA
Senior Marketing Manager Apple Santa Clara Valley, CA
Sr. Manager, Creative Services NBC Universal Universal City, CA

Make sure to check back for updates on our Jobs Page.

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

ESL’s EsportsTV Will Be The First Of Its Kind In The US

PlayStation Vue users in the US will soon have access to 24/7 esports content thanks to a partnership between Sony and ESL. Just in time for the 12th season of the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) tour beginning May 4, esportsTV will host linear programming as part of PlayStation Vue’s Elite viewing plan.

EsportsTV will be the first linear US channel dedicated solely to esports content. While PlayStation Vue is available for PlayStation 4, it’s not limited to a gaming audience. The service is also available for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, PC/Mac, mobile devices and more, which begs the question—just how big is the market for a subscription esports channel?

“We’re going after the PlayStation user who is today not watching TV, driving a large ratings decline and is at high risk [for abandoning the pay-TV ecosystem],”  Sony Computer Entertainment Group CEO Andrew House told The Wall Street Journal when PlayStation Vue was announced in 2015.

House was referring to the growing number of “cord-cutters” in the US who are abandoning traditional cable TV in favor of on-demand subscription services like Hulu and Netflix. Video game enthusiasts are obviously the most likely to subscribe to an “all esports all the time” channel—a massive demographic that is less likely to engage with mainstream platforms like cable TV, according to recent findings by analyst firm, SuperData. Twenty-seven percent of video game livestream viewers watch most often during weekday evenings, often replacing primetime TV. In addition, 20 percent of US Gaming Video Content (GVC) streamers are “cord-cutters,” SuperData found, compared to eight percent of the general US population.

The audience is definitely there, but will they pay to watch?

“Overall, PlayStation has been doing a great job at further solidifying its leadership position in the console space,” SuperData CEO, Joost van Dreunen told AListDaily. “Traditionally, however, offering linear programming and VOD content has been only a minor growth driver. The partnership with ESL does have potential on the long run, but since access requires at a minimum a $55/month subscription to the Elite package it is unlikely to move the needle in the short term.”

Between YouTube’s 517 million users and Twitch’s 185 million, the GVC audience surpasses mainstream channels like ESPN and HBO and—according to the 2016 Adobe Digital Insights Gaming Report—esports has a larger social following than the NFL, NHL and MLB (individually). ESL, in particular, has already amassed over 320 million hours of content broadcast on Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, esportsTV outside the US, ESL TV and Movistar eSports via Telefonica.

Time will tell whether esportsTV will revolutionize the way competitive gaming is consumed, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

PAX Unplugged Marks Tabletop Gaming Renaissance

The PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) consumer events across the United States and around the world celebrate gaming in all its varieties, but most especially video games. Everything from the classic arcade areas, to the esports competitions and the BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) LAN areas emphasize the power of video games as a means of bringing people together.

But PAX will be turning off the screens this fall when it launches the first PAX Unplugged, which will take place on November 17-19 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As its name indicates, this convention shifts the focus from digital electronics to an analog approach to gaming with board game experiences. Every PAX convention has a tabletop gaming area, which have steadily grown over the years, so it’s about time for face-to-face gameplay to get a show of its own.

Ryan Hartman, director of events at Penny Arcade, told AListDaily what inspired the creation of PAX Unplugged.

Image credit: Penny Arcade
Image credit: Penny Arcade

“It was born out of a few factors, but first and foremost, we all really love tabletop games,” explained Hartman. “There’s constant talk around our offices about the newest board game that we’ve discovered and gotten to try out when we come back from a PAX. But the excitement that we have for these games is certainly reflected in the explosion of the industry as a whole. I’d say that we are in a renaissance of tabletop gaming at the moment, and to that point, it’s only making more sense to do a tabletop focused show. We have a specific area of our existing show that’s dedicated to board games that fans love, and the exhibitors in those areas are always asking for more space. The appetite is there from our exhibitors, fans and the industry at large, so we finally decided to pull the plug.”

Hartman continued by talking about how the idea to create a tabletop-oriented PAX had been in the works for some time. “In seeing the expansions and explosions of the tabletop areas in our existing shows, we had been thinking on how we would execute a standalone concept for a year or two now,” said Hartman. “Thankfully, the stars have aligned a bit and we were able to get this one off the ground. I’m very excited about the early reception so far from both potential attendees and exhibitors. I think it will be a great addition to the overall PAX lineup.”

We asked how the dedicated convention would differ from the tabletop areas from other PAX conventions, and Hartman admitted that, “it will be a similar feel to our overall PAX shows, that’s for sure. We want to keep the consistency of the fan experience that makes each PAX so special. That being said, this is an exciting opportunity to reinvent the wheel a bit. A board game focused show will require different areas and pieces to the overall convention that we will have to figure out, and we have some exciting ideas.”

Hartman then talked about what made Philadelphia the ideal location to hold the convention. “We looked at a lot of different places, but much of the information we got back from exhibitors in terms of player data pointed to the Northeast. We also looked at attendee survey data on our end and it indicated the same thing. So, everything was pushing us in this direction, and in looking around at what was available and where some of the bigger gaming hubs were located, Philadelphia revealed itself as the early optimal choice. Also, the fact that I’m originally from outside Philadelphia had nothing to do with it, despite what everyone has said.”

PAX2055While PAX Unplugged is a unique concept, it’s difficult to overlook how many tabletop games and their gameplay styles—especially collectible card games (CCGs)—are making their way into prominent video games.

“It’s something we are actively looking at, actually,” said Hartman, indicating how this PAX might not be completely unplugged. “We want to adhere to the spirit of analog gaming, but we would be remised if we didn’t acknowledge and celebrate the prevalence of tabletop elements making their way into digital games. Things like CCGs, which you mentioned—with Hearthstone being an obvious example—will have a place at the show, and we are designing a track of content around them. But the primary target and idea on the show will stay focused on the table itself. It is being built as board games first.”

So, what is contributing to the growth of tabletop gaming when digital entertainment is so prevalent? “It’s difficult to say,” Hartman admitted. “I mean, the growth in the sector is undeniable, but to speculate on exactly why is an interesting thought experiment. I think the barrier of entry is certainly fostering a lot of it. With crowdfunding and other direct to consumer engagement, people are able to access different distribution models that they might not have been able to in the past.”

Hartman considered the question further and said, “on a more philosophical level, I think the in-person nature of board gaming has a lot to do with it. Digital gaming is here to stay for sure, but if you think about how ultra-connected we all are at the moment, and how we can access anyone in the world with the touch of a button, and able send them a text message or see them through a screen—I think on a certain fundamental level, people like being able to get back to playing a game and interacting in person. Seeing the people you are playing with and talking to them face-to-face. Moving the actual physical pieces around a board is always an enjoyable experience.

“It’s entirely speculation, but I feel like personal social engagement is a big factor. Board game bars are popping up all over the place. People like being around other people. I mean, there are a lot of folks who have grown up with a ‘family game night’ tradition.”

Team Dignitas CEO On What Facebook Opens Up For Esports Fan Base

Team Dignitas is targeting a broader potential esports audience by offering livestreaming on Facebook along with Twitch. The team, which is owned by the Philadephia 76ers, made this move to offer both fans and sponsorship partners a larger audience to connect with. Players on Team Dignitas’ six rosters across League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm and Smite will practice, interact and share their stories with new gaming audiences.

Jonathan Kemp, CEO of Team Dignitas, told AListDaily that Facebook’s 1.86 billion users and 650 million gamers offer a much larger and more diverse audience to engage with.

“We believe esports is growing at a significant rate, and as new fans come into this space, they want to find new players and teams to engage with. Facebook will be a key part in finding and interacting with new players and teams,” Kemp said. “That will be a big opportunity for us.”

Kemp added that the Sixers sales and marketing team works with corporate partners for Team Dignitas, and this relationship with Facebook is very important because all the large brands already have partnerships with Facebook and understand the metrics.

“The interest in and level of fan engagement with players in the esports industry is unparalleled in professional sports today,” Chad Biggs, Philadelphia 76ers senior vice president of corporate partnership and activation, explained. “We are confident that opening up our broadcast to both the Facebook and Twitch audiences is a move that sets us apart from other esports teams, for both fans and partners.  The interest has been incredible and we anticipate announcing new, dynamic and differentiated corporate partnerships in the coming months.”

Kemp confirmed that in the coming months, Team Dignitas will announce four major new commercial partnerships that the Sixers have negotiated for the team, and this Facebook deal opens up new ways to connect these brands with fans.

“When we started working with the Sixers last October, we realized that the level of fan engagement and access to players in esports is unparalleled to the NBA or traditional sports,” Kemp said. “We believe Facebook will help us create strong, long-term partnerships with fans. That’s important for Team Dignitas as well as everybody in the esports ecosystem.”

The Sixers and Team Dignitas have worked on cross-promoting their NBA and esports fan bases across social media, including on Facebook and inside the Wells Fargo Center arena in Philadelphia. The Sixers NBA Development League (D-League) team, the Delaware 87ers (the Sevens), wear jerseys with the Team Dignitas brand on the front under the player’s name and number.

“Everything we do across the Sixers and Dignitas—we’re always looking for opportunities to cross-promote with our fan bases,” Kemp said. “I’m in Philly this week talking to the Sixers content and social media teams to explore new ways to work across these sports brands.”

Kemp admits that there’s not necessarily a huge crossover between the NBA and esports fans, but there’s a degree of interest. “As Sixers fans see Dignitas popping up in the stadium and on social media over the next three to five years, then that crossover becomes more important,” Kemp added.

Furthermore, Kemp admits that the NBA has been a leader in the esports space, even before the announcement of its NBA 2K ELeague partnership with Take-Two Interactive. “When you look at the amount of NBA teams, players and owners involved in esports versus other sports, the NBA looks at this space as interesting,” Kemp added. “We think NBA 2K ELeague will be exciting for esports fans and NBA fans. We think there’s going to be a lot of innovation around the teams and what they do in esports.”

Kemp believes the experience Team Dignitas has had in successfully managing eSports teams, running gaming houses and working with players, combined with the Sixers success in professional sports, provides an advantage for the team in the NBA ELeague that other NBA teams might not have.

When it comes to the Dignitas brand, Kemp believes the team is in a similar position as the Sixers in that it’s been around for 13 years and has had success along the way. “When we talk about branding and background with this innovative new ownership group, the similarities are pretty significant,” Kemp said. “There’s a lot to learn from what these guys have been through.”

It will take some time for Dignitas to become as mainstream as the Sixers and for esports to become as popular as the NBA, but that’s coming closer and closer to becoming a reality. “We’re utilizing the Sixers content guys to develop better content, and we’re working with their fan engagement team to find more meaningful ways to engage with fans,” Kemp added.

Kemp also met with the Sixers health, training and conditioning team to explore different ways to build out programs for teams that live in gaming houses and those who play remotely. There’s also the potential to bring teams through the Philadelphia training center.

“As we talk to commercial partners, so much is driven by commercial team at Sixers, how do we insert them into the fan story. We’ll be learning from them. Having PR side involved, continue to learn from people who have been successful,” said Kemp.

National Geographic Is Furthering Its Brand With Albert Einstein And ‘Genius’

National Geographic is unraveling the complicated mysteries of Albert Einstein’s universe with Genius, a 10-part series that looks into the life and times of one of the most brilliant icons of his generation.

Genius, the network’s first-ever fully scripted series, explores Einstein’s extraordinary achievements and reveals his volatile, passionate and complex personal relationships. The series, executive produced by Ron Howard, marries science with a bit of sexy by featuring Einstein’s lovers, enemies and fellow luminaries. The big-budget dramatization is based on acclaimed author Walter Isaacson’s book Einstein: His Life and Universe. The anthology show stars Geoffrey Rush, Johnny Flynn and Emily Watson.

At their Upfront presentation Wednesday in New York, National Geographic announced that Genius already has gotten the green light for season two, which will focus on a different, still-to-revealed iconic figure.

Some of the marketing in recent months to promote Genius was a Super Bowl commercial that was widely considered a smashing success, sponsorships with brands like Viking Cruises and a perfectly timed experiential takeover in Austin for SXSW to celebrate Pi Day and Einstein’s birthday with week-long programming.

Jill Cress, chief marketing officer and executive vice president for National Geographic Partners, leads the marketing mission for a company that reaches over 730 million globally each month through its television channels, magazines, books, studios, digital, social media and children’s media. She joined AListDaily to shed light on how Genius will explore “Further,” their new tagline as the consumer-facing expression of the brand.

Jill Cress, CMO and executive vice president for National Geographic Partners

What kind of advertising and marketing impact does a cultural icon like Albert Einstein open for a brand?

Albert Einstein was truly an icon and a celebrity of his day. He was a big thinker and a rebel. He also was incredibly promiscuous, and quite the lady’s man. As the series Genius is all about the man behind the mind, our campaign taps into the many dimensions of Albert. We know so much about Albert’s prodigious work in science and his theory of relativity, but it’s his not widely known personal life that we found so fascinating. One of the things we have really tried to do is make the campaign contemporary, so while it is a period piece, the effect with music and style is very edgy. Also, issues that Einstein faced are just as relevant as ones we are facing today. I was on set for a week in Prague and I became obsessed with Einstein. I had this intense desire to learn more about him and his views on life. Also, I was blown away by up-and-coming actor Johnny Flynn’s portrayal of the young Einstein. He brings innocence to this role, coupled with his intensity that really inspired how we wanted to advertise this.

How do you plan on carrying on the marketing momentum for Genius as you get ready for the premiere?

Genius was a comprehensive and integrated four-month global marketing campaign that really kicked off with spots in the Golden Globes and SAG Awards and continued the momentum with our Valentine’s Day spot. We also had local market spots for the Academy Awards, a premiere in London and multiple events in the US maximizing National Geographic’s portfolio of brands. Marketing lived across all media platforms, as well as experiential, PR and strategic partnerships. What’s so great about National Geographic, we can also maximize our existing portfolio of our brands to amplify the series. We wanted to engage viewers globally with this brand-defining, first fully scripted series that tells the dramatic, inspiring and untold story about the life of Albert Einstein.

Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein

Why was it critical for National Geographic to be a part of the Super Bowl conversation earlier this year? Aside from the actual show, what brand philosophy did you want to reintroduce?

We were presented with this amazing opportunity to promote the show during one of television’s most watched event. We were able to show a broader audience that we can take a topic like Albert Einstein and make it relevant, timely and create a global conversation around Genius, and the National Geographic brand in general. This was a great way to introduce Albert the man, not just the physicist, showcasing “the man behind the mind.”

Were you surprised how well “Bad Romance” was received, and even winning a Super Clio award?

I think I was more thrilled, than surprised. The Super Bowl is crowded and a very noisy field and we only had less than three weeks from conception to production to air. And we knew we didn’t want to do a trailer—that would’ve been too safe and easy, and we wanted to break through. We wanted to do something simple, yet provocative to get attention and own this moment, and ultimately create a conversation. Not only were we able to successfully tap into the zeitgeist of Lady Gaga’s highly anticipated halftime performance, but we were also able to give a peek into the surprising side of Einstein the series captures. To build awareness throughout the weekend leading into the Super Bowl, we supported the Super Bowl spot with a carefully coordinated communication plan and an extensive push across our social and digital platforms.

How are you leveraging the success to create a global conversation on social around the series? How are you using social data to better connect with consumers? What was your social media marketing strategy that you executed?

The success of the Super Bowl spot was due largely to an extensive push across social and digital platforms. With a fan base of 352 million people across all of our social pages, when we engage with them in a contextual conversation, we see incredible results. Throughout the weekend, we published curated Einstein content to showcase Albert’s love of music and his other passions. In addition, we executed National Geographic social page and handle takeovers with Genius and had fun with in-game tweets touting the physics of football. The tremendous response the spot received was the result of a truly integrated campaign across National Geographic Partners. Since then, we’ve continued to find ways to make this historical genius contextually relevant to issues that our fans and followers care about. In fact, he may have just something to say during our upcoming Earth Day content.

Classroom shot from "Genius"

You joined National Geographic late last October. What’s the one big thing you’ve learned on the job so far?

Most immediately I found out that the National Geographic brand has such strong equity and the power of the yellow border is the power of our brand. And at the core of the brand is quality and I’ve seen why it hasn’t been hard to attract A-level talent to work with us. I was fortunate to come into such incredible team already in place at National Geographic, led by Courteney Monroe, CEO of National Geographic Global Networks. I was totally wowed by the passion of the people and the amazing work that they have done to push the boundaries of exploration and making the world a better place. There are powerful stories there that are ripe for being shared in a more emotional way.

How do you see the National Geographic brand strategy evolving this year? How do you plan on taking the brand to new heights?

The National Geographic and the yellow border has been such a revered and iconic brand. What I hope to do is shift the brand from reverence to relevance. The Genius Super Bowl spot was a key opportunity to make Albert Einstein relevant to the Super Bowl. We delivered in a way that was still at its heart National Geographic, but able to tap into the zeitgeist. We hope to launch our new tagline ‘Further’ as the consumer-facing expression of the brand. Inspire people to fall in love with our renewed, forward-thinking brand and build on the insight that your heart will take you further than your mind ever will. Great brands connect at a functional and emotional level and we are bringing more heart to our stories to drive that emotional connection. At National Geographic, every day we are inspired by the determination and insatiable curiosity of our explorers—it’s what pushes us further. But you don’t have to climb to the top of Mount Everest to be an explorer. They are all around us and we hope that the work that we do incubates the next generation of explorers.

The cable and satellite industry is always fluid and shifting. How do you plan to amp up your marketing to reach digital natives and cord cutters? What are the insights and data that influence your marketing strategy? Is there a new product or service that you think will influence decisions?

Consumers are more connected than ever before and even if they aren’t cutting the cord the prevalence of dual and triple screen behavior is real. That can be seen as an opportunity more so than as a threat. This was key to our Super Bowl activation. We are diving into our consumers behavior and mindset in a renewed way to understand how we can meet them where they are. We are thinking digital first and innovating around our products and solutions. We are the No. 1 non-celebrity brand on social media. Our consumers have already told us they want to engage with us a, and now it’s up to us to meet them with the right stories and content. We will be getting more personal with our fans to understand their unique interests and passions so we can be even more relevant to them. Just recently, we launched a more coordinated social conversation around climate change, a topic that we, as well as members of our community, are incredibly passionate about. #MyClimateAction is a way for us to engage that community in a more specific way that empowers them with the science behind climate change.

What is on top of your marketing “hot list” this year? What emerging trends are you zeroing on in order to explore and innovate the brand?

Our big focus will be on the intersection of content, and delivering more personalized content that matters most to our consumers. National Geographic has been inspiring the world, and particularly those with a curious mindset and associated values for 130 years. Our storytelling efforts have inspired and rallied people from all over the world. We can leverage the power of data to understand what matters most to these communities and move from broad storytelling to story-making platforms. With digital content, we can bring the power of our explorers and their work and passion to an audience in incredibly powerful and personal ways. We will also be starting more conversations with our communities to learn more about what they want, and their views on what matters, so we can continue to be as relevant as we’ve ever been.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan


Heroes And Villains Clash In ‘Injustice 2,’ But Stay True To Comic Book Roots

Injustice: Gods Among Us was practically an instant hit when it released in 2013. Developed by Netherrealm Studios—makers of Mortal Kombat—it was considered by many to be a near perfect fighting game, with plenty of hard-hitting action and some of the most iconic characters from the DC Comics universe, including Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Both heroes and villains battled each other in an alternate world where they took on different roles. For example, in this reality, Superman and other members of the Justice League rule the world as the oppressive Regime while Batman helps the resistance. Both fighting game and comic book fans were pleased with the story, and Injustice went on to inspire a comic book series of its own.

The sequel, Injustice 2, launches in May, and with last year’s relaunch of DC’s entire comic book line with Rebirth, the Wonder Woman movie coming out in June, followed by the Justice League movie in November, and the continued success of DC Comics superhero TV shows, the timing couldn’t be better. Netherrealm is stepping up the action by expanding the roster to include some lesser-known characters such as Doctor Fate, Swamp Thing, Atrocitus (accompanied by the supervillain feline, Dex-Starr), Gorilla Grodd and more.

The game is also taking a big step with its Gear System, which rewards players with armor pieces and weapons that enhance both the look and abilities of characters, including fighting moves. Netherrealm combed through decades of lore to create the look of some of these armors, so comic book fans might decide to return to the Golden Age using a 1940s-style armor, or stick with a more modern look. The game lets players use characters how they want to, but Netherrealm explained that gear and the in-game currency (which is used to purchase Mother Boxes that contain rare gear) can only be obtained by playing matches and not by purchasing with real-world money.

Brian Lebaron, senior designer for Injustice 2 at Netherrealm Studios, talks about the superpowered brawler with AListDaily and discusses how the developer remains true to iconic superhero brands while presenting alternate versions of them.

Lebaron described the sequel as, “a continuation of what we did in the first game, where we wanted to establish the Injustice world and used more well-known characters to do it. This time around, we really wanted to step up our game and bring in characters that are a little less known like Swamp Thing and Grodd—characters who aren’t from the Batman or Superman worlds.”


He continued by discussing the Gear System and how it is a key element of the game. “The Gear System is a huge feature,” said Lebaron. “A game like this has never really done something like that, where you’re adding stuff to the characters to give them abilities, new moves and buffs. As far as Injustice 2 goes, we’re trying to step up our game all the way around with bigger and better everything.”

When asked about what lessons were learned from launching the first game and Mortal Kombat X, Lebaron said, “I think that the biggest thing is that the story mode is evolving—it’s evolving every game. In Injustice, we established our big, elaborate story and in MKX, we went a little further with more involvement with the universe by bringing in characters from outside the game. With Injustice 2, we’ve really stepped up the story mode. It’s very elaborate, and we’re focusing on single-player content for casual gamers for an overall hardcore/casual balance.”

Although casual players are important, Netherrealm also keeps a close eye on the professional competitive scene. “We’re adapting to what we see in tournament livestreams—the whole company watches them,” said Lebaron. “The design department is watching, paying attention to the community, and learning from what we see there in addition to catering to the casual gamers.”

Lebaron then discussed the process for selecting which characters from DC’s tremendous collection end up in the game. “Basically, the whole studio, in working with DC, comes up with ideas for characters we’d like to see and it goes back and forth,” he explained. “It’s a long process, but it’s really rewarding once we get a character. Characters that we couldn’t get into Injustice ended up getting into the second game—like Supergirl, which was a big thing for me because she was one of the characters I really wanted to work on.” Some players may be seeing these characters for the first time, thereby growing the awareness for them.


“It’s about everybody working together to come up with good ideas and say, ‘what can we do to make this unique?’” Lebaron continued. “When we brought Atrocitus in, we said, ‘we’ve got to use Dex-Starr.’ We asked DC what they thought of us using them, so it’s a collaborative thing where we come up with cool ideas and pitch them to different people in our company through DC Comics. There’s so much cool content out there, and it’s a great pool to pull from. If one idea doesn’t work out, you can find another one. Dex-Starr is a great example of an idea we had and people seemed to love it. It’s a lot of extra work, but it’s worth it.”

Since Injustice takes place in an alternate reality, we asked Lebaron how much freedom Netherrealm had with the characters to diverge from the lore people know. “We try to stay within the lore,” Lebaron replied. “Most of the creativity comes with the story, but as far as character designs, we try to keep them close to what they look like in some iteration—whether it’s the 1940s version of them or another version. We always try to keep it within something that’s been established. We’re not going to just make Superman a completely different looking character. We keep it close, but we have a lot of freedom.”

Lebaron then recounted the inspiration for the Gear System, saying: “A lot of people in the company are big fans of gear and collecting, and it’s never really been done in a fighting game before. So, we wanted to try it out and it turned out to be a great idea, and we kept running with it until it got bigger and bigger. Eventually, we realized that we had to do elaborate, big sets of gear. It kind of just felt right and it worked out very well.”

Netherrealm decided not to monetize the Gear System because the studio didn’t think it was fair to charge money for items that could change the stats of characters. Lebaron further elaborated on this philosophy. “I think the idea behind it is that it just seems right,” he said. “We don’t want to let you buy your way through the game. We want you to actually play the game to get all the equipment and items.”

However, the studio is aware of the potential impacts of the Gear System on the professional tournament scene and is accounting for it. “We’re going to have a mode for the pro scene,” said Lebaron. “For competitive tournaments, there’s a mode that will nullify all the buffs, but still allows you to change how your character looks. Everyone will start on an even playing field, and there won’t be any extra damage. None of that will work in that mode. So, we’re definitely keeping pro players in mind and we work closely with them. We’ve actually hired a few of them now.”

So, out of the huge roster, which currently features 28 characters in total, which is Lebaron’s favorite? “Supergirl,” he said immediately. “Maybe because I designed her, but I still love her. I’m very happy she’s in this game.”