Vertebrae Platform Brings Native Advertising To VR

Putting the right kind of advertising into VR experiences is one of the keys to helping the technology grow over the long-term, and that’s what Vertebrae (which made the Blair Witch VR Experience) is enabling for developers. The advertising platform released a new SDK on Wednesday, allowing VR developers to add branded placements into their experiences. These could be simple product placements or the interaction could lead to an event, like a pop-out 360-degree video. The system then tracks the engagement for these placements.

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO of Vertebrae, told AListDaily that the SDK currently supports the Unity Engine, since it is used so prevalently in mobile development, but Unreal Engine support will come in the future as the tool becomes platform agnostic. He then went into detail about how the Vertebrae platform will help drive the growth of VR by connecting content creators with advertisers to build placements that fit in naturally with the experience.

Vince Cacace, founder and CEO of Vertebrae
Vince Cacace, Vertebrae founder and CEO

How does the new SDK and Vertebrae platform work?

It allows VR content creators an alternative to a paywall or transactional model. Developers can implement our SDK and natively advertise with what’s in their VR environments. They can do so with product placement and 360 video, and those placements can add to the realism of the content without detracting from the end user experience. We have a good pipeline of brands, and now we have a more of a fully shaped platform with all the features needed for bigger campaigns.

Say there’s a tabletop that in a scene. You would create a 3D object on the tabletop, such a beverage or a consumer electronic, and categorize some information about it within the publisher portal so we have some context into what that placement is. What we do on the other side is work with brands. Through the campaign manager, we can target lists of those placements throughout the network and bring live ads into that environment. The ad could also be a 360 video, which could show up before or during the experience—whatever the publisher chooses—and we pay publishers at the end of the month.

How does the Vertebrae platform differ from what developers already do?

We spent a lot of time working on the user experience. We’re a founding member of the IAB Tech Lab, focused on AR and VR ad units and formats. That’s what we’ve devoted a lot of R&D to over the past year-and-a-half. Providing a native option is a differentiator in terms of both the ability to insert an ad and to have a more refined user experience than just throwing something into a piece of content. On the 360 video side, we have a good user experience that’s built for VR. We’re not just putting 2D videos into a VR environment.

The other differentiator is that we have a good base of brands and agencies in a pipeline of advertisers that are interested in VR content. Technology aside, that’s another missing link. It’s not easy to find the right advertiser for a specific piece of content, and that’s what we’ve built our business around.

Do you still believe that gaze-based interaction is important to the branded VR experience?

Definitely. There’s still a lot of questions in the traditional ad industry about verification and how we know whether somebody saw an ad. We found that gaze is a good indicator, and we’re able to tell exactly how many times people saw an ad, how long they looked at it, and how close they were to it. All those things start to come into play, and we’ve noticed a good reception because there isn’t really a concept of fraud. We have exact data.

Is there a difference between how the platform works with mobile VR headsets compared to premium ones?

We’re very focused on mobile VR—we see a lot of our scale coming from mobile. From a tracking perspective, it’s very similar, except you don’t have the distance metrics. You can do a lot more in a premium room scale environment with 360 degrees of freedom. With mobile VR, it’s more gaze-based.

Do you think the platform will drive the creation of more free-to-play VR games?

I think the answer is yes. What I realize is that—especially on mobile platforms—people don’t want to pay for every experience. They don’t want to pay to watch 360 videos. We definitely see a free-to-play ecosystem that is ready to emerge in mobile VR, and we think that this will help support that. On the other side, we also think that it’s possible for premium developers to double-dip, in terms of doing product placement within their experiences, if it fits the context and the narrative.


Can this SDK benefit VR livestreaming events?

Yes, we’ve done some tests with that. Supporting 360 livestreams of sports, music and other events is something that we’re very interested in. We’ve seen the integration work in a couple of different ways. Imagine a skybox environment when you’re watching a sporting event, or a branded skybox behind you. At the same time, you could have 360 ads come in during a commercial break. At music events, you could have a menu screen takeover with some placed products, and maybe a virtual merchandise booth with branded products while there’s branding on the stage. I definitely see a lot of opportunities in that space.

What are your long-term goals with the platform?

The ultimate goal is to add a monetization layer that doesn’t suck for developers. We think that VR is the perfect medium—providing a happy balance between advertisers, content creators and consumers. We’ve built a piece of technology that we’re very proud of and we want to further distribute it out into the ecosystem. Our long-term focus will probably change according to how the market reacts to VR in two or three years, but the goal will always be to continue to find ways to cleverly insert ads in ways that benefit consumers, creators and advertisers.

How Kia Is Driving Its Challenger Brand With The NBA, Chat Bots And Influencer Marketing

Kia kicked off their marketing this year with a Super Bowl ad featuring Melissa McCarthy as a hapless eco-warrior promoting the Korean car company’s newest crossover model in the Niro Hybrid.

The spot was a strong follow-up to the commercials Kia aired the two previous years with Christopher Walken’s tour of his “Walken Closet” (2016) and Pierce Brosnan for the Kia Sorento (2015).

But their eighth consecutive appearance in the Big Game this year also marked a new method of messaging and utilization of marketing technology in debuting the brand’s Super Bowl commercial on the NiroBot for Facebook Messenger.

Although the ad had its day in the sun on the Falcons-Patriots telecast, leveraging the nascent conversational bot tool as part of a multi-faceted campaign was a step in the artificial intelligence path Kia wanted to take.

Kimberley Sweet Gardiner, director of marketing communications for Kia, and Nathalie Choy, senior web marketing manager for Kia, joined AListDaily to detail how they are using martech while also leveraging their role as an official automotive partner of the NBA.

What did you learn from being the first brand bot for Messenger to debut a Super Bowl ad?

Gardiner: This was in the works for quite some time. It wasn’t just for the Super Bowl. With Niro, we wanted to try something that we can connect with customers for a brand new vehicle challenging the likes of the Toyota Prius. We’re not the first [hybrid in the field]. We knew we had an uphill battle in having people consider and learn about our new car. We realized they would have a lot of questions in how is Niro different than any other hybrid out there. We needed a nice Q&A tool anyway, so we activated around a chatbot as a perfect and unique way to have consumers familiarized on Facebook Messenger about guided vehicle discovery, expansive technical knowledge, step-by-step tutorials and test drive scheduling. We knew we could extend it to other models. It was a perfect opportunity to get customers going on that journey.

Choy: It’s basically one-to-one marketing at scale. The fact that the Niro is a smarter kind of crossover car, we wanted to use a smarter kind of technology and a marketing channel to complement that, too. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, the chat bot gain more awareness for Kia. It’s definitely an area of which we wanted to experiment in more to elevate the Kia brand.

What are some of the insights and analysis that you can share?

Choy: It’s been going really well! Since we launched in the middle of November, as of the beginning of April, we’ve had over 765,000 engagements between the consumer and the bot and 50,000 different users. Every day that number continues to grow. We are promoting it on our Kia site, email and all of our social platforms. Popular questions range from “what’s the miles-per-gallon?” or “what kind of technology, or color, do you come in?” or “what’s your engine like?” We can then augment a link to our website that offers consumers to get a test drive. The best part is that anytime they want to speak to an actual human, we can transfer the integrations seamlessly over to a person.

How do you plan on scaling?

Choy: There definitely is plans of that. Our executives headquartered in Korea are very interested in building out this bot. Not only does it serve marketing purposes, but for consumer affairs, the team that manages all of the customer support, they’re looking at leveraging those tools for recall information, and scheduling servicing and any type of warranty issues. We’re using this to see if it’s going to perform, and it definitely has exceeded our expectations. I think we’re going to explore other models and segments within our business.


Why is it critical for brands to move forward with multi-faceted marketing campaigns?

Gardiner: I tell my team that “I don’t want to see any gaps in the customer journey.” We want to helpful. So from whatever moment somebody gets interested in a product of the brand, the next series of moves they make should all be connected together. So, in other words, if someone sees our Melissa McCarty spot and wants to know more about it, we should be designing all of those “searchable” things up front. We should be putting ourselves on stage in the consumer’s shoes to say “okay, now what? . . . And now what?” That’s where a chat bot and other things we’re working on help put that into context. We don’t want to make a customer work too hard. We want to make it really seamless and easy. We want to be in technology not for the sake of it, but for it to help you. Taking all of that into context, we created a unified experience without making people work too hard. We have a whole initiative across our departments to figure that exact thing out, and technology will kind of be the piece that brings it all together.

What are the emerging marketing trends and technologies you’re zeroing in on in order to explore and innovate the Kia brand?

Choy: We have a bunch of marketing around augmented-and-virtual reality applications that allow consumers to virtually view the interiors of our cars to make it seem as if they were there. We’re exploring artificial intelligence a lot more. In addition to the chat bot, we’re also looking at voice-enabled consumer assistants such as Alexa and Google Home to be able to reach consumers at their moments. If you think about it, traditionally, people search for a website and once they land, they have to learn how to navigate in order to learn more. Voice-enablement takes that even a step further where you don’t even need the device anymore, you could just verbally ask whatever you want. We’re looking at each of the technology capabilities and identifying where that technology can help support in the customer-buying journey.

Is there a specific product or service that you’ve identified as your primary one for consumers? 

Gardiner: For us, no, because we’re a challenger brand. We have pretty reasonably low awareness compared to some of the other brands that are out there. We’re not top of mind. We have to kind of cover a bunch of bases. We can’t be in just one space and say “that’s the one portal that we’re really going to focus on.” What we try to do is constantly look at where and what consumers are shopping for, so we’re working with a bunch of different partners to figure out what that one sweet spot for social media, search, website and mobile is. It’s different for other manufacturers. For us, we have a moment to capture your attention and keep you engaged because Kia may or may not be top of mind for you.

Will you be experimenting with influencer marketing to further gain a market share?

Gardiner: We have been doing influencer marketing for the last two years or so. We did one with IBM Watson during the Super Bowl last year. We have another one coming up in San Diego this summer around our Eco lineup, Niro, as well as a couple of other vehicles. We do them periodically. Corporate communications and our PR team jointly lead that with us. We have a super-engaged and passionate group of about 10-to-12 influencers that we work with on an ongoing basis. We need to grab people at different touch points to bring them into the conversation, so it’s not going to be just one vertical—it’s going to be multiple ones like music, art, fashion, design, lifestyle and travel across the board. The main thing that we want is for people to get to know Kia, and get really excited about working with us. From there, it’s an easy in because no matter where they’re coming from, the voice that they have is going to be genuine.

How do you find and identify influencers?

Gardiner: That’s a good question. I think for us, it’s those areas that we know are going to be important to our consumer base. So we did look at things like music, for example, as a big one. Design and travel is another one. We find that people may not have the most followers, but it’s not so much about quantity for us—it’s really more about the tone of the voice. Are they approachable? Are they easy to work with? Sometimes we find them organically, through events like Dad 2.0, Mom 2.0 and VidCon. Again, being a smaller brand, we’re much more about building relationships with our influencers. So being one-of-ten people we work with, rather than being one-of-one hundred, is a nice thing for us.

Choy: It’s about the message, too, and aligning what we are trying to achieve as a challenger brand.

Your partnership and marketing in the NBA has now reached 12 different teams. The Kia Optima is also the league’s “official vehicle.” How has Kia evolved and kept the marketing momentum running in the NBA going back to when it started in 2008?  

Nathalie: Absolutely. We all know with live sports, especially with basketball, people tend to watch it more than once per week, and they tend to be engaged. The messaging we have is about the games.

Gardiner: We’ve been in the NBA for a number of years. A cool instance was when LeBron James reached out to us and said he’d be open to an opportunity to work with us because he loved the K900 sedan. We were lucky to have him seek us out, because we don’t have big budgets, massive resources and big teams to do that on a regular basis. We also had Kia patches on the All-Star game jerseys as part of a pilot program. It’s good for us to try those things, and be some of the “firsts.” We need those moments of exposure. When people ask “is [the NBA sponsorship] worth it?” My response is “yes, it’s working because we’re able to have so many different opportunities in games, broadcasts and even vehicle activations in arenas.” It gives us a lot of touchpoints because we’re a small brand that needs a lot of exposure over a period of time with people who are engaged. We only have a 3.7 percent market share.

Will you consider being one of the 30 NBA jersey sponsors for the upcoming season?

Gardiner: No. They want too much money. It’s way more than we can pocket. Some things just get way too big, and budgets get bigger, and we can’t necessarily afford it. But for us, again, the main thing is we need grow awareness about Kia. We can’t afford to spend dollars where people are not just going to be in the moment. But we’re working with the NBA for opportunities on other fronts. . . . You start off from small moments, and you build it from there. That’s really what we’re about.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Digital Content Newfronts Shows That The State Of Social Video Is Still Going Strong

IAB’s Digital Content Newfronts is still going strong, and one thing is for sure—social video is on just about everyone’s mind.

In its annual study, IAB found that marketers allocate 31 percent of digital and mobile video ad budgets to social media, so it should come as no surprise that it’s a hot topic among presentations this year. From original content on YouTube Red to live shows across Facebook and Twitter to partnerships with social media stars, brands are doubling down on content for this engaged market.

The New “Face” Of Digital Entertainment

Live broadcasts now make up 20 percent of video on Facebook, according to a post by Fidji Simo, Facebook’s vice president of product. Simo went on to say that the number of broadcasts has grown more than four times over the last year, and that will continue with original branded programming.

Today show contributor and serial entrepreneur Mario Armstrong has successfully launched a full-scale talk show with a live studio audience that is connected with an interactive audience online. The Never Settle Show is a program for and about entrepreneurs, airing each week from eight different platforms including Facebook Live, Periscope and YouTube Live—allowing audiences to comment and ask questions in real-time.

Disney’s beloved Mickey Mouse Club is returning for its fourth iteration since 1955, but this time, exclusively on Facebook. The variety show Club Mickey Mouse! will honor the spirit of the original series while bringing the show into the present day. The last iteration of the show—simply called MMC—helped usher in such talent as Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. Additional details, such as cast and whether or not the show will be broadcast live, have yet to revealed.

Live On Twitter

Twitter is known for up-to-the-minute updates ranging from what your friend made for dinner to play-by-play breakdowns of Fyre Festival. Livestreams around news, entertainment and sports are finding a home on the platform. Total hours of live content grew from 500 in Q4 to more than 800 in the first three months of 2017, according to Twitter.

During Newfronts, Twitter announced they will livestream with 16 new content partnerships, including deals with NFL, MLB, PGA, WNBA, The Player’s Tribune, Bloomberg Media, BuzzFeed News, The Verge, Live Nation and IMG Fashion, just to name a few. The social media site hasn’t forgotten video games, either. Twitter will livestream 15 esports tournaments and have 1,500 hours of online gaming.

Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence, announced a live video partnership with Twitter to broadcast Essence Now, the first live show on Twitter targeting black women.

Bloomberg previously announced a 24-hour news channel on Twitter following a successful broadcast of the 2016 US Presidential debates. The company surveyed a segment of its audience to see if they’d actually watch its shows on Twitter, and 73 percent of respondents said they would regularly do so.

“Ghostly” Presence

Although not a presenter, Snapchat’s presence was definitely felt at NewFronts with Hearst, Vice, Condé Nast, Time Inc. and many others showing plans to create for the platform. The sassy app and camera company is—and will continue to—offer original programming to its young audience.

Cosmopolitan is launching a new 10-episode Snapchat series with actress Yara Shahidi (Blackish) called Keep Calm & Yara On.

YouTube Sees Red (And Revenue)

YouTube didn’t skimp on its Newfronts presentation, complete with an after-dinner concert by Katy Perry. Susan Wojcicki, the company’s CEO, was quick to address the elephant in the room—security.

“The last several weeks have been challenging for some of you, and you’ve told us to do better when it comes to ad placement,” she told the audience. “I want you to know that we have taken your feedback to heart. We work hard every day to earn our advertisers’ and agencies’ trust, and we apologize for letting some of you down. I’m here to say that we can and we will do better.”

Concerns about ad placement haven’t stopped brands from producing content for the digital video giant, whether it be through YouTube Red or influencer partnerships. In its first Newfronts presentation, Entepreneur announced that its media arm, Entrepeneur Network will deploy a total of 37 series this year. Together with its partnerships with hundreds of top business-leaning YouTube channels, Entepreneur claims to drive 50 million minutes of viewership every month.

Awesomeness will renew its YouTube Red show Foursome and announced that its DreamWorksTV channel has 1.7 billion lifetime views and nearly three million subscribers, making it the No. 1 kids entertainment brand on YouTube.

Awesomeness recently conducted a study of Gen Z and found that 55 percent of the generation prefers to connect through social networks, and 71 percent stream their favorite shows.

Game Publishers Get A 1-Up By Becoming A Service

MMOs like World of Warcraft helped usher in the age of online games as a service, with millions of gamers paying a monthly subscription fee. Now, subscription models are becoming more common—and profitable—among other game genres. As more and more consumers prefer digital versions of their favorite games, publishers are evolving their business models from one-time purchases to long-term experiences, keeping them relevant for years to come. Downloadable Content (DLC), episodic content and microtransactions increase the service lives of games significantly.

Roughly a quarter (28 percent) of US males and females ages 13-to-54 purchased additional video game content according to a recent study by NPD, with males and teens being the primary demographic. Microtransactions are purchased more often among those surveyed (compared to DLC) at 23 percent. Meanwhile, 77 percent of these buyers said that microtransactions allow them to extend their enjoyment of a particular game.

Rockstar’s support for its Grand Theft Auto V ‘s online mode has kept the game on top 10 charts for over three years running—many times as number one.

Only 35 percent of Call of Duty: Black Ops III digital revenue to date has been earned by unit sales, according to analyst firm SuperData. Activision’s ability to consistently release additional content has proven financially successful for the company while keeping fans coming back for more. An impressive 33 percent of the game’s digital revenue to date has been earned through microtransactions, compared to DLC and Season Passes at 22 and 10 percent, respectively.

Convenient, digital access to titles is ushering in the age of Netflix-like services that offer instant access to huge libraries of games. Ahead of its time, OnLive pioneered this idea but later sold its patents to Sony. Playstation Now, Xbox Games Pass, EA Access and more allow gamers to try and buy hundreds of games for a monthly fee. These services often attract gamers with exclusive titles, cross-platform play, purchase discounts and early access. HTC Viveport offers up to five VR experiences per month with its subscription plan.

Looking to the future, will mobile game subscriptions be next? Experts say “yes.”

“The success of the subscription model in music and video streaming tells us that consumers are willing to commit to a monthly payment in exchange for access to a curated buffet of content,” Joost van Dreunen, CEO of SuperData, told AListDaily. “As the market for mobile gaming matures, game publishers will seek out ways to lock in their audiences, rather than have them play for a short period and move on. A subscription-based strategy will be a key component in that context.”

“Mobile game subscriptions will free a set of developers to innovate on the content and services that are best suited for that business model (e.g., episodic content, enhanced communications, VIP services, etc.),” predicted Terence Fung, chief strategy officer for Storm8 (Dream City: Metropolis). “This will gain traction in 2017 and continue to grow moving forward.”

‘Stellaris’ Celebrates Anniversary By Packing All Expansions Together

Next to Cities Skylines, Stellaris is one of the most popular games Paradox Interactive publishes. The turn-based sci-fi strategy game, which lets players explore the reaches of space while competing with other aliens to build an empire, celebrated its one-year anniversary on Tuesday by releasing a set of free alien portraits that players can use as avatars alongside the Digital Anniversary Edition. The Anniversary Edition collects the core game, the Leviathans Story Pack, the Plantoids Species Pack, and April’s big premium expansion, Utopia in one package.

While previous expansions added story elements and aliens to the game, Utopia was the first premium add-on to emphasize Stellaris‘ core strengths by focusing on the customized development of the player’s empire. With it, players can decide on the kind of utopia they’d like to strive toward. Whether it’s a species of psychically linked citizens, a cybernetic race that’s out to conquer the galaxy (similar to the Borg from Star Trek), or something in-between, your utopia is out there. The expansion includes three different ascension paths to build toward along with megastructures like the Dyson Sphere (a structure built around a star to capture all its energy) to help players realize their dreams.

Martin Anward, game director for Stellaris, Paradox Development Studio
Martin Anward, game director for Stellaris, Paradox Development Studio

AListDaily sat down with Martin Anward, game director for Stellaris, to talk about what goes into making the perfect empire. “Utopia is an expansion where you can build the empire of your dreams,” he said.

Paradox named the expansion Utopia because it expanded on the ways the game could be played. “We wanted to add more play styles, since the game is very focused on expansion, which is very traditional for a 4X strategy game,” said Anward. “There has been a desire among the players for different ways to play. Some want to play as a fanatic pacifist, claim their space, and build a little utopia. This is what we wanted to focus on: ‘What is your view of your empire?’ This is one of the big strengths of Stellaris—the customization and imagining your empire whenever you play. We gave players more tools to do that with.

“You can have the vision [for an empire], but maybe it’s limited by the game mechanics. So, this was something that we wanted to build on, because it is the core strength of Stellaris. You don’t always want to just work on the weaknesses. You also want to take what works and make it even better.”

We asked Anward if it was difficult to re-engage with the player base when a new expansion released. “I think, generally speaking, we have generally good reception to our expansions,” said Anward. “There was a lot of excitement about Utopia, as there was with Leviathans. I think people know that the way we work is to launch free updates along with an expansion. So, even if you don’t pay more money, you get a better game. We put a lot of interesting and cool things into the expansions, but they’re optional. I think our fans appreciate that model and they really seem to be psyched about them as we keep expanding and building our game.”

Anward then detailed Paradox’s approach for spreading awareness of new expansions. “We typically keep up a high degree of communication with our fan base,” said Anward. “Obviously, we have social media, and we have our forums. We post weekly dev diaries where we go into detail about the mechanics that are coming. Generally, I think we have a pretty good reach with our gamers and we try to always have ongoing and honest communication with them about where the game is going, what we’re doing next, and what we’re focusing on.”

Is there any concern about expansions splitting players up? “One thing we have in Stellaris multiplayer is that you’ll always have access to all of the expansions that the host has,” he said. “That effectively means that there’s no splitting of the player base. If you’re playing multiplayer, you’ll have whatever the host has, and if you’re in single player, then it doesn’t really matter.”

Then there was the matter of how Paradox convinced players to pick up expansions on launch day instead of waiting for collected versions like the Digital Anniversary Edition to come out. “This might sound a little old fashioned, but you convince people by making a really good expansion,” said Anward. “If the features are, ‘holy shit, I’ve always wanted to do this!’ then you’re not going to wait. You’re not going to want to wait to get it.”

If some of the themes found in Stellaris seem a bit familiar, it’s not your imagination: Anward said popular sci-fi influenced the game a lot. “Our approach with Stellaris is kind of like taking every single sci-fi film and gathering them. For instance, we have something called Citizen Service in our civics options, where military service guarantees citizenship—a reference to Starship Troopers. We like to do that sort of thing because a lot of the people who play this game imagine their empire through the lens of pop culture. It might not be exactly like those empires, but someone might want to play in a republic where you have to fight to vote. If we give them that feature, they will be happy because they’ll be able to build that utopia.”

With the game officially celebrating its first anniversary, we asked Anward why he thought turn-based strategy games remained so popular when there were so many action titles on the market. “I think a lot of it is the sense of progression,” he said. “You start with this one little planet and one little settler. Then you explore, you discover, and you found your first city and encounter someone else. As you keep playing, the game sort of keeps playing with you. Things keep happening and you pass milestones. Then you sit there at the end of the game and look at your enormous, prosperous, wonderful empire and you know that all of it came from one little planet. That is a really good feeling.”

So, what’s Anward’s favorite ascension path from Utopia? “I actually like the psionic one the most, but I love all of them,” he said. “I really like turning my people into robots, and I love what you can do with the biological paths, where you can mold a species so that they no longer have feelings or have them live a very long time—completely mess with every single species in the galaxy. But I like the psionic one because once you complete the second stage, you contact this thing called The Shroud, which is another dimension where psionics come from. Then you can explore it and speak with the things there. You can even sign a deal with the devil—one of the spirits living there—and get all the benefits that may or may not turn out badly in the end.”

The Utopia expansion has loads of features, but what’s left to do after building the perfect empire? “Isn’t that the thing about utopia?” asked Anward. “It’s an unreachable goal. No matter how amazing your empire is, there’s probably always another place you want to go and another thing you want to achieve. That’s another reason why we called the expansion Utopia; we don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect empire. There’s always something more to achieve.”

Citi Is Straightforward With New Spots Featuring Katy Perry

Citi is doubling down on the success of their “Double Cash” credit card campaign by continuing its longstanding relationship with Katy Perry and tapping the songstress to relay the brand’s no-punches-pulled positioning.

The new spot features Perry rehearsing for an upcoming show and highlights the disparity between what people say and what they actually mean through everyday scenarios. Citi’s messaging—which will continue later this month with Perry’s micro teacup poodle named Nugget—is simple: they mean what we say.

“I’m all about not mincing my words, so I’m excited to be teaming up with Citi for this hilarious new campaign,” Perry said. “I’m super pleased Nugget finally gets to be on TV, too.”


“In today’s society, consumers have a heightened desire for a more emotional, authentic dialogue with brands,” Jennifer Breithaupt, Citi’s global consumer chief marketing officer, told AListDaily. “In a category that’s not always straightforward, we took on the elephant in the room, and it’s absolutely resonated with our audience.”

Breithaupt said they’ve used the “Double Cash” campaign to open dialogue with consumers through humor and relatable situations. And it seems to be working. Product awareness increased 2.3 times and website traffic from natural search increased by over 80 percent within the first three months of the launch of the original Effie Award-winning “Double Cash” campaign last March.

“Through proprietary research with general US consumers, we found that almost one-third of respondents described choosing a new credit card as ‘a complicated experience,” Breithaupt explained. “As the world’s largest credit card issuer, Citi is striving to remove that complication alongside selecting a new credit card.”

The ads with the pop star Perry will be appearing on ESPN, USA, E!, Discovery, Lifetime, HGTV, FX and AMC during programming like The Bachelorette, Dancing with the Stars and events like the Billboard Music Awards and NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs as well as the singer’s upcoming appearance on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke special. A complementing social media strategy entails Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with a focus on GIFs with meme-inspired copy to further drive video views.

“With more hyper-connected consumers interacting with ads via digital and social channels, it’s imperative that any unified campaign include a full spectrum of media channels,” Breithaupt said. “As such, this campaign encompasses a robust digital and social strategy that envelopes consumers with campaign content how, and where, they want to view it. From a strong presence on Facebook and our own social channels, to the use of vertical video and non-audio assets in mobile, the campaign is an additive experience for consumers. We also look for opportunities to be in the right places in digital—for example, if consumers are viewing Katy content online, we think they would enjoy viewing our ads in addition.”

Jennifer Breithaupt
Jennifer Breithaupt, Citi’s global consumer chief marketing officer

Breithaupt, who’s worked at Citi since 1999, is fresh off of a promotion that was announced last month.

It’s early days but I’m incredibly excited about the road ahead,” Breithaupt said. “Citi’s global consumer bank and in particular, the cards business, has been on a multi-year journey to transform the business and build a world-class, highly competitive product portfolio. Today, we’re well positioned to drive growth going forward and be the bank of tomorrow and our marketing initiatives will increasingly reflect that.”

Her previous role entailed working as the managing director of media, advertising and global entertainment for Citi, where she was largely responsible for setting the Citi Private Pass program strategy and giving cardholders exclusive experiences for the more than 12,000 events that included acts like Coldplay, Lady Gaga, Madonna and Perry. Under her watch last year, total entertainment spend on the near 33 million Citi cards in the US increased almost 13 percent in 2016 compared to 2015.

Breithaupt also spearheaded several multi-year partnerships, including the Citi Concert Series on Today with NBC and Live Nation Entertainment.

Citi recently united forces with Live Nation and NextVR to produce a series of up to 10 live concerts in virtual reality, transporting fans “backstage” with an immersive VR experience with the artists.

“Without a doubt, the rise of digital and mobile as a centerpiece in consumers’ lives is impacting all industries,” Breithaupt said. “At Citi, we’re embracing it and interacting with our customers in new and exciting ways.”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Electronic Arts Celebrates Competitive Gaming Series With Madden Championship

The top 32 Madden NFL 17 video game players have converged at ESL’s Burbank Studios to crown a Madden Champion for 2017. There’s $500,000 up for grabs, as well as bragging rights and the chance to be a virtual star on the NFL Network on May 14, 9pm ET. For Electronic Arts and the NFL, the event helps feed the insatiable appetite of football fans year-round.

Madden Championship Series Commissioner Matt Marcou told AListDaily that this event is the culmination of a year-long circuit of 22 sanctioned events, which included three EA Majors (Madden Classic in December, Madden Bowl in February and Madden Challenge in April), nine premier events in the NFL Club Series and the upcoming Madden Championship.

“We’ve graduated from last year’s two independent events with a championship at the very end to this comprehensive structure, which is the most fair format to discover top competitors in the most competitive game mode,” Marcou said.

EA saw more than 2.4 million gamers compete in Madden‘s online ranked mode. Out of that pool, 1,432 players advanced from a ranked mode to an online tournament or traveled to a Pro Am Challenger event.

madden-eamajors-fourchances-md-2x“The ability to compete and earn in-game rewards makes up the bottom of the competitive pyramid and fits into the goal of making a star out of everyone,” Marcou explained. “The 1,432 folks represent the top one percent of our community. These are the equivalent of the college-level football players hoping to go pro. The 32 players competing for the big prize represent the core of the core.”

Overall, about 60 competitors won prize money at an EA Major or Challenger event this year. The 32 players left at the end of the series have each made $10,000 to $15,000 during the course of the year.

Marcou said the EA Majors have attracted millions of fans through the NFL Network, although he couldn’t release online viewership numbers. That partnership also incorporates some of the network’s on-air broadcast talent, including Maurice Jones Drew, who will be part of the Madden Championship crew.

EA partnered with ESL as its broadcast and production partner for the Madden Championship, but the competitive program throughout the year from the Challenger to Premiere events are operated internally by an EA operations team.

Three players competing in the Madden Championship tournament come from the new NFL Club Series tournament. Marcou compared this event, which was run by the NFL and eight of its clubs, to a March Madness style tournament. Gamers competed online to earn the chance to become a top four Xbox One and top four PlayStation 4 Madden player in eight regions that aligned with an NFL team like the Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars. The eight club champions competed at ESL Burbank to award the 32nd slot in the tournament. Two other players who competed in the NFL Club Series are also in the Madden Championship.

Marcou believes that all 32 teams could get involved in the NFL Club Series next year. “We think the program was successful and we want to refine and build off that,” Marcou said. “There’s nothing official to announce on how that will evolve next year, but there’s great long-term potential for that tournament.”

EA has used three game modes throughout the year: Patriots vs. Falcons for the Challenger Series, Draft Champions for the Madden Classic and the Madden Challenge and salary-capped Madden Ultimate Team for the NFL Club Series, the Madden Bowl and the Madden Championship.

“It’s about how do we capture the spirit of all the unique EA game modes and make each competition as distinct as possible,” Marcou said. “The time of year and game modes distinguish the events. We want to make each event unique and special, while ensuring the competition is run fairly.”

Players can use PlayStation 4 or Xbox One for online and Challenger events, but for NFL Club Series and EA Majors, Xbox One is the platform. Microsoft is a sponsor of the Madden Challenge and Madden Championship. Competitors can play with PS4 controllers connected to an Xbox One at any event.

While traditional esports powerhouse Luminosity signed top Madden player Eric “Problem” Wright to its roster, Marcou said the Madden Championship Series has given rise to a new wave of gaming organizations like Set to Destroy and In Control Gaming.

“These is a reflection of a different type of gamer and a more console-oriented audience,” Marcou explained. “It’s an interesting dynamic, and we welcome any support for Madden competition.”

Those who tune in for the Madden Championship will see the Xbox brand throughout the custom-built stadium’s billboards and digital signage, but unlike the recent Madden Bowl with the McDonald’s logo on the virtual field, only the red Madden Championship logo will be painted there.

“The competitive gaming division has a strong relationship with brands,” Marcou said. “As we evolve traditions will evolve and future Madden Championship fields could get placements on the field itself.”

Foursquare: “Location Is The Cookie Of The Real World”

For many, the original promise of location-based marketing was to serve up advertisements for a particular store—say a sandwich chain—when someone was near the physical location. Now, that same sandwich chain owner can not only choose to serve ads to people in the area, they can build consumer segments based on historic visit data. For example, they can run ads to groups of people who frequent particular competitive sandwich shops, or sandwich shops in general. Or if they have new healthy menu offerings, they can target people who regularly visit gyms, health food stores or smoothie shops.

The above scenario that just played out is part of the evolution of data-infused, location-based marketing and intelligence as explained by Michael Rosen, vice president of sales for Foursquare, who joined AListDaily to detail the importance of using data to identify and capture on consumers’ real-time offline purchase intent and convert that into additional revenue.

“Location is the cookie of the real world, and as a location intelligence company, Foursquare has a unique first-party consumer dataset that marketers can leverage to better understand and reach potential customers,” Rosen says. “We’re firm believers that where you go is the best indicator of who you are. By incorporating location data, marketers are developing new strategies around learnings that were previously unavailable.”

Foursquare’s location data company launched in 2009 as an app that had the interests of consumers intertwined in their DNA—check-in at the local coffee shop. Now you’re at the gym. Then the diner, and the bar, and so forth.

During its formative years, they used GPS and other location signals to collect a treasure trove of data, and because they had intel on consumer interests and specific businesses, leadership started to reposition the company as a location intelligence enterprise offering a new tool for the disposal of marketers across a gamut of industries.

The transition took some time, but they’re now seeing results from the repositioning. Last year was Foursquare’s biggest revenue-generating year to date with a 74 percent year-over-year growth in income.

“Understanding foot traffic doesn’t need to be a mystery for marketers anymore and it’s a huge game changer on the measurement side,” Rosen says. “Now marketers can understand the entire consumer journey from ad exposure, to foot traffic measurement to purchase data.”

A study last year by Forbes Insights indicated that location-based marketing is becoming essential for brands to remain competitive. Yes, long gone are the days of just search and social. Consumer patterns and needs now need to be met in real-time by using relevant and contextual messaging.

Rosen says that location intelligence bridges the gap between online and offline by informing marketers about media mix and measurement models at every step—from content creation to targeting to measurement, all based on where people go in the real world.

According to a Location Based Marketing Association report from March, over 50 percent of companies are currently using location-based data to target their customers, and 25 percent of marketing budgets are allocated to location-based marketing.

The next step in the evolving process came in March when Foursquare partnered with brands like Taco Bell, Lowe’s, H&M and Equinox, among others, to provide them with deep analytics based around real-world foot traffic—think of the tool as a living, breathing Google Analytics-like data-spitting organism that aims at eliminating blind spots in marketers’ metrics. 

“Not all data is created equal and marketers at Fortune 500 companies need to consider what data they’re using, and where it is derived from. But when it comes to location data, any major company with a physical footprint can no longer afford to overlook the capabilities and opportunities that location intelligence can open up for them,” Rosen says. “I think the biggest challenge is that some companies think location should be a ‘check-the-box’ strategy, but I’d like to challenge marketers to go beyond the idea of just location data and instead use location to make deep, meaningful business decisions that can result in better outcomes.”

In addition to working with over 100,000 developers for their Places database and API, as well as 150 million devices for their media business via Pinpoint by Foursquare, the company is piling up partnerships with the likes of Snapchat to fine-tune specific location-based advertising. Rosen says they don’t get data back from all of their partners, which also include Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, Twitter, Uber, among others, but some help them improve their machine learning and understanding of venues and place shapes to further train and strengthen their database.

“In the past, marketers had to wait months to get data back on whether or not their ad campaigns were successful, but at that point, it was too late for them to course correct if something wasn’t resonating,” Rosen says. “Being able to measure brick-and-mortar foot traffic results of digital ads offers a much quicker turnaround and allows marketers to change their campaigns and strategies while their ads are still running. That’s been tremendous for driving business results and we’ve seen it time and again with our media and attribution partners spanning QSR, retail, auto, entertainment and more.”

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan

Zero Latency Establishes Platform For VR Arcade Network

Melbourne, Australia-based Zero Latency is making a name for itself in the burgeoning virtual reality (VR) arcade industry. The company has expanded its operations to four continents after creating and fine-tuning its multiplayer free-roam, warehouse-scale arcade concept. Zero Latency currently has VR arcades in Orlando (Florida), Wisconsin and the Poconos (Pennsylvania) with plans to open multiple spaces across the country, including a pair in the Greater Boston area. By June 2017, the company will have 10 global locations, and 24 by the end of this year. There are already plans to expand to cities like Philadelphia in 2018.

“We’ll continue to open and operate our own sites, but we’ll also continue to partner with some really strong partners,” Tim Ruse, CEO of Zero Latency, told AListDaily. “It’s a licensed approach and an on-site approach. We have licensed partners like Sega of Japan in Tokyo all the way down to people in the cinema space, or larger real estate developers that we work together with.”

Zero Latency’s patent-pending motion tracking system enables teams of up to six players wearing portable virtual reality gear to participate simultaneously in cooperative video game experiences in warehouse-sized spaces that range from 2,000 to over 4,000 square feet. Scott Vandonkelaar, CTO of Zero Latency, told AListDaily that up to eight players will be able to shoot killer robots, defend a fort against zombies and explore alien landscapes across its growing library of multiplayer games later this year.

“We’re moving out to eight players with our local testing group in Melbourne and we’re going through the operational requirements of equipment charging and other technology before rolling it out to all of the sites,” said Vandonkelaar.

The team in Australia built out everything from the guns to the vests. The company also partnered with Razer OSVR to utilize its headsets and worked with Alienware to pack a powerful laptop into a vest that players can wear without being bogged down. Additionally, players wear Razer headsets to communicate with teammates and the Game Master during the experience.

Zero Latency-powered arenas have no physical walls or obstacles, which means players walk, explore and fight their way through different video game worlds developed by a team in Melbourne. Right now, there’s a zombie apocalypse game, Survival, which combines fortifying your construction yard in-between waves of assorted undead. There’s the gravity-defying multiplayer puzzle-solving adventure, Engineerium, which isn’t for those with vertigo issues. Then there’s Singularity, a sci-fi game where players take on an army of killer robots inside a gigantic spacecraft.

New games are in development and will be added to the library along with new maps and modes for existing games. “We’re developing a new zombie game and we’re channeling what we’ve learned from feedback from the first three games,” Vandonkelaar said. “The onus will be on the operator to decide which games to run, similar to a multiplex theater with multiple movie options. You can run more family-focused games during the day and more adult content at night.” An upcoming software development kit will allow third-party development studios to create their own games for the Zero Latency VR arcade platform. In fact, Zero Latency is already collaborating with external studios on some unannounced VR games.

“We travel the world speaking to different companies about film and IP,” Ruse said. “As the system scales, it’s about finding the right IP and bringing that together with VR. This is a fantastic opportunity to allow people to explore the worlds they love from the movies like Aliens, Harry Potter or The Walking Dead.”

“We’re working with some great larger content partners with popular IP,” Vandonkelaar added. “From a game design perspective, and how the players can interact with each other, you’ve got to completely switch your thinking to create compelling content that doesn’t feel silly or make players feel nauseated or cramped.”

The system allows operators to configure these games differently. The upcoming Woburn and Marlborough locations in the Boston suburbs will each be configured with dual 2,000 square foot arenas under one roof, enabling licensee MindTrek the flexibility to offer two different games at the same time, or utilize the space as a single 4,000 square foot arena for larger free-roam experiences. These will be the only dual-arena facilities in the world and the largest free-roam VR gaming facilities in America by far.

Zero Latency has also built a true platform across these VR arcades, which has laid the foundation for esports. “We’re doing a lot of experimentation around esports,” Vandonkelaar explained. “We’re taking it very seriously, doing prototype work and bringing all the knowledge we have from 100,000 players going through these locations to develop esports for free-roam VR.”

Vandonkelaar said each site has the ability to link together and the system is built architecturally from the ground up, creating an interconnected web for future VR experiences.

“We can drop in whatever works in this VR canvas and link them together,” Ruse explained. “A core part of our five-year plan is to look at what’s the next thing and how do we leverage multiple players and multiple sites.”

“Esports in VR is going to be great,” said Vandonkelaar. “Our system makes for a great spectator sport because it’s fun to watch people run around in the real world and see how that translates to the virtual world through TV screens.”

Ruse believes there’s a lot Zero Latency can do when they have a lot of sites that can be easily connected in regions. The other thing Zero Latency has seen with its current client base, which should translate to esports perfectly, is the viral element. He observed how players don’t come in with the same group over and over again. Instead, they become champions of the product and bring other people with them. Then those friends come back with other friends, and so on.

Why Zynga Challenged Snapchat Users To Put On Their Poker Faces

Zynga helped redefine what “April showers” meant by making it rain virtual dollar bills. In an innovative use of Snapchat’s lens feature, users could play a quick hand of Zynga Poker by utilizing their facial expressions. In the activation, Snapchat first dealt the flop, and then users could raise their eyebrows to fill out the board by dealing the turn, river, and player’s hole cards. Winning the hand made virtual money rain down on the screen.

Edward Le Breton, vice president of Zynga Poker, sat down with AListDaily to talk about how this interactive Snapchat lens brought out everyone’s best poker face.

“We’re huge fans of Snapchat and were inspired by the way other brands were using lenses to engage Snapchat users in unique ways,” said Le Breton, describing how the how the idea for the lens came about.

“Zynga has a long history of innovation in social—our mission is to connect the world through games—so we were excited by the potential of working with the Snapchat team to deliver users a cool, new social experience. Product wise, Zynga Poker seemed like a natural fit for Snapchat. So much about poker is about the player’s ‘tell,’ so we wanted to have some fun with an interactive lens that let users play a quick hand, change their face in reaction to the cards they’re dealt and, hopefully, make it rain with winnings. It’s a bite-sized Zynga Poker experience.”

Le Breton also explained why Snapchat was the ideal social platform to promote the game. “Zynga Poker, which turns 10 years old this year, is the world’s largest free-to-play social poker game, and Snapchat is one of the fastest growing mobile platforms around,” he said. “We were excited to combine the two and introduce Zynga Poker to a new audience that may not be as familiar with the game. Poker can be an intimidating game for some, so a Snapchat lens was the perfect, lighthearted way for us to introduce people to Zynga Poker.”

Snapchat users really took to playing poker. “The reaction was fantastic,” said Le Breton. “The lens reached 23 million unique Snapchat users and, based on the number of times it was used, an estimated 6.3 years of Zynga Poker was played via the lens. We even saw a couple professional poker players use the lens.”

But as to whether or not the activation led to increased downloads of Zynga Poker, Le Breton said that, “Our focus was on user engagement with the lens, and continuing our effort to reach players on new, emerging platforms. Overall, we’re pleased with how the Zynga Poker lens performed. This was the first time Zynga—and I believe any other gaming company, for that matter—has created a completely interactive, gamified Snapchat lens.”

So, does this mean we can expect more interactive game lenses to come from Zynga in the future? “We’re not sharing plans for any other upcoming Snapchat lenses at this point,” Le Breton explained. “That said, we learned a lot from the Zynga Poker lens—most importantly, that the lens has to feel authentic to the brand and tied to the gameplay as much as possible. We achieved that with the Zynga Poker lens. It was a great, mini extension of the game, and would apply that same thinking to any future Zynga game lenses.”