Experts Explain How Brands Should Approach Esports

Esports has seen tremendous growth over the past year, with major non-endemic brands such as Mercedes-Benz getting into the space and 17 NBA teams partnering with 2K Sports to create the NBA 2K Esports League. That’s why esports was a hot topic during the New York Media Festival’s games conference this year, with industry insiders discussing its phenomenal growth and how more non-endemic brands can become involved.

“In 2017, what we see is that two of the biggest players in esports—Riot and Activision Blizzard—are now taking steps to create these franchise leagues, which was always the dream,” said Sundance Digiovanni, vice president of brand and content at Activision Blizzard, who has been involved in esports since the beginning and is the co-founder of MLG. “Everyone talks about the golden age. We’re now just starting the golden age, where we have the first franchise and global leagues. It’s starting to look and feel a lot more like traditional sports, but with this amazing opportunity globally—digital first—toward an audience that’s shying away from traditional sports in a lot of ways.”

Although esports may experience some hiccups along the way, Digiovanni believes that it’s well on its way to becoming a sustainable business.

It’s Not Television

One of the major themes that arose during the discussions is how esports is a digital-first form of entertainment, and it must be treated as such. With the exception of Turner’s ELeague, most linear channels have struggled with integrating esports into its programming. Digiovanni explained why TV marketing strategies won’t work on mobile.

“Most teenagers don’t watch TV,” he said. “They consume content on iPhones or Android devices, and the majority of it is probably socially generated. They don’t want to be bombarded with something that feels like there’s a message crafted to be delivered on radio, TV or somewhere else. Just think about the delivery medium and think about what you’re offering them in that short period of time. In a really small window, you could become a hero brand if you do it properly.”

Marty Strenczewilk, CEO and co-founder of Splyce, put things more bluntly. “TV is dead,” he said. “TV is now a monitor. I haven’t had cable in a long time and I don’t miss it, but what I do miss are the types of entertainment that haven’t figured out digital.”

Strenczewilk cited basketball as a prime example. “I can’t watch basketball online. I get an inferior experience unless I spend significant money. If I want to watch League of Legends online, I spend no money and I get a high-quality experience that’s better because of chat and digital engagement that I couldn’t do otherwise. It’s not just about the fact that consumers are younger and have always consumed a product that way, but we consume it in a way that’s better digitally.”

It’s interesting that Strenczewilk mentioned the NBA, considering how more than half of the franchises recently came together to create an esports league. Brendan Donohue, managing director of NBA 2K Esports League, explained that it was actually the NBA team owners who wanted to get further into esports in the first place.

“A lot of our owners already own teams in other esports titles, so they were already invested in esports,” said Donohue. He added that it was natural for NBA 2K become involved, since the video game has been experiencing exponential growth over the past decade. Having 17 NBA teams and their organizations put their weight and marketing savvy behind a successful video game makes for great entertainment.

Donohue described the NBA audience as “tech-savvy, millennial and multicultural,” which also happens to be the same kind of audience playing NBA 2K. However, he also emphasized how two-thirds of the NBA’s social media followers live outside of North America, making for a massive audience, and an esports league is another way to engage them.

“We certainly see esports as a global entity, and a large number of NBA 2K games are sold outside of the US,” said Donohue. “They offer a free version of the game through Tencent in China, where we have 34 million registered users. So, we see a global appetite for this.”

This echoes Digiovanni’s sentiment when he said, “In this space, if you say that you need to tune in at eight o’clock on Monday to watch this match on this channel only, some people will but a lot of people say that there are a thousand other channels on Twitch, YouTube and Facebook for me to look at. Maybe they’ll watch one of their favorite streamers instead. You’ve got to make it accessible, and you’ve got to also understand that a lot of times the audience is international.”

When considering the future of esports as a form of entertainment, Digiovanni said that he envisioned a delivery that avoided a lot of pitfalls that traditional sports media fell into.

“We can do this without a lot of the overhead and issues of traditional sports, but in a way that looks like traditional sports,” said Digiovanni. “We say we’re the ESPN of esports, but what I’d rather be is the first premier esports-focused network that happens to own some IP and leagues, but also partners with other parties like Riot and Valve, putting everybody’s content through this network. Imagine that we have multiple channels on OTT [TV], digital [on] Twitch, YouTube and our own streaming platforms and inside our own games. If you’re a fan of any of these things, they’re accessible to you when you want, where you want and how you want.”

The Growth Of Non-Endemic Sponsors

As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression, and that’s especially true of the esports world. The word “authentic” tends to be overused, but it’s the best way for brands to enter into the space.

One of the major takeaways is that brands have to do it right by being authentic, and they can’t just dip their toes in the water—they have to go all in. Comcast Xfinity, Arby’s and Mercedes-Benz were cited as examples, and women’s brands such as Dove and Calvin Klein are looking to grow in the space.

“Gaming is still the one activity in the entertainment space where you get sole focus of that user,” said Dave Madden, senior vice president of global brand solutions at EA, commenting on how viewers are often multitasking when watching television or on their phones. However, games get 100 percent of their attention when they’re playing, whether it be for five minutes or two hours.

“When brands can figure out how to be in that environment and add value to the experience, the results are [great],” said Madden. “There’s a simple reason for that. They love being rewarded with added content and experiences that help the gameplay, but they’re also so interested in the experience [of playing]. Brands get a better relationship with the consumer—the engagement is much higher.”

As an example of successful engagement, Madden cited FIFA 18’s partnership with Coca-Cola and how the soda brand sponsored the fictional character Alex Hunter as a spokesperson.

Non-endemic sponsors should also look to real-life people and brands that are already involved in esports, whether they be endemic companies such as HyperX, teams or individual players, and partner to integrate into esports in an authentic way.

Mark Tekunoff, corporate public relations manager at HyperX, said that the computer hardware and peripheral company didn’t see non-endemic brands as competitors. “We see an opportunity to work with non-endemics and help them with the value that we’ve created over the last 10 years using what we know and the fact that we’re part of the gaming community. It’s a mutual collaboration between us and them, and a number of them are approaching us now asking what we’ve learned.”

“It’s OK not to know all the answers,” said Digiovanni, offering advice from the Activision Blizzard side. “It’s OK to ask questions and collaborate. That’s my advice to any brand or agency looking at this space, whether you’re working with a team, a league, player sponsorship or an event. Just ask for some examples of previous successes and see what has worked. More importantly, ask what has not worked. If you can learn from someone else’s mistakes, that’s the best play.”

Dave Correa, ESL’s director of sponsorship sales, talked about how some brands suffer a “paralysis by analysis,” because they’re unsure of whether an esports audience will be receptive to advertising.

“Really, it’s not that difficult,” said Correa. “Basically, if you can provide an opportunity through content, an experience or creating a whole new amateur league that leads into a pro league—whatever it might be—if a brand can figure out what that opportunity is and deliver that back to the fan community, you’re going to be very well received. It’s a super-intelligent audience and they understand that advertising is part of the ecosystem. They just don’t want to be hit over the head with it a million times without some additive value.”

Correa also emphasized how brands need to identify the right games that fit with their audiences.

“You don’t hear a brand marketer on the traditional sports side say, ‘let’s get into sports,’” said Correa. “It doesn’t happen because that’s not how you think about it. You have to think about the titles that best align with what you’re going to do and then figure out the opportunities that best fit with that particular title.”

He added that even though there are hundreds of great video games out there, there aren’t hundreds of esports.

“Games like GTA or Destiny 2 are fantastic, but they’re not esports,” Correa explained. “I think some brands get caught up in the hype and look at titles that don’t necessarily have a competitive scene.”

Streamlabs CEO and co-Founder Ali Moiz noted that, although esports is a big part of livestreamed content, what often gets overlooked is the fact that 80 percent of the viewable hours on Twitch are actually streamers, not esports tournaments. These broadcasts may include pro players streaming during their off-hours and entertainers who are good at games. Whatever the case, Moiz said that people who come for esports end up spending most of their time watching these individuals.

“Gaming is still the largest [livestreaming] category today here in the US,” explained Moiz. “But akin to what is happening in China and broadly in Asia, the fastest growing categories are actually non-gaming . . . in five-to-10 years, this stuff is going to be bigger in livestreaming than gaming.”

Twitch, Condé Nast Expand Content Development Teams

Twitch has brought on Kendra Johnson as general manager of global content development and emerging markets, where she will focus on driving expansion in the Latin America and Asia Pacific regions.

“Twitch’s creator-first approach to monetization, moderation and overall functionality, has elevated livestreaming from a hobby to a career ,” said Johnson. “ My goal is to ensure creators and viewers around the world are fully versed in both the depth of our offerings and the strength of our community. It’s these elements that collectively establish Twitch as the premier destination for interactive entertainment.”

Johnson has worked in the entertainment industry for 17 years, most recently at Maker Studios as head of distribution and strategy partnerships. Previously, she held the title of vice president of business strategy, planning and development at ABC Family.

David Lopez has signed on with Condé Nast Entertainment as its first-ever vice president of branded content video. Before joining the publishing giant, he worked at Vice Media as head of global business and brand content partnerships.

“David has a proven track record in leading successful branded digital video teams, projects and partnerships, which makes him the perfect fit for CNÉ and we are happy to have him join the team,” said Croi McNamara, senior vice president of digital video programming at Condé Nast.

Automation software provider UiPath has hired Bobby Patrick as their latest chief marketing officer, after experiencing a 500 percent growth in revenue since 2015.

“UiPath is experiencing phenomenal growth, led by our emphasis on an open, extensible product architecture that easily scales,” said UiPath CEO and co-founder Daniel Dines. “UiPath continues to maintain the largest engineering and development operation in RPA today. Bobby adds extraordinary experience in strategic marketing, go-to-market, and channel development, which will be critical to scaling UiPath as we expand worldwide.”

Before joining UiPath, Patrick served as CMO at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and prior to that was CMO at Basho, GXS and Digex.

Equifax CEO Richard Smith is retiring, collecting $90 million in company stock options and benefits on his way out. Following the massive data breach earlier this month, Smith is the third Equifax executive to step down from the company.

Kevin Mansell, CEO and chairman of Kohl’s for the past decade, will be stepping down, ceding the position to Michelle Gass. Mansell has worked at the Wisconsin-based retailer for 35 years, after positioning the company to work more closely with Amazon and increasing its digital presence.

Gass has been with Kohl’s since 2013, and most recently held the title of chief merchandising and customer officer. Previously, Gass worked 17 years in marketing and strategy for Starbucks.

Snap’s hardware lab is undergoing leadership changes, transferring lab head Steve Horowitz to a different department and promoting Mark Randall in his place.

Gina Degnan Hughes has signed on with Fuse Media as their latest senior vice president of marketing.

“Fuse Media stands at the intersection of high quality video programming and youth culture today, continuously expanding our content offerings and marketing to reach our audience on a wherever-whenever basis,” said Michael Schwimmer, Fuse’s president and CEO. “Gina’s energy and intellect, combined with her excellent track record building audience awareness and engagement, make her a great fit for the Fuse team as we continue to grow our business.”

Before joining Fuse, Degnan Hughes led campaigns for The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad as senior vice president of marketing at AMC.

Medical Marijuana, Inc. subsidiary Kannaway has hired Stephen Jones as its latest chief marketing officer. Jones has worked in fields related to direct sales, finance and international logistics for two decades.

Amazon has announced the opening of a new office in New York City, adding 2,000 new positions to the online-retail giant. Roles in the West Side Manhattan office will include finance, sales, marketing and information technology, and the average salary will reportedly be $100,000 per year.

Foot Locker has promoted Jed Berger to chief marketing officer from vice president of brand marketing, a position he has held for the past six years.

Karson Humiston has created a “LinkedIn-esque” cannabis job board, providing potential workers a free service to find work in the rapidly growing industry. Vangsters, as the service is called, has already reported 7,900 candidates and 55 businesses registering for accounts since the end of August.

Steven Wolfe Pereira has joined Quantcast as their latest chief marketing and communications officer, where he will not only promote the brand externally but work with the AI firm’s engineering team to further develop their insights platform. Wolfe Pereira previously held the same title at Neustar since April of last year, and before that has served at Datalogix, Starcom Mediavest Group and Univision Communications.

Immersion has hired Hossam Bahlool to the position of vice president of marketing, where he will lead the corporation’s efforts to advance monetization of haptics on mobile devices.

“Bringing the sense of touch to digital content, we create engaging experiences that are more impactful and real. It was important for us to find an executive to further develop our vision for haptics and demonstrate the value it can bring to our customers and users,” said Victor Viegas, Immersion’s CEO. “Hossam has impressive leadership experience in many of our key markets, including mobile, social and automotive.”

Bahlool joins Immersion from Telenav, where he directed product management and marketing. He has also held the titles of vice president of product at Jingu and director of product management at BlackBerry.

(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated daily until Friday, September 29. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at

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‘FIFA 18’ Marketing Integrates Esports With Real Players And Teams

FIFA 18 is now available, and fans across the world are congregating on the proverbial pitch to build their virtual soccer dream teams. EA Sports has been busy getting players psyched for the launch with livestreams, giveaways and gameplay tips while including the real-life soccer players themselves. Cover boy Cristiano Ronaldo is the face of FIFA 18, which will be releasing on the Nintendo Switch for the first time.

Through its different play modes, FIFA 18 hopes to capture the thrill of competition and players’ dreams of stardom. To accomplish this, EA has focused its marketing on the phrase, “more than just a game.” With international appeal built right into the sport, EA set out to attract attention from real-world soccer fans to esports enthusiasts and everyone in between.

A new skill in the game emulates a spinning move called “El Tornado.” EA’s other sports emulators like Madden, NBA Live and UFC recreated the moves in their respective games to share on social media. A special El Tornado pack was offered as a giveaway that includes a gold controller, a copy of the game, FIFA score plaque and more.

Much like for EA’s other sports simulators, soccer stars are personally invested in their virtual characters’ scores. When asked to give their teammates a FIFA score, the pros didn’t hesitate to poke and prod each other.

FIFA 18‘s “The Journey” mode continues the story of Alex Hunter—an ambitious young athlete introduced in FIFA 17. In his rise to fame, the fictional character was sponsored by Adidas and now by Coca-Cola.

The Coke endorsement deal is played out in the game, including the filming of a TV commercial that reimagines the classic “Mean” Joe Greene spot from 1979. In a modern twist, Hunter takes a selfie with the Coke-offering kid instead of giving him a jersey.

Fans can pick up specially marked cans of Coke at participating North American Walmart and 7-Eleven stores with Alex Hunter on them. Download codes printed on the underside of the cans unlock additional in-game items.

Two worlds collide with EA’s FIFA 18 esports activations. Teams like West Ham United are signing esports players to represent them at esports tournaments, showing solidarity for the sport across mediums.

For its “largest ever” FIFA Interactive World Cup, the game publisher offered players worldwide a shot at representing real-world teams in official competitions. Ultimate Team Championship Cups will let virtually anyone qualify for a chance at glory in winter and spring events. In the meantime, Unilad Esports’ Gorilla took home the FIFA Interactive World Cup title August 18, giving inspiration for video game hopefuls.

Esports plays another role in FIFA 18 this year—players can rep esports teams in-game by unlocking special edition football kits for Team Liquid, Hashtag United and AS Roma eSports in Ultimate Team mode. The teams themselves hosted giveaways across their social channels as well.

Dubbed “FIFA Friday,” EA’s big game launch includes a sponsored hashtag that adds a soccer ball to posts with #FIFA18.

For governing body FIFA and soccer clubs around the world, gaining worldwide recognition for the sport means maintaining relevancy with young, digital native consumers–which really makes FIFA 18 “more than just a game.”

TV Ad Views Recovering; Marketers Slow To Protect Brand Safety

FreeWheel has released new information this week, revealing that consumers are returning to live news programming. According to their report, ad views on both linear and digital forms grew by 150 percent between Q2 2016 and Q2 2017. FreeWheel attributes the rise to diversification of options for monetized livestreaming.

Their report also tracked device-specific ad views, recording major growth in streaming and shrinkage for desktops. Services such as Twitch jumped from 1 percent in 2013 to 29 percent in 2017, and desktop ad views dropped from 90 percent to 27 percent over the same period.

Despite brand safety concerns, companies have been slow to change their behavior. According to a study by Advertiser Perceptions, 78 percent of marketers have run a campaign featuring ads on 50 or more websites, and 28 percent displayed ads on more than 1000.

Additionally, while 63 percent of advertisers have discussed implementing digital whitelists, only 14 percent have actually put them into use.

Investment in data centers in the US has undergone record-setting growth, according to information from CBRE. Spending on data centers has grown to $18.2 billion this year to date and is on track to surpass total investment from the last three years combined.

Adobe has released its Q2 report on the online retail industry, revealing that despite rapid growth, social media is still the smallest driver of online traffic. Social’s share of customer engagement grew by 146 percent this year, but still only accounts for less than 5 percent of all retail site visits. Paid search also grew by 45 percent.

Likewise, natural search shrank by 6 percent, but still is the strongest driver of site visits.

Instagram has surpassed 2 million monthly advertisers, the company reported in a blog post. In March of this year the figure was only 1 million, meaning that the social network has doubled its advertiser base in just under six months. Instagram attributes the rise to small and medium-size businesses embracing the platform.

Video content on Instagram is exploding as well: time spent watching videos has risen by 80 percent since the same time last year, and the number of videos produced per day has grown by 400 percent.

Almost two-thirds of marketers worry about the effect of artificial intelligence on their industry, according to a survey conducted by The Drum. Sixty-one percent of respondents believed that AI will result in a loss of jobs, while only 46 percent understood its capabilities.

A new survey by The Creative Group indicates that conversational marketing will have the greatest effect on advertising in 2018, with 33 percent of respondents reporting social messaging as their top priority.

The premiere of Star Trek: Discovery led many smartphone users to discover the CBS All Access mobile app. According to information from Sensor Tower, first-time installs of the app rose by 64 percent compared to the previous two weeks, with 46,000 downloads.

A new study by Deloitte suggests that retail sales will grow by 4 to 4.5 percent this holiday season. The research also forecasts a 21 percent jump in digital sales, to $114 billion in total revenue.

Carnival Explains PlayOcean Mobile Games Strategy

Carnival Corporation is making a serious investment in video game development, both through original mobile games and specially designed interactive experiences aboard its ships.

Princess Cruises is the first of Carnival’s nine brands to implement the on-board gaming strategy, beginning with the November launch of the Regal Princess. But Carnival’s PlayOcean gaming brand expands beyond Princess’ new Medallion Class ships, targeting the global mobile gaming audience.

John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer for Carnival Corporation, told AListDaily that PlayOcean taps into the growing interest in mobile gaming by offering a selection of original games through two free downloadable mobile apps. PlayOcean Everywhere launched yesterday with a suite of four free-to-play iOS and Android mobile social multiplayer games, including Queen Sea Poker, Tipsy Tentacles Slots, Roulette on Deck and Bingo on Deck. PlayOcean Casino will debut in mid-November in tandem with the Regal Princess’ Caribbean sailings.

“Mobile gaming is all about interactivity with guests,” Padgett explained. “Traditionally cruising had defined gaming as equal to casinos, but casino gaming is just one dimension of gaming itself. We decided to take a much broader interpretation of gaming to be more inclusive to more people. That’s why we developed a portfolio of games that you can play for free without even being on a cruise ship.”

PlayOcean Everywhere will continue to add new titles over time. Carnival has enlisted console game development studios like PipeWorks, Epic Reach and Heavy Iron Studios, as well veteran Disney video game developers like Rich Criado and Ryan Rothenberger, to oversee the new extension of its brand. Padgett said this initiative will increase awareness and engagement with its cruise brands globally.

“As the digital and physical spaces begin to converge, we want to immerse our guests,” Padgett said. “Games are one of the best forms of interaction. Our focus is not to sell games. We’re after creating interaction and engagement.”

Carnival Corporation celebrated the official availability of PlayOcean on Thursday with an event in Times Square that synchronized multiple digital billboards to showcase the new games, as well as an activation center where people learned more about the gaming initiative.

Padgett previously worked with Disney Parks and Resorts to launch the MagicBand connected experience at the Walt Disney World Resort. He said before digital games existed, people would immerse themselves in fantasy-related activities extracted from the reality of theme parks.

“Now, with connectivity, great guest experiences are no longer constrained to theme parks,” Padgett explained. “The barriers have been broken down and companies like Carnival Corporation can step in. Because we operate around the world without boundaries with a fleet of ships that have many different flavors and styles, as well as trains, lodges and islands, we can add a digital element of engagement. The cruise industry accounts for two percent of global hotel rooms. When we expand the perception that the cruise is just one stage in a world of persistent interactivity, it’s a pretty big deal.”

Criado previously worked with Padgett on the MagicBand project for five years, which included work connecting that technology with the Disney Infinity game to unlock exclusive content at sea that could be played with at home.

That same concept of blending the real and virtual worlds will come to life when passengers board the Regal Princess. PlayOcean Casino is the first of a series of games that will allow passengers to bet real money on mobile devices. The PlayOcean Everywhere versions of all games will use virtual currency in the form of clams, which can be earned for free or purchased through the app.

“We’ve taken every game genre or category that exists in mobile and created a game in that category from family to traditional gambling,” Criado explained. “We’ve created characters and stories behind these games that make people want to engage with them at a different level. We didn’t want to recreate the Vegas experience. For Tipsy Tentacles Slots, we created characters like Tipsy the Octopus bartender who’s not very good as a bartender. He’s trying to help you play the slot machine game, but all the while he’s trying to serve you and guests drinks.”

Criado said that the concept of connecting the game world and virtual is also wired into the ship itself. When gamers log on to they create a personalized Tagalong avatar based on a turtle, seahorse or butterfly fish. This avatar is persistent across the Compass app, but also appears on the ship throughout the cruise experience. Stateroom TVs will feature this avatar and also serve up exclusive games like Tagalong Sprint that can be played using mobile devices as controllers.

Throughout the ship, 125 4K touchscreen monitors will reveal these avatars as sensors register the Medallions that each passenger carries on board. These avatars will even be featured on the giant 4K on the top deck digital outdoor movie screen, where different video game challenges like This or That can be played using any mobile device as a controller.

Criado said guests can also collect charms for their Tagalongs across a number of categories like status, destinations, celebrations, recognition, PlayOcean, events and entertainment, onboard, mood and interests. Three charms can be displayed at any time and appear with the Tagalong.

Another example of an exclusive onboard gaming experience is Ocean Treks Adventure, a digital scavenger hunt featuring American nature conservationist and TV host Jeff Corwin, who leads guests on quests throughout the ship to solve puzzles, follow mobile clues and answer riddles. The game sends passengers to various touchscreen displays, where simple 2D animated video games unlock information about key historical figures from the Caribbean. The Medallions track individual progress and unlock Tagalongs at different stations along the way. Three adventures will be available at launch with the goal of adding more over time.

“We’re exploring a dimension that hasn’t been done before that demonstrates to the guest that there’s a digital dimension to everything physical, whether you see it or not, and it’s there to enhance your experience,” Padgett said.

Princess has multiple Medallion Class ships rolling out over the next few years. The technology built into these Princess ships can be integrated across other Carnival brands like Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line and Cunard in the future.

Both Padgett and Criado said this interactive voyage for Carnival Corporation is just beginning.

Smart Speakers Shift Behavior, According To Edison Study

Smart speakers aren’t just the latest fancy home appliance—they’re changing the ways in which American consumers behave and even think. In a keynote address at Advertising Week today, Tom Webster, Edison Research’s vice president of strategy, revealed just how significant of an effect Amazon Echo and Google Home have on their users.

According to their study, which surveyed 1,620 American households, 40 percent of smart-speaker owners reported that the device had a major impact on their lives and 42 percent claimed to have purchased multiple. Edison’s interviews revealed that users find themselves listening to significantly more audio content, from music to podcasts to audiobooks.

Though this rise in audio consumption cannibalizes from radio, interviews showed that smart speakers most frequently replaced mobile device usage. Some respondents even reported choosing audio content over television.

Twenty-eight percent of respondents said their smart speaker drove them to pay for a music subscription service, and several interviewees reported switching from Spotify to Amazon Prime because of their speaker.

Families with children were the most affected by their smart speakers, with 42 percent reporting that they found the device “essential.” One person that Edison interviewed referred to his Echo as his “girlfriend when the wife isn’t around.”

“At a minimum, we can say that these devices have become companions, if not full-ranking members of the household,” Webster stated.

Webster described the experience of using a smart speaker as strange but familiar, and referenced Star Trek not once, but twice to explain how pervasive the Zero UI experience has been in America’s cultural lexicon.

Their research confirmed his claims. While young people remain the fastest adopters, with people 35 and younger comprising 52 percent of the heaviest users, the ease of use of these devices meant that 27 percent of medium-heavy owners—ones who regularly use their smart speakers for six to ten different tasks—were 55 and older.

However, not everyone is pleased with the current state of voice-controlled devices. Of the 820 survey respondents who did not own smart speakers, the top five reasons for not purchasing one were all related to privacy. Even more concerning, 63 percent reported wariness over government surveillance from the always-on listening devices. Webster himself admitted to fearing the possibility of someone shouting into his apartment and fraudulently ordering a herd of cattle.

Overall, the explosive growth of smart speakers offers major potential for marketers. Sixty-five percent of survey respondents claimed to have used one to place an item in their shopping cart, and 58 percent have bought an item they had never purchased before.

Citing Star Trek again, Webster described using Zero UI technology as strange but familiar and anticipated the devices as heralding the dawn of the science fiction era he grew up expecting.

Madeline Di Nonno: Women’s Treatment In Advertising Remains Stagnant

For women, marketing is still in the same place as it was twelve years ago. In a panel discussion at Advertising Week, Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, discussed comprehensive research on biased representation in advertising.

Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media

Using the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient (GD-IQ) tool, Di Nonno’s research compiled data from the last twelve years of Cannes winners and shortlists to build a picture of how men and women appeared differently in TV ads. They found that little had improved in over a decade.

“It revealed a level of unconscious bias we didn’t think was possible,” said Di Nonno.

According to their findings, women are still underrepresented in advertising. Additionally, twice as many men as women appeared in TV ads, enjoyed four times as much screen time and spoke three times more dialogue.

Beyond simple inclusion, the Geena Davis Institute’s research revealed heavy disparities between women and men in the types of roles they portrayed. Only 20 percent of female characters in the studied ads were shown to be employed, and 48 percent appeared in kitchens.

Di Nonno argued that this issue has implications beyond the actors starring in commercials. Stating that 58 percent of women reported that they would be inspired to be more ambitious if they saw more women in power, she made the point that advertising, like conventional media, shapes the way young women choose careers and life goals.

And beyond societal goals for equal representation, Di Nonno posited that infantilizing women in modern advertising diminishes an ad’s effectiveness. Women in their 20s are the most represented in television ads, yet it is women in their 50s who make the majority of a family’s purchasing decisions.

Brands should strive to equalize the playing field, Di Nonno argued, and recent research supports her point: Facebook found that promoting gender equality increased customer loyalty by 48 percent.

Editor’s Note: Madeline Di Nonno will be speaking at the October 26 AList Sessions event.

Mixer Studio Raises Livestream Bar For ‘Total War: Warhammer II’

The highly anticipated Total War: Warhammer II—the second game in an epic trilogy that combines the deep strategy of the Total War series with the fantasy world of the Warhammer franchise—was released on Thursday. In the tradition of both franchises, the launch was marked by plenty of blood and chaos on the field of battle.

Sega and English game developer Creative Assembly hosted a pre-launch livestream event the night before at the Mixer Studio, located at the flagship Microsoft Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Eight of the best Warhammer players—four in-studio, four online—assembled to compete live in a broadcast studio designed for competitive gaming.

Al Bickham, communications manager at Creative Assembly

According to Al Bickham, communications manager at Creative Assembly, Mixer Studio are big Warhammer fans, and they reached out to Sega to coordinate a pre-launch broadcast. This gave Creative Assembly a chance to show off its revised free-for-all multiplayer mode, where four players battle each other simultaneously in chaotic combat using swords, spells, dragons and dinosaurs.

James Given, Creative Assembly’s outreach and community development manager, introduced the tournament as “absolute chaos in a bottle” during the broadcast. He wasn’t kidding. Player Indypride (@milkandcookiesTW) took home the trophy in an upset victory, where he launched a sneak attack on two players locked in battle using an army of rats.

Just as the game is the perfect hybrid of two franchises, the pre-launch event simultaneously promoted two brands. While the broadcast mainly promoted the launch of Warhammer II, it also served to showcase Mixer Studio’s capabilities.

“It’s got all the equipment and infrastructure you need to do something of this scale,” Bickham said. “More importantly, there’s an awesome team behind it. Combined, they have hundreds of years of broadcast experience, and these things are complex. There are loads of stages and interstitial sweeps of graphics. They’ve put together a tremendous production from start to finish.”

Given added that the location, which was a few blocks away from Central Park, made the Mixer Studio the ideal place to hold an event. But he also agreed that being in a studio that’s purpose-built for livestreaming made a huge difference.

“Other studios that do online broadcasting are kind of a hodgepodge—they weren’t built for this sort of thing, but grew into it,” Given said. “Just getting in and out has been absolutely easy, and when you put together a broadcast like that, anything that looks easy is usually not and was paid for with a lot of blood, tears and long hours.”

Given also said that what set Mixer apart from other livestreaming platforms such as Twitch or YouTube is its interactive features, including a chat and multiple-choice trivia question showing real-time results. Given continued that Mixer, being a newer platform, was pushing the boundaries of interaction, while more established platforms were refining their approaches.

James Given, Creative Assembly’s outreach and community development manager

“The interaction is the key thing on Mixer,” said Given. “Audience interaction is a key thing that other platforms are pushing for but haven’t quite reached the same level. That’s something that Mixer has over everyone else.”

Leading up to the event, Bickham said that Creative Assembly reached out to its fans through social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, while community managers engaged with fans on the Total War subreddit and other channels.

Given, who helped assemble the players for the tournament, emphasized working with influencers. Fans wanted to see these personalities battle it out and crown the best, and using influencers and social media to inform audiences about the event through word-of-mouth was critical.

However, Given added that influencers weren’t simply chosen because of their large followings. For example, Indypride probably has one of the smallest channels of the group, but he made a name for himself by offering deep analysis of Warhammer multiplayer videos.

“When you work in a studio, you’re looking for that top quality content,” said Given, referring to the players. “Something that will engage fans and looks flashy and hits all the selling points. That’s something [Indypride] did very well, and a lot of these guys are big personalities on Twitch.”

These players include BurkBlack, who describes himself as “The Pirate of Twitch” and dresses the part with the addition of a steel gauntlet. Given said that the inclusion of the Warhammer fantasy brand brought new personalities and streamers to the Total War community.

Warhammer has opened a lot of doors for us,” Given explained. “We make historical strategy games, and a lot of people love history, but they might not like all types of history. Some might not like it at all. But when fantasy comes into it, it opens that door and loads of people want to jump in and play. Total War: Warhammer I and II have opened the way for a lot of people to stream us—people who we haven’t been in contact with before.”

As exciting as multiplayer matches can be, Given believes that the single-player campaign may be one of the most attractive aspects for influencers because of its narrative structure. He talked about how one steamer dressed up as a rat and role-played while playing the entire Warhammer I campaign on the hardest difficulty. Another used the High Elf faction as the way he believed an actual High Elf would play. The single-player campaign, with its multiple objectives and somewhat predictable pacing, make it possible for more entertaining experiences.

“All of these things mean it’s very watchable for audiences,” said Given. “In some cases, things happen that throw them off completely, and then they get advice from chat on what to do. But you should never do what chat says, because they’re always wrong.”

Although fantasy has opened many doors for Creative Assembly, it did come with its share of challenges—especially when considering how the Warhammer universe has a large variety of races and factions, accompanied by a ton of lore that newcomers might find intimidating. To underscore the point, Bickham went into detail about the new Skaven faction—a race of ruthless humanoid rats—in an interview before the tournament.

“You’ve got a dual problem to solve,” said Bickham. “One is that [Total War] is a relatively complex and deep real-time strategy game. The other is that we’re dealing with a whole universe of characters, monsters and different races. So, we try to roll that out by doing a lot more storytelling in Warhammer II than we did in the first game. Each race that you play has its own series of cut scenes and introduction videos to show the races and characters, along with the character of the races.”

Meanwhile, Creative Assembly worked with the UK-based research company Player Research and used biometrics to improve the game’s tutorial and make it more approachable to new players.

Bickham said that Total War: Warhammer II will release its first free update in just a few weeks, which will engage players as the studio continues to grow the world and build toward the third part of the trilogy. Their goal: to combine all parts to make the biggest strategy game in the world.

Kobe Bryant’s New Career Calling Is Storytelling

Less than a year and a half removed from retirement and playing in his last basketball game, five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant is again leading a team and building a winner—only this time, instead of on the hardwood, it’s as a storyteller on the screen.

The Los Angeles Lakers icon has produced the animated short Dear Basketball, a five-minute-and-22-second-long film that is based on his painfully honest poem that doubled as his official retirement from the sport in 2015. According to Hollywood critics, it appears that the film is building considerable buzz as a formidable contender for the Academy Awards.

“To sit here right now, to even hear you say that the film is even being considered for an Oscar nom, that’s crazy,” Bryant said at the National Retail Federation’s conference on Wednesday in Los Angeles. “I’m winning championships. That’s what I dream of. That’s beyond any realm of any dream whatsoever.”

Bryant recruited two other industry stalwarts—veteran Disney animator Glen Keane and composer John Williams—to his Newport Beach-based, animation-devoted Granity Studios to make the piece, which he narrates. “Granity” is a word Bryant created from the combination of the phrase “greater than infinity.” The studio is developing a multitude of stories outlined by the Hall of Fame-bound player for a variety of media.

The short, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and was performed live by Bryant and Williams at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this month, is just one part of Bryant’s newfound career calling. Storytelling is a strong part of the second act of his career, which incorporates being the CEO of Kobe Inc. and a general partner of Bryant Stibel—a $100 million investment fund that includes sports media website The Players Tribune and video game designer Scopely, among other start-ups.

“I just love what I do with the stories we are trying to build and create,” Bryant said. “That’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps me up at night. That’s what wakes me up in the morning. How do you inspire a person to inspire a person that inspires another person that creates something that’s truly timeless?”

Aside from 4 a.m. workouts, Bryant’s workload these days is devoid of basketball and strictly revolves around his businesses and slate of stories—including endless editing for the eight novels he’s concurrently working on.

Bryant went on to talk about a variety of topics, including swimming with sharks while working with Nike on campaigns as well as building a brand. Below are the rest of the highlights, as told by Bryant himself.

On storytelling:

“I love stories. I love everything about it. I love framing it. I love plotting it and writing compelling characters. I love stories about hard work and dedication. Beyond that, I love the reaction from children once they read the stories. The a-ha moment, because it’s different for every child and how they interpret the meanings.”

On reinventing himself:

“It’s really, really hard to break away from what was, especially when you loved it. But you’re not fully breaking away from it. You’re taking lessons that were learned and carrying it forward. If you look at it from that perspective, it makes it a lot easier to discard what was and then focus on what’s to come. That’s what I’ve tried to do. Just go. You don’t have all the answers, but you’ll figure it out as you go.”

On learning new leadership skills as an entrepreneur:

“It’s a little different. In sports, you’re constantly driving people all the time. It’s an immediate thing. Business is a slower process. We have to figure out ways to keep the flame and curiosity burning on a consistent basis for longer stretches of time for projects like films and novels.”

On his favorite book, and one story he would recommend reading to others:

“We’re a Harry Potter household. That’s our favorite. We completely geek out on it. There are divisions within the house where we are in characters like Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff . . . You have to read the Game of Thrones books. The show is amazing, but the books are even better. It’s on another level. I mean—insane.”

On what he’s learned most from investors:

“Patience. Paying attention to the details. That’s always the key. Things just don’t happen by accident. You have to look at the source of things and understand why they occur . . . Investing can be really complex. You sit in a room and hear all of these complex ideas—it can give you a headache . . . I heard the best description for being an entrepreneur is like you’re jumping off of a building and you’re trying to build a plane while you’re on your way down.”

On one technology that he is most excited about:

“The storytelling possibilities and what you can do with AR is pretty interesting. The experiences that you can create, and try to actually build a story centered around the now is exciting and I want to see where it goes.”

On building his brand on social media, and digitally:

“I was always reluctant to get on social media because I figured I’d probably get in trouble. I’m a natural smart ass. I think the most important thing is to be who you are, and understand that who you are can impact others. If you can find the common thread with who you naturally are and find that common thread with a greater message as a whole, then it becomes easier for people to understand who you are, and relate to you.”

On the basketball players that inspired him:

“As a kid I had so many of them, and often for different reasons because they did so many things. Michael Jordan for his competitive drive and spirit. Magic Johnson for his vision and ability to bring other guys along in a seamless manner. Larry Bird because he was just so stone cold and nasty.”

On what he learned collaborating with Nike for marketing and advertising campaigns throughout his career:

“When I first arrived at Nike, I felt like Harry Potter when he first arrived at Hogwarts. I was surrounded by sports geeks and engineers that cared nothing more than about every inch and every detail about the products. I was right at home. The reason why I cared so much [about my shoes] is because that was a direct correlation to how I played. It helped me as a player, therefore I must take care of every single thing. That’s why I approached it with that much care. I actually swam with great white sharks with Nike shoe designer Eric Avar when we were designing the shoe. We do all kinds of weird stuff. Once I retired from the game, and started making decisions that were somewhat uncomfortable for me, I called Nike president and CEO Mark Parker for advice and he walked me through his process. I looked at his temperament from the leadership position and not trying to lead with what you’re doing, but doing the best you can to serve. The most important thing about leadership is to serve—don’t lead. ‘How can you help others reach their full potential?’”

On how to be successful:

“Just get better a little bit every day, that’s all. There’s no secret formula, or secret sauce. At the end of the day, look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘did I get better today?’”

MasterCard Empowers Brands With VR Shopping Opportunities

MasterCard has combined virtual reality with its Masterpass digital payment service to unlock new opportunities for brands to sell products directly to consumers.

First up in exploring this opportunity is Swarovski, which worked with YouVisit to create a VR shopping app for the Atelier Swarovski home décor line. The app, which launches in October, immerses consumers in a decorated home where they can browse a collection of crystal home accessories designed in collaboration with renowned architects and designers, and purchase the pieces with Masterpass.

Abi Mandelbaum, CEO and co-founder of YouVisit, told AListDaily that VR has the potential to offer an entirely new shopping experience for consumers.

“The benefits are easy to see for a brand like Swarovski, which offers high-end, limited-edition pieces that might not be available everywhere,” Mandelbaum said. “But as VR becomes more and more common in consumer homes, experiences like this will enable people to shop with more confidence—to feel like they’re really seeing the products they consider purchasing and can buy with more confidence.”

Mandelbaum added that the key for brands to connect with consumers in VR is interaction.

“The more you give someone to do inside a VR experience, the more fulfilling they’ll find it and the longer they’ll stay,” Mandelbaum explained. “It’s important to offer many opportunities to try things, click on information and access additional media.”

The app lets users walk through the five areas of the virtual home to browse designs by artists such as Norwegian-born Kim Thome, Amsterdam-based Aldo Bakker, Spanish designer Tomás Alonso and the architect Zaha Hadid.

Once in the VR environment, they’re able to learn about the stories behind each piece, read through descriptions, see the pricing and in some cases, watch videos about its craftsmanship.

Masterpass enables consumers to check out from within the VR experience without having to add payment details.

Kiki Del Valle, senior vice president of commerce for Every Device at MasterCard, told AListDaily that the world of e-commerce is undergoing radical shifts.

“Consumers are leading an increasingly connected, digital lifestyle—where the digital and physical blend seamlessly together,” Del Valle explained. “MasterCard is always looking to make shopping a seamless experience for consumers—whether it is online or in physical stores.”

While VR is still in its early days of consumer adoption, Del Valle said early adopters tend to be pretty tech savvy, which aligns well with the digital leanings of many Masterpass users.

Masterpass is MasterCard’s digital acceptance for roughly 340,000 merchants to enable online and in-app purchases at more than six million merchant locations in approximately 96 countries that accept contactless payments.

“Our goal is not to tell consumers what technology they should use while shopping, but to provide consumers with the choice to shop when they want, how they want in a manner that is as seamless as possible,” Del Valle explained. “We also want to provide our merchants with the ability to accept payments across all technology platforms possible—in-store, in-app, online and in AR and VR.”

With VR, Del Valle believes merchants and brands can shape the story and experience of consumers as they browse, shop and purchase.

“We are looking forward to exploring the limits of VR commerce,” Del Valle added. “Automotive and travel are verticals that seem to lend themselves well to the capabilities of VR.”

Mandelbaum said VR allows car makers to go beyond the current online and mobile offerings of researching a vehicle before making a purchase.

“The experience can be improved for consumers if instead of seeing the car interior and exterior views, they could experience the sensation of driving or hear the design story from the car designer and its performance details from the engineer in VR,” Mandelbaum said.

And it’s not just VR that’s changing the opportunities for brand interactions with consumers. With giant tech companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft all supporting AR, Del Valle said the technology creates a platform to add data and information to the physical world that is personalized, contextual and highly relevant to the task at hand.

“We are exploring opportunities to enhance both VR and AR experiences with Masterpass and other technology from MasterCard,” Del Valle said. “The availability of this technology in devices enables us to integrate payments in commerce platforms where consumers are already engaging.”