‘IT’ Marketing Terrifies With VR And Real Haunted House

IT creeps into theaters this weekend, much to the delight of horror fans and lament of coulrophobia-suffering audiences everywhere.

As the first theatrical version of Stephen King’s classic horror novel, it’s hard to follow the 1990 TV mini series starring Tim Curry. But rather than try to mimic what has already been done, marketing from Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema has fearlessly presented a re-imagined Pennywise the Dancing Clown while staying faithful to the source material.

Unlike many horror films where an interesting villain is pitted against a group of hapless victims, IT follows the story of seven outcast children who call themselves “The Losers Club.” Together, they uncover an ancient mystery and have to stand together to defeat “IT”—an evil force that preys on children.

Featurettes and behind-the-scenes videos introduce these characters to elicit a sense of empathy and relatability for them.

In order to illustrate the world of IT, a virtual reality experience called Float was presented during San Diego Comic-Con. Shown inside a branded school bus, Float transports users to a stormy night where they encounter the infamous Pennywise and venture into the sewers beneath. The experience is now available to everyone on YouTube.

In case computer-generated graphics weren’t scary enough, a replica of Neibolt House—a key location from the story—has been erected on the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles. Guests are divided into groups of seven to match the number of children in “The Losers Club” and guided by “Georgie” through the 5,000-square-foot house. Venturing from room to room, guests can see authentic set props and, of course, expect some jump scares along the way.

The IT Experience: Neibolt House is free to the public (18 and over) and will be open through September 10.

If you’re still wondering whether the sewer will play an important role in the film, there is a free 16-bit game called Enter The Sewer. (So . . . yes.) Users must navigate Georgie’s paper boat around obstacles and collect red balloons for points.

Of course, IT would not be a notorious horror novel without its titular villain. Earlier this summer, a fan art contest was held to encourage creativity from the fans and send a lucky winner to the film’s premiere in either New York or California. Naturally, there were a lot of Pennywise portraits.

An IT art exhibit was displayed at Gallery 1988 in Los Angeles, featuring original works by artists including Jeffrey Everett and Thomas Walker.

To set the mood for the film’s premiere in Sydney, Australia, red balloons were tied to sewage drains around town.

Following its successful female-only screenings of Wonder Woman, the Alamo Draft House is hosting a number of clowns-only screenings for IT.

In IT, an evil force torments the small fictional town of Derry, Maine every 27 years. In a subtle, yet effective nod to the book, New Line Cinema’s IT debuts 27 years after the TV movie (we see what you did there).

Audiences won’t have to wait that long for the sequel, however, as it is already in production.

Andy Serkis Ushers ‘Planet of the Apes’ Brand Into Video Games

Even though the Planet of the Apes brand has been around since 1963, there’s never been a video game—until now.

Andy Serkis, who directed the performance capture of Ninja Theory’s 2007 game Heavenly Sword and 2010’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, in addition to starring in games such as Risen, Volume and Squadron 42, has helped change that. His company, The Imaginarium Studios, has entered the video game industry through a partnership with FoxNext Games and indie developer Imaginati Studios. Their first game, Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier, based on the latest movie franchise—where a sentient chimpanzee named Caesar (voiced by Serkis) leads a growing society of intelligent apes while humans face extinction—launches this fall across PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Andy Serkis, actor, director and The Imaginarium Studios founder. (Image Credit)

“This is very closely linked tonally to the movies,” Serkis told AListDaily. “It’s of the same universe, but it’s a parallel story, so it’s not the same characters as the films. It’s not Caesar and his followers. It’s a separate group of apes who are trying to survive and a separate group of humans who are trying to do the same. Timewise, it’s happening concurrently to the world of the movies between Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, but in a different place, and they’re going through their own versions of what Caesar and his tribe are going through.”

Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is a narrative adventure game that can be played by up to four people. Rather than directly control the on-screen action, the choice-based gameplay allows players to make decisions by voting.

“The team at Imaginati Studios carried the role of this franchise,” Serkis said. “It was a great responsibility to be tasked with and given permission to make the game. They had to really reach that high level, but in their tests, they really proved that the look of it and the feel of it was going to live up to the world of the movies. So, as much as I could, I imparted information and was around for a little while to consult. But on the whole, they’ve run with it creatively, and what they’ve done and achieved is pretty remarkable.”

The game has been created using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 technology. Former Quantic Dreams developer Steve Kniebihly directed the game’s performance capture, which was used to bring both the apes and the humans to life.

“You can get such incredibly detailed, nuanced performances now with Unreal and with performance capture technology,” Serkis explained. “With the marriage of those two, you can really see a phenomenal amount of detail and emotional engagement with the characters and the texturing of all the fur.”

Serkis worked with Martin Alltimes, founder of Imaginati Studios, at the very beginning of the development process three years ago to prove that Unreal could support the quality of performance capture needed to replicate the level of details fans have come to expect in the Apes film franchise. Although he’s not in the game, his early performance capture tests led to the developer’s streaming technology application that brought the game to life.

“When I came back from doing King Kong, I was approached to direct the performance capture for Heavenly Sword for Ninja Theory, and it was the most incredible confluence of ideas and timing because I had come back from there thinking that I really want to further the art and craft of the performance capture technology, and bring actors and writers and directors together to create stuff,” Serkis said. “So, to sort of land in this video game world was amazing. Video games are now getting really good screenwriters to come in and write great scripts and they need great performances. With Heavenly Sword, we treated it exactly like a film shoot. We auditioned lots of actors, not because they had any experience in this world, but because they were great actors.”

The founding of The Imaginarium Studios came from Serkis’ early game development experience. After casting the Heavenly Sword game, he realized that there was nowhere in the UK that he could shoot full-on performance capture, so everyone had to fly to New Zealand to work with Peter Jackson’s visual effects company Weta on their first video game project.

“That’s when I came back and decided that this was an amazing experience, but we really do have to have a UK-based performance capture studio because the cameras were made in Oxford, the software is made in Cambridge, and we had to travel 12,000 miles across the world to make this game,” Serkis said.

Now things have come full circle, with Serkis directly involved in the game development business and he’s putting his movie experience to work. Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier used an extensive casting process was identical to Fox’s films. There was even an Apes bootcamp that Serkis set up, replicating the experience he and the other performance capture actors went through for the big screen adventures to get a better understanding of how apes behave.

“It’s not a million miles away from creating movies,” Serkis explained. “There’s a production process that’s slightly different, but certainly when you’re working with performance capture and actors and all of that, the shoot is identical. Publishing the game is in The Imaginati’s bag, and that’s what we’ve entrusted them to pull off. But in terms of actually bringing this story to the world, it’s the same as creating a movie, as far as I can see.”

Serkis hopes this new game is the beginning of a digital franchise, which is something Telltale Games has been able to do well with Hollywood IP over the years.

“I absolutely adore this franchise because it’s the perfect metaphor for us as human beings,” Serkis said. “Apes are 97 percent genetically the same as us, but that 3 percent difference and how they look so totally different allows us to see ourselves through fresh eyes—through a different prism. I was always blown away by the films, and I love that for each generation—this franchise is now 50 years old since the original 1968 Planet of the Apes movie—they’ve changed the social commentary. They’ve always been really ‘on the money’ about what they’re talking about. This can continue into the world of games, and that’s why this moral choice-based game is such a brilliant 21st century evolution of the storytelling.”

Ayzenberg’s Earned Media Value Index Aims To Make Measuring A Campaign’s ROI Easier

(Editor’s note: AListDaily is the publishing arm of the Ayzenberg Group. To read the updated Ayzenberg Earned Media Value Index report reflecting the rapid changes in social, click here.)

Marketers who have been seeking to understand the performance and value of their social campaigns and get an independent validation of their ROI had—until recently—a relatively limited set of resources to evaluate a campaign’s effectiveness. The Ayzenberg Earned Media Value Index report, first released in March 2016 aimed to deliver an industry-standard rubric for marketers to measure the value of their campaigns against.

A new update to the Ayzenberg Earned Media Value Index, released today, reflects the mercurial nature of the changing media landscape, with newly developed values based on a methodology which incorporates vertical pricing across various industries, predictive modeling from historical data, seasonality (how rates shift during certain times of the year) and also takes into account not just impressions, but a campaign’s influence on consumers.

The Index reflects years of paid buying experience, research and technologies that are capable of identifying cohorts, behaviors, timing and intent, as well as industry-wide feedback to create a continuously-developed resource to indicate a campaign’s real-world success.

The Index is available to brands, agencies and marketers, and is available via download or API. To download the Ayzenberg Earned Media Index, visit ayzenberg.com/emv.

Dunkin’ Donuts Hires New CMO

Burger King and Monster.com have both capitalized on the volatile job market this week, offering support for the newly fired and the upwardly mobile, respectively. The job-searching website released several spots featuring their new mascot, an enormous fuzzy purple monster that kidnaps people from their dead-end jobs and puts them in new ones that they deserve.

Burger King, to promote the way they “fire” (i.e. flame-grill) their burgers, offered a cheeky week-long deal: if you posted on LinkedIn about being fired with the hashtag #WhopperSeverance, they’d send you a severance package uniquely their own.

Let’s take a look at this week’s comings and goings.

Tony Weisman has been brought on by Dunkin’ Donuts as US chief marketing officer, where he will help oversee the brand’s attempts to shift its image from breakfast snacks to a competitor in the coffee beverage market.

“Tony is a highly experienced, much-admired business leader with a proven track record of building global brands. Very importantly, he also has a deep understanding of working with franchised organizations, including Dunkin’ Donuts having led the work on our account at Digitas for the past six years,” said president David Hoffmann.

Previously, Weisman was the North American CEO for DigitasLBI, a global marketing agency network, and before that served at Leo Burnett for 19 years.

Spotify has poached Courtney Holt from Disney, appointing the former executive vice president to the position of vice president and head of Spotify Studios and Video.

Previously, Holt worked as CEO of Disney-subsidiary Maker Studios until 2016, when he shifted roles to executive vice president of media and strategy at Disney proper. Holt is a longtime veteran of the music industry, having held positions at Atlantic Records, A&M Records, MTV Networks and MySpace Music in the past 20 years.

Graydon Carter has announced plans to retire from his position as editor of Vanity Fair, after 25 years in the role. He has yet to reveal any information on who might be replacing him.

His accomplishments as editor of the acclaimed magazine are too many to list here, but he leaves Vanity Fair and its parent company Condé Nast during an era of quickly shrinking advertising revenue and an even more quickly shrinking staff.

21st Century Fox has promoted Peter Rice to president, though he will continue his role as chairman and CEO for Fox Networks Group. In the newly created position, he will oversee both domestic and international subsidiary television channels on matters of strategic planning and business development.

“As part of our ongoing work to evolve and expand the 21CF leadership structure, we’re pleased to name Peter to this newly created position,” said 21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch. “Peter has driven exceptional growth at Fox Networks Group during a time of real transformational change in the business, expanding our audiences and innovating new distribution models, from which the Company, our shareholders and our customers have benefited greatly.”

Rice has only ever worked in the 21st Century Fox conglomerate, beginning his career in the marketing department of the film division before transferring to Fox Broadcasting Company in 2009. During his tenure at Fox Networks Group, Rice was responsible for the expansion of FX into a three-network group, and led the creation of the Digital Consumer Group.’

MGM has announced the re-launch of the long-defunct studio Orion Pictures, selecting John Hegeman as president of the renewed distribution group.

“After working together, we saw first-hand John’s ingenuity in creating disruptive marketing campaigns with limited budgets,” said MGM Motion Pictures president Jonathan Glickman. “He is the ideal executive to lead Orion as he has proven that he can deftly craft strategies for releases, spanning all genres, to reach targeted audiences without the burden of high-cost traditional advertising.”

Most recently Hegeman was president of Blumhouse Tilt, a subsidiary of Blumhouse Productions, where he oversaw marketing for Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn’s horror thriller The Belko Experiment. Before that, he served as CMO for New Regency Productions and president of worldwide marketing for Lionsgate and Artisan Entertainment.

Sean “Diddy” Combs has hired Roma Khanna as CEO of his content creation studio Revolt Media and TV. In the role, Khanna will work to increase the brand’s global presence.

“After decades of building large scale businesses in TV and media, I am excited to have the opportunity to work alongside visionary Sean Combs to get hands-on and redefine content models with a view to building a modern, relevant, global cultural brand,” said Khanna in a press release.

Before her latest appointment, Khanna served as president of the television and digital group of MGM Studios, overseeing the production of several critically acclaimed shows like Fargo, The Handmaid’s Tale and the Teen Wolf reboot. Previously, she was president of NBC Universal’s international networks.

Spotify’s head of video and podcasting operations Tom Calderone departed the company after its initial set of programming never gained traction. Instead, the company will refocus on its most successful playlists like Rap Caviar and Rock This.

Calderone worked at Spotify for more than a year, where he spearheaded the launch of a dozen original video shows, including the electronic dance music mockumentary series “Ultimate/Ultimate.” Previously, he spent eight years as the president of VH1.

Fox Entertainment president David Madden is leaving the company after three years in the position for the role of president of original programming and development at AMC.

Replacing him is longtime 20th Century Fox TV employee Michael Thorn, who will assume responsibility for scripted programming, development and casting. Previously, he was executive vice president of development for the subsidiary studio.

Warner Bros. Entertainment has promoted Adam Presser to international senior vice president. As a part of his expanded responsibilities, Presser will oversee the entertainment giant’s businesses in China, as well as the production of Chinese-language media for the company.

“Adam brings a wealth of experience and expertise to our efforts in China and around the world,” said Warner Bros. executive vice president Reg Harpur. “He’s been invaluable in helping us navigate the Chinese business and regulatory landscape as we launched joint ventures as well as our own in-country operations.

Prior to joining Warner Bros. in 2015, Presser served as senior director at Ticketmaster for the China region, and contributed to one of China’s first co-productions with his current employer, The Painted Veil.

Pharmacy chain Rite Aid announced the departure of its president and CEO Ken Martindale. The company has not announced a replacement, but packaged the news that it is promoting Bryan Everett to the new position of chief operation officer in the same press release.

Martindale, who had been with the company since 2008, will be assuming the new role of CEO of GNC health-supplement stores. Before joining Rite Aid in 2015, Everett worked for Target, Fleming Wholesale and Aldi, overseeing clinic and pharmacy operations.

MGM Resorts International hired Kelly Smith as their latest senior vice president and chief digital officer.

“As a global entertainment brand, with customers at the center of our business, our company’s commitment to digital innovation remains a critical part of our long-term strategy,” said MGM Resorts CMO Lillian Tomovich. “Kelly’s extensive digital expertise and demonstrated skill bridging software, design and emerging technology trends make for a valuable addition to our talented executive team.”

Before his appointment, Smith was vice president of global digital products for Starbucks, where he contributed on the company’s international expansion into the China region.

Roger Adams, chief marketing officer for the insurance and finance company USAA, will be retiring at the end of the year. Filling the role will be Wes Laird.

(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated daily until Friday, September 8. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at editorial@alistdaily.com.)

Job Vacancies 

Director, Marketing Razer USA, Ltd. Irvine, CA
Director of Strategy, Marketing Starbucks Seattle, WA
Director, Marketing Sony Music Entertainment New York, NY
Brand Manager BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment America Inc. Santa Clara, CA
Director, Product Marketing Facebook Menlo Park, CA
Sr. Product Marketing Manager AT&T El Segundo, CA

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

Pet Influencers Promote Brands With Intention

Who knew adorable, furry faces would turn out to be such great spokespeople? Pet influencers (aka “petfluencers”) are teaming up with brands to promote everything from travel to video games.

The allure of these petfluencers is pretty obvious—they’re fun to fuss over and animals can’t help but be authentic. Since they can’t technically speak and most lack opposable thumbs, petfluencers won’t post something that conflicts with a brand partner’s message, either.

Many of the most famous animal celebrities are rescues—adding a rags-to-riches backstory that helps audiences empathize with them.

Tuna, known to his fans as TunaMeltsMyHeart, is a rescue dog with an exaggerated overbite. He now has a book and over two million followers across all his social channels. His sweet face has attracted brand partners such as 1 Hotels, The Body Shop and BarkBox as he and his owner travel across the globe.

“Since Tuna is the epitome of the underdog, most people advocate for him and adore him for his endearing qualities,” says the dog’s official website.

Just like their human counterparts, Petfluencers are in high-demand, have agents and make public appearances.

The New York-based talent agency Dog Agency represents celebrity social media animals and has worked with some of the internet’s most famous petfluencers, including Chloe the Mini Frenchie and Toast, the spaniel with the eternally stuck-out tongue. Agency owner Loni Edwards says that petfluencers outperform humans in terms of likes, comments and posts going viral. They also do more than just sell dog food.

“The majority of the brands we work with are human-facing brands,” Edwards told Forbes.” They span verticals such as travel, fashion, makeup, cleaning products and movie studios amongst others.”

During EA’s 2017 Gamescom press conference, world-famous Pomeranian Jiffpom helped announce the addition of pets to The Sims 4. It wasn’t the little guy’s first foray into video game promotion, either—the well-trained pooch starred in a commercial for EA’s Bejeweled last year.

Menswear Dog, a Shibu Inu named Bodhi, models high-end brands for humans. What started out as a joke post by his owner turned into a canine modeling career that lands photo shoots for Gucci, Levis, Next Menswear and more.

Just as with any influencer partnership, staying authentic means not endorsing products that you wouldn’t use yourself—or in this case, the petfluencer.

Samson, a Golden Retriever and Poodle mix with over 168,000 followers on Instagram, was offered a paid deal with Purina Dog Chow, but his owner declined because he wouldn’t eat the food.

Whether it’s a dog, cat, raccoon, pig or other animal, petfluencers entertain with their antics and by just being themselves. When that animal’s brand aligns with a product or service, any pet can become a marketer’s best friend.

Studying The Growth Of Collegiate Esports

As professional esports continues its explosive growth, even attracting support from traditional sports, another sector has been growing steadily along with it: collegiate esports.

Ever since Robert Morris University first announced its esports program in 2017, more schools are looking to develop programs of their own in order to connect with students, attract new ones and help them build skills that are needed for the future marketplace.

The trend seems to be growing at a phenomenal rate, as Nielsen reported: “50 percent of college-aged esports fans in the US believe esports should be a university/collegiate sport,” in its Q2 2017 Nielsen Esports Fan Insights report.

One of the first sponsors to get into the collegiate esports space is the custom computer maker iBuyPower, which is a major sponsor for both Robert Morris University and University of California Irvine’s esports programs. The company currently supports over 15 university esports programs and is actively looking to develop more.

“We felt that it was a natural progression for us to engage the esports community,” Tyrone Wang, esports marketing manager at iBuyPower, told AListDaily. “Over the years, we’ve partnered with professional esports organizations, tournaments and leagues. When the opportunity came around, we immediately wanted to take a stance and solidify our care for the esports community into burgeoning, collegiate esports programs.”

Wang also said that more sponsors should consider the collegiate esports space because it represents esports in its purest form.

“It’s as grassroots as it gets, where students congregate together and share their passions,” said Wang. “Students creating clubs and hosting amazing events for their peers to enjoy. It is the most selfless form of esports.”

AListDaily spoke to Kurt Melcher from Robert Morris University, Mark Deppe from the University of California Irvine and Dr. Jay O’Toole from Georgia State University—all heads of their respective esports programs—to get a deeper insight into the fast-growing space, how they’re reaching prospective students, and what opportunities there are for brand sponsors.

Robert Morris University

Robert Morris is the first university in the world to offer athletic scholarships for esports, specifically for the game League of Legends. It has since expanded to include six competitive games with a dedicated on-campus esports arena built within the first year. It now has around 80 students participating in the program with the coaching staff recruiting more each year, and the program serves as a foundational template as other universities across North America look to develop esports programs of their own.

Kurt Melcher, executive director of esports at Robert Morris University and Intersport

“I think, as more programs become formalized and scholarships are offered, there are more opportunities for students,” said Kurt Melcher, executive director of esports at Robert Morris University and Intersport, to AListDaily. “I one-hundred percent believe in the value added to university education that athletics can provide, whether that’s through being part of a team in a larger program base, learning communication skills or becoming better at a title and growing as a player. Character-wise, there are key components that athletics can uniquely bring to a student athlete that probably don’t exist anywhere outside a traditional education system.”

Melcher has been at the university for over 15 years as an athletic administrator and loves playing games like League of Legends in his free time. The idea to propose an esports program occurred to him one night after competing against some highly skilled players. He proposed treating esports like any other sport at the school, which led to a close connection between it and the traditional sports program. However, not all schools link the two programs together.

“From all the different programs, I think we see about 40 percent in athletics and 40 percent in some kind of student services, like a high-functioning club that the school decided to formalize with facilities, administration and funding,” said Melcher. “Then we see another subset, which is a smaller percentage, that are in academic programs like at University of Utah. Different schools are taking different approaches on how to establish esports according to what fits their needs the best in deciding where it should live, but to me, the key component is that something gets started.”

Melcher says the school takes a close look at whether the community has adopted a game as an esport before considering it for its program.

“To me, there’s a big difference between video gaming and esports,” explained Melcher. “We don’t put them through the ringer like KPI metrics, but we could have added Overwatch when it came out last year because we knew it would be a big game. But we decided to take a year to see how it forms and looks competitively, and that’s why we’re adding it this fall. We’re out and recruiting for it. Really, it’s just having the finger on the pulse of what is a top-tier title in esports across the ecosystem and mirroring that.”

Although Robert Morris doesn’t work directly with game developers to promote its esports program, Melcher said that they do offer indirect support for growing the collegiate system. For example, Riot has a campus series for League of Legends (uLoL), which broadcasts collegiate tournaments on Twitch and YouTube. However, collegiate esports viewership is nowhere near as popular as the main esports events, so Robert Morris must directly engage with prospective students to get the word out.

“We rely a lot on our coaching staff to have deep ties with the community and to reach into it to create awareness, letting interested students know that there are opportunities here for them,” said Melcher. “From there, they sift through applicants as a traditional coach would do or they would go after a certain player and recruit them by offering a scholarship, presenting the program and offering a tour. It’s not that far outside of traditional athletics recruiting other than there’s no AAU (Amateur Athletics Union) program or organized high school program to search through. So, I think those ties to the community are vital.”

Robert Morris’ esports sponsors include iBuyPower, DXRacer, Asus and SteelSeries—many of whom have pro esports sponsorships.

“I’m interested in seeing what the next level looks like,” said Melcher. “Is there interest from non-endemic sponsors to have a unique opportunity to touch this demographic? As esports grows on the pro side, I have a feeling that those professional sponsorship opportunities will escalate rapidly because of franchise costs. So, there may be a better value add for those non-endemic brands to market to the same people through collegiate esports, although we’re still early as far as comparing eyeballs on product. But I think we’ll get there, and at a much lower entry price.”

University Of California Irvine (UCI)

UCI’s esports program has four pillars focusing on competition, academics and research, community and entertainment,” Mark Deppe, acting director for UCI esports, told AListDaily.

Mark Deppe, acting director for UCI esports

To meet these goals, the school offers scholarship programs for League of Legends and Overwatch and helps its teams compete with jersey support and time in the campus esports arena (which opened last year) for practice competitions. The esports program also ties into academics by partnering with faculty to study video game-related topics, including funding undergraduate research and hosting an esports symposium.

According to Deppe, UCI has one of the most successful college gaming communities around, and its clubs have regular access to the arena for meetings in addition to having a community corner where students can bring in their consoles for social competitions. On the entertainment side, UCI is creating content through live events, tournaments and online videos with an emphasis on streaming and casting this year.

The idea for an esports program at UCI emerged two years ago, when Deppe wrote a strategy paper about Blizzard Entertainment as part of a business school project. Coincidentally, Deppe also came across an article on Facebook that ranked UCI as the top school for gamers in North America—given its top League of Legends club teams—at the same time he was discovering how big esports was becoming and how schools, particularly Robert Morris University, had their own esports programs. Deppe worked with the university administrators to find a cost neutral way of hosting an esports program by partnering with sponsors such as iBuyPower, Oomba, Logitech and Vertagear in addition to generating revenue through the arena.

“Combined with a great computer science program and UCI, it just seemed intuitive that we would be a good school to consider an esports program or scholarship, given that we had so much going for us,” said Deppe. “Also, [there’s] our geographical location in Southern California with a proximity to hardware and software companies that are doing big things in esports.”

UCI’s esports program falls under its student affairs branch, and the university conducted a campus-wide survey to decide which games to include. Unsurprisingly, League of Legends was the top pick and more games, including Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone and Overwatch were added later. Given the school’s close geographical proximity to Blizzard, the developer is often invited to events. But although it has helped to grow collegiate esports, it does not work directly with the university host or promote tournaments.

Word about UCI esports spread quickly, making it easier to approach prospective students. Deppe said that being relevant was an important factor in presenting the esports program.

Image credit: Steve Zylius, UCI

“Our scholarship teams need to do well,” said Deppe. “So far, college esports has gotten a lot of excitement and our program has been featured heavily in the media. So, there’s a large awareness of what our program is and what we offer. We also have a recruitment link on our website where people can opt to give us their contact information and share links to their online gamer profiles. We probably get a couple dozen applications a day, so there’s definitely a broad understanding of our program.”

Deppe also stated that it received PR support from game developers such as Riot helped amplify UCI’s story in addition to the university’s own media events, such as the opening of the esports arena last year. Furthermore, other groups tout UCI when its teams make it to championship matches.

“The times are changing—there’s a lot of interest in video games,” said Deppe, commenting on the fast growth of collegiate esports. “Everybody plays them, whether you’re a mobile gamer or hardcore PC or console gamer. And I think people are transitioning from traditional forms of competition to digital ones. So, I think it’s a recognition that this is how people engage nowadays. Whether you look at it as a way to support student interests or a way to generate school spirit or awareness about your university, I think there are a lot of different reasons people are creating programs. I definitely think that it’s a trend that will continue and will probably speed up.”

Georgia State University (GSU)

Collegiate esports is growing rapidly, as Georgia State University announced its program in August. It’s headed by Dr. Jay O’Toole, assistant professor in managerial sciences, faculty affiliate in the Creative Media Industries Institute and director of university esports at Georgia State University.

Jay O’Toole, director of university esports at Georgia State University

“The main focus for us is meeting students where they already are,” O’Toole told AListDaily. “So many students are interested in esports and game development that we saw this as an opportunity to meet students where their interests lie and help them develop their knowledge, skills and abilities.”

O’Toole said that GSU plans on building an esports practice facility and will be participating in NACE (The National Association of Collegiate Esports) varsity competitions in the fall for League of Legends and Smite, and those team members will receive $1,000 scholarships each to help with their tuition or augment their HOPE scholarships. Additionally, the school will participate in the Georgia Esports League in the free-to-play games Paladins and Brawlhalla. Both Paladins and Smite are made by Georgia-based developer Hi-Rez Studios.

“Georgia State, recognized as one of the nation’s most innovative universities, is now leading the way in esports,” Todd Harris, co-founder and COO of Hi-Rez Studios, told AListDaily. “Schools today are competing to attract, retain and prepare students for STEM-oriented career fields. Esports hits all of the above! For that reason, I expect it is just a matter of time before other Georgia universities follow-up with their own varsity esports programs.”

“There are so many skills that go beyond the competitive gaming component,” said O’Toole. “Broadcasting, coding, marketing and PR, TV production (such as livestreaming) skills. So, we see this not as an opportunity not just to support students who are interested in competitive gaming, but really to help build their knowledge and abilities across the board.”

As part of the Creative Media Industries Institute, O’Toole studied the esports space for quite some time.

“This is not just a popular growth that we see in media,” said O’Toole. “Viewership of esports is surpassing traditional sports like basketball and baseball. [Plus], there’s a need here in Georgia for the exact skills that relate to esports, and it’s a way to connect students with industry folks. We all know that technology changes so quickly that understanding what students need to know and what skills they need to develop—looking forward 10 years—is hard to predict. But we know that if you’re involved in spaces, sectors and industries like esports, these are the skills that they’re going to need.”

GSU’s esports program is being run as a university initiative and has no association with its athletics department, but that may change as it evolves, so long as it remains focused on the growth and development of students.

Students were made aware of the new esports program through a campus-wide email and through information sessions, and the school is asking its students who are already active in esports to help recruit others. The program is bound to get more local attention when the student-run university television station begins broadcasting matches.

GSU is currently looking for program sponsors, and O’Toole sees it as an excellent way for the school to connect with industry partners. Even though Georgia has over 3,000 video game company employees and the industry generates over $278 million in revenue—making it a very robust sector of the state’s economy—sponsorship isn’t necessarily limited to dollars. The school wants sponsors to provide rich learning opportunities for its students. For example, Georgia Esports League competitors have a chance to earn scholarships and internships at local gaming related companies such as Hi-Rez Studios, Tripwire Interactive and Turner Broadcasting.

“Our primary mission is supporting the growth, development and education of our students, preparing them for the future,” said O’Toole. “It’s not enough to say, ‘Here are the skills you need to have. I’m going to teach you all about them and you just learn because I’m telling you to learn.’ We need to engage our students meaningfully, and a big component of getting students into the content that they’re learning is finding their interests—connecting the skills, knowledge and abilities they need to develop to what they’re already interested in. With esports growing so rapidly, this is a great opportunity for colleges to engage their students in something that they’re already interested in and has meaningful connections to professional development and civic engagement.”

As The Marijuana Industry Matures, So Do The Marketing Tactics

At next week’s Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, attendees can mingle with 27,000 of their music-loving brethren, take in sets from Bonnie Raitt, Steve Winwood and the Blind Boys of Alabama and snag special offers from a nearby marijuana dispensary called the Telluride Green Room.

The latter perk comes courtesy of Organa Brands, a fast-growing cannabis company and event sponsor that’s also hosting a photo booth in a 1970s VW bus and open mic sessions with festival artists.

It’s part of co-founder Jeremy Heidl’s strategy of targeting customers when they’re just steps away, logistically speaking, from being able to buy Organa’s vape pens, edibles and other cannabis-infused products.

“We’ve had record weekends from that activation,” Heidl said recently. “It’s good for us to do big concerts here and there because they’re awareness builders, but you don’t want to be six degrees from a (sales) conversion. You want to make it count.”

Heidl is just one of many sharp marketing minds currently on hyperdrive in the cannabis industry, which topped $6.9 billion in legal sales last year, up 34 percent from 2015. He and his competitors (and partners like Telluride Green Room) are borrowing from traditional brands with rewards apps and in-store promotions and even taking a page from luxury marketers with celebrity seeding at Hollywood awards shows.

Netflix, as a stunt to hype its new Kathy Bates pot-centric comedy, Disjointed, launched a dozen strains of marijuana at a West Hollywood, California, dispensary themed to its original series.

The single-weekend pop-up shop at Alternative Herbal Health Services last month moved 27 pounds of marijuana with custom blends that aimed to capture the mood of BoJack Horseman, Lady Dynamite, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return and other hits on the streaming service.

The event, along with being eye-catching and high-profile (no pun intended), is helping to usher in a new era in marijuana marketing, where the stigma has largely faded in the face of legalization in a growing number of states and widespread public acceptance of both medical and recreational use. (A CBS News poll in April found that 61 percent of Americans support legalization).

Variety, one of Hollywood’s trade bibles, published its first special section this spring devoted to the weed business. Called “Legalization and Entertainment,” it featured stories about new investors and groundbreakers (dubbed “ganjapreneurs”), the plethora of scripted and unscripted television projects that hinge on the industry, and companies getting a foot in the door with Hollywood’s elite. (Green Gorilla’s hemp and olive CBD supplements, lip balm and pet care products, for instance, have been tucked into Grammy gift bags and the green rooms of Oscar presenters).

That section contained full-page glossy ads for marijuana brands like Toast, Big Bud and Charlotte’s Web.

Print ads like those have been scarce in the mainstream media, more often appearing in alternative weeklies and magazines like High Times, and television ads are still a pipe dream. Brands instead rely on digital, with social media being “necessary” but often too complicated and fraught with legal pitfalls to offer much return on investment, Heidl said.

As an experiment, some brands are buying billboards and car wraps (Las Vegas and Los Angeles are hotspots) while others are maintaining VIP programs to get their products into influencers’ hands backstage at comedy clubs, on film sets and embedded in pop culture touchstones like Coachella and the Hard music festival. Organa launched a rewards app that has 30,000 active users in Colorado alone, and offers incentives to “bud-tenders,” dispensary employees, for shilling their product line.

No matter the medium, pot marketing has definitely gone upscale, said Cynthia Salarizadeh, CEO of Salar Media Group, who works with a number of cannabis clients and recently released research on some brands’ luxury positioning.

A bespoke approach is more likely to reach “the mindful, mature customer,” she said, including professionals and women, often now referred to as “the Chardonnay mom” and her well-heeled friends. Brands are emphasizing their lifestyle fit and wellness message rather than the industry’s stoner heritage.

Look no further than the packaging itself, Salarizadeh said, which used to be garish and rough around the edges. “There’s a lot more science-based data on the pack, with THC levels and growth information,” she said, noting that some of those stats are legally required. “But in general, it’s much more professional looking.”

And gone are the grimy head shops of yesterday, replaced with sleek, modern spaces often modeled after Apple’s minimalist architecture, which serve as a welcome mat to older, affluent buyers.

MedMen, a management company and investment firm that operates well-appointed dispensaries in several areas, including Los Angeles and New York, holds in-store events that mirror established retail brands.

Patient appreciation days, once a week, bring consumers face-to-face with product sellers for education and sneak peeks into exclusive merchandise, according to MedMen spokesman Daniel Yi.

This kind of outreach is vital in a world where more than 700 brands have debuted in the last year, Yi said, citing a recent Headset study, as opposed to less than 50 introductions in 2015.

“Major retailers like Gelson’s and Whole Foods have been doing these kinds of events for years,” Yi said. “When there’s this much competition, everybody has to up their game.”

‘The Walking Dead’ AR App Stalks Mobile Devices With Mountain Dew Partnership

Fans will have to wait until October 22 for Season Eight of The Walking Dead, but they can hang out with walkers (zombies) right now thanks to a partnership between AMC and Mountain Dew.

The Walking Dead Encounter—an augmented reality app created by Trigger and showcased at San Diego Comic-Con—is now available for download on iOS and Android mobile devices. Users can collect and overlay up to 20 “iconic walkers” from the show onto real-life camera images or videos. Scenes can then be shared on Facebook, Messenger, Twitter and other social media outlets.

AMC’s partnership with Mountain Dew lets users unlock new walkers by scanning specially-marked Mountain Dew products and by tuning in to commercials that air during new episodes of The Walking Dead. The companies created three different spots—featuring basketball, skateboarding and BMX—which will air throughout the first half of The Walking Dead’s season.

Portraits of popular The Walking Dead characters Rick Grimes, Michonne and Daryl Dixon will be featured on all single serve 20- and 12-ounce bottles of Mountain Dew. In addition, the characters will be printed on 12-pack outer cases of Mountain Dew, Diet Mountain Dew and Mountain Dew Pitch Black packaging.

“This is a meaningful first-of-its-kind partnership for The Walking Dead, but most exciting of all is that the fans are at the center of it,” Scott Collins, president of advertising sales for AMC Networks said in a press release. “With our partners at Mountain Dew, we’ve built something that includes extensive visibility for our series, closely aligned with their product, and the augmented reality app merges the real world, the world of the show and a popular beverage in an incredibly powerful and shareable way.”

With The Walking Dead Encounter, users can collect and pose with, but otherwise not interact with, walkers they find. An upcoming AR game, The Walking Dead: Our World by NextGames will allow users to actually fight walkers alongside other players, as well as characters from the show.

Mountain Dew has a long history of partnering with video game and film brands for package marketing, but bringing AR into the mix changes up the usual formula. “We’re bringing together two of the most passionate fan bases in the country,” Chauncey Hamlett, senior director of marketing for Mountain Dew said in a statement.

The Walking Dead‘s Season Eight premiere will be the 100th episode in the series. The series has been the number one show on television for the last five years running among viewers 18-49 and has no shortage of video game tie-ins, from mobile strategy titles to episodic adventures from Telltale Games.

Skybound Entertainment, the entertainment company founded by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, isn’t shy when it comes to adopting new technology for marketing.

“One of the things that we look at is, ‘how do we use the medium for its full benefit?’” David Alpert, CEO of Skybound Entertainment and executive producer of The Walking Dead told AListDaily. “And the thing that VR does is it gives us a sense of presence in a way that you don’t really feel in film and television.”

Editor’s note: Skybound Entertainment is separate from AMC’s partnership with Mountain Dew.

‘Dying Light’ Developer Uses Digital Store To Connect With Audiences

Techland, makers of the popular zombie action game Dying Light, took the bold step of launching its own digital store in July.

Gemly, which is named so because the company treats all its games as gems, competes with digital platforms such as Steam, GOG (which it shares many similarities with), and others but with the benefit of offering exclusive content for Techland-developed games. For example, the store launched alongside Dying Light’s 10-in-12 program, which promises to release 10 free DLC updates across 12 months. Techland will be taking suggestions from the community for its content expansions, demonstrating Gemly’s value as a platform where developers may communicate directly with their audiences.

Jarosław Grabowski, head of digital distribution at Techland

“We want to be an exclusive content hub for Techland games, a source of legitimate digital games from our third-party friends and partners and a community platform,” Jarosław Grabowski, head of digital distribution at Techland, said to AListDaily.

“The exclusive content is already here,” he continued. “We had the Harran Military Rifle, a part of teaser DLC from Dying Light’s 10-in-12 program available exclusively on Gemly, and recently we’ve launched Pure Farming 2018 pre-orders with Gemly Digital Deluxe Edition being the most complete edition available with all regular bonus content plus additional Gemly exclusives. There’s more to come in forthcoming months in terms of new functionalities of the site such as dedicated statistic service for Dying Light. As for the community part, we want to create a friendly environment for both gamers and game creators, making Gemly a throughout digital community and distribution platform.”

Grabowski said that Techland decided to create its own digital storefront because the company valued its community and fans above all else. Gemly serves as a platform where developer can engage with its players, personalize communication and offer exclusive content.

“It was something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” said Grabowski. “With Gemly we want to make ourselves more accessible to our players, both as a developer and as a publisher. We want to enhance their experience with our games, give them exclusive content, the best offers possible and an opportunity to have influence on both. We want to be a bridge between developers and players, constantly listening to their opinions and adjusting our plans accordingly based on what our community and our partners wish us to do.”

Grabowski explained that purchasing games through Gemly means supporting those games and their creators. All the games listed come directly from the developers or trusted partners. Another benefit Gemly offers is guaranteed payment security without hidden fees in addition to the aforementioned exclusive content and closer relationship with the community.

Techland holds its ties with the community in exceptionally high regard, as it continues to release exclusive content for Dying Light.

“With Gemly we can reach our gamers more directly to personalize the communication and offers we bring them,” said Grabowski. “We’re always all ears to their feedback, so we can and will provide exclusive content that they actually want to play. [Gemly] also helps us highlight our own titles better. Having control over selling your own product in a store is always better.”

Techland is using social media, PR and online advertising to get the word out about Gemly, but it’s also relying on word-of-mouth.

“We value every user, and we believe that the mantra of treating all of our gamers as ‘gems’ is the right thing to do,” said Grabowski. “As a brand, we want to be frank, listening to our players in every matter. We believe that this together with the exclusive in-game content and a user and developer friendly policy are good enough reasons to join the club.”

Going Big: Hollywood Is Reviving The Monster Movie Genre

Get ready for ancient beings, goliath beasts and that one guy who has all the answers, because monster movies are back. Armed with modern CGI, big name stars and nostalgia that spans generations, some of the most famous cinematic creatures are taking a romp through today’s box office.

A Monstrous Tradition

For over a century, audiences have been drawn to monsters on film, beginning with The Golem in 1915. It was in 1931 that Universal Pictures began a tradition of frightening, yet relatable, monsters with Dracula and Frankenstein. The Mummy shambled onto screens the following year, continuing what would be a long line of famous film monsters.

Over and over these stories are retold, and while some versions are well-received and others not so much, iconic monster stories stand the test of time like legends shared around an ancient campfire.

With The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, Universal Pictures kicked off its Dark Universe franchise—a series of films that reintroduces and connects many of its most iconic monsters. Egypt’s cursed fiend has appeared in a number of films that have been both terrifying and comical over the years—but never as a woman until now (played by Sophia Boutella).

Director Alex Kurtzman—who produced the popular 1999 Mummy reboot with Brendan Frazier—championed the idea of bringing the classic monster to a present day setting.

“What we are trying to create here is a texture and tone rooted in the Universal horror classic, while having one foot in the modern age,” Kurtzman said in a statement. “This serves as a nod to these classics, while also bringing these monsters to life in a whole new era for a global audience.”

Marketing for the film invited audiences—and NBA stars—into the world of The Mummy through TV spots, VR and 360-degree experiences and a giant sarcophagus in Hollywood.

Despite mixed reviews, The Mummy has earned over $407 million worldwide to date. Now available for digital download, the film could very well surpass its 1999 predecessor in terms of revenue (at $411 million).

Russell Crowe appears in The Mummy as Dr. Jekyll, and other stars have been announced for future films in the series—Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) as The Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men) as Frankenstein’s Monster. Universal’s Dark Universe continues with The Bride of Frankenstein in 2019.

Return Of The Kings

Warner Bros. has partnered with Legendary Pictures to create a connected franchise of its own—the Monsterverse. Unlike Universal’s Dark Universe that focuses largely on the supernatural, Warner Bros. is putting its faith in Kaiju—a film genre that centers on giant monsters, usually in battle with one another as well as the military. Kaiju literally translates to “strange beast” in Japanese.

Godzilla, released in 2014, was the first entry in the Monsterverse—grossing over $200 million worldwide to date. Kong: Skull Island, proved to be a giant hit earlier this year and has grossed over $565 million worldwide.

“Working with our partners at Legendary, we enjoyed tremendous creative and commercial success with Godzilla,” said Kevin Tsujihara, Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros., in a press release. “It’s great to be able to revisit these characters and help create a franchise with so many creative possibilities for filmmakers. Fans love these big, globally iconic films and it doesn’t get any bigger than this.”

King Kong is an icon of American cinema, first introduced in 1933. Godzilla, a Japanese character so beloved that he was made an honorary citizen, has been battling fantastical monsters since 1954. Together, they represent a partnership and friendly rivalry between Eastern and Western audiences.

A sequel to Godzilla titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters is now in production. Featuring the cryptozoological society Monarch from Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla will duke it out with classic Kaiju including Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah.

All three films are ultimately leading up to Kong vs. Godzilla in 2020.

Kaiju are big, so Warner Bros. and Legendary chose marketing campaigns that emphasized just how big Godzilla and Kong are, respectively. Campaigns simulated what it would be like to have the monsters stomp through town with destruction (Godzilla) and gigantic footprints (Kong).

Giant Monsters, Meet Giant Robots

Legendary Pictures seems to have cornered the live-action market for monsters, working alongside Universal Pictures for Pacific Rim and teaming up with Warner Bros. for its Monsterverse series.

Director Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim was set in the near future with Earth at war with Kaiju that emerged from an interdimensional portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Marketing for the film simulated what it would be like to live in a world constantly at war with Kaiju. An interactive website included tests of the “Kaiju Emergency Broadcast System,” news footage from attack sites and information about mankind’s defenders—pilots operating giant robots (aka mechs) called Jaegars.

Perhaps fueled by a growing consumption of anime in the West, audiences really seem to enjoy giant robots battling giant monsters. Pacific Rim grossed $411 million at the worldwide box office and will get a sequel next year, starring Scott Eastwood (Fate of the Furiousand John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Although details about Pacific Rim: Uprising are scarce, the film’s first trailer calls for fans to sign up for the Jaeger program, much like a military recruitment video.

Whether they’re big and scary or back from the dead, monsters intrigue audiences worldwide and will continue to do so for years to come.