Snap Exec: Performance-Based Marketing Needs Human Element

Snap has simmered ever since its intensely anticipated initial public offering earlier this year.

Facebook and Instagram have started rival functions and features, bringing Snap’s user growth and value proposition increasingly into question. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then the camera company should be thrilled. But how does Snap intend to stay ahead of the mounting curve and quell concerns from Wall Street and marketers alike?

For starters, they’re continuing to create unique user experiences and engagement opportunities, which in turn opens new doors to work with advertisers before the competition can. Since Snap unveiled its Maps feature in late June, it’s reportedly enjoyed a 40 percent rise in Stories posts, somewhat stalling Instagram’s onslaught of new user share.

Earlier this month, eMarketer predicted that the platform’s global revenues will only reach $774.1 million this year, down from their March prediction of $900 million. Also contributing to Snap’s declined growth is the slow adoption of Spectacles.

Telling figures that were released from Snap’s Q2 earnings report in August include generating $181.7 million in revenue (compared to the $189 million that was expected) and flaunting more than 173 million daily active users worldwide, two million less than what was originally projected. The public company, however, added four million more daily users in North America and indicated that the average daily user creates more than 20 messages per day.

To get a better understanding of the happenings at Snap and what marketers need to know, AListDaily sat down for an interview with Marni Schapiro, director of sales at Snap.

What kind of conversations are you having with brand marketers amid all the reports? How are you advising them to leverage Snap as a platform?

Brands should know that there’s a highly unduplicated, extremely engaged young audience on Snap that is 13-to-34 years old. People under the age of 25 use Snapchat for 40 minutes on average every day. You won’t find these users in the places you used to find them. You should be engaging them in the way that they talk, in the way that they are with their friends and with their families on Snap. Just be a part of that conversation. It’s not about tricking them into thinking you’re something else. It’s really about engaging with them in a fun way. That’s it.

If you’re not working with us, I would ask you why? What are you scared of? At this stage, if what you’ve been doing isn’t working, why wouldn’t you be looking at trying to do something new? This isn’t just about going out there and asking for your business—we prove value, but the model’s different.

I’m a mother of three. I’m not the demo, and I can’t live without it. I literally can’t live without Snap. My parents can’t live without it now. They engage with my children in a way that they were never able to before, and that’s a no-bullshit answer. Snap is a life-changing way to communicate. I will post a perfect photo of my kids on Instagram, and on Snap my mom is seeing my daughter have a meltdown. It’s my life.

Snap’s dancing hot dog from this past summer was somewhat of an AR star. What kind of an impact will Snap’s use of AR have on the future of marketing?

Oh my god—I think anything is going to be possible. AR is just the beginning. The hot dog was viewed over 1.5 billion times in the app. What is most important is to make it fun and accessible to everybody, and that’s what Snap is trying to do. We’re simply making AR fun and accessible to use. We’re learning as we go, too. I hope that I get to see a world one day where you can do anything that you want with AR, and make it easy, where your camera becomes a tool. That’s what Snap’s shooting toward doing.

Why is location-based marketing a strategy you’re leaning on?

We’re seeing brands really utilize and owning their locations. That means being able to deliver specific geofilters to customers whenever they walk into a store. What’s important for brands is to really be able to engage with their users after a customer has used something of theirs. You can then communicate in a different way.

Even though we say that consumers aren’t going to stores anymore, the fact of the matter is that a ton of people still do. A lot of brands are online-only companies. We work with big brands who have to really figure out how to keep driving in-store sales at the same time as online, website and apps.

I see that as an important yet scary thing for a brand—they have to figure out to not only rely on what used to drive consumers their stores. They have models that will prove it one way or another, so they have to really assess what’s been working, what’s not been working and be ready to change. They have to be ready to do something different in order to get their customers into their store, and be able to engage with them in a fun way.

This isn’t brain surgery. It’s ‘how do you want somebody to engage with your brand and have fun with it so that they buy from you?’

Do you believe legacy brands, whose core consumers sit outside of your main demo, hesitate to use Snap?

I have to be honest, I don’t see anyone scared to work with Snap at all. I think that it’s scary for a marketing director to say to a CMO, ‘Our print isn’t working’ or ‘TV isn’t working’ because a brand may have been doing it for so long. It’s very scary for a marketer to say, ‘What we’re doing isn’t working.’ You just have to test something new and see how it compares. That’s the way that marketers have to do it.

What’s a specific case study that you can point to?

Brands that do it the best are the ones that do everything that makes sense for the goal that they’re trying to accomplish. When a brand comes onto Snap, they really should know what they’re trying to accomplish for a campaign. If they don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish, then it’s really hard to track the success.

But what we see over and over again—Hollister is a great example—is when a brand utilizes multiple products in multiple ways. When they shoot content that’s specific for Snap, it’s usually a pretty good equation and that usually ends up to be successful.

Variation of snapchat ghost personalities

Why did your union with Hollister and its VP of marketing Michael Scheiner turn out to be a good one?

Hollister is an amazing partner of ours because of the mutual trust that we’ve built together. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s something that we take seriously at Snap—that we earn our clients’ trust, and we earn the right to go in there with a big idea, and we earn the right to say ‘sorry if it doesn’t work.’

I hope that everyone feels that they can do the same thing with Snap, with Instagram—with anybody. We have to stop taking ourselves so seriously. Let’s prove our value, let’s have fun doing it and let’s build from there.

What are the holiday marketing trends you’re monitoring this year?

All of the ways that a user can express themselves, and ways that marketers can join in that ability. Is it AR? Is it filters? Is it content? With all of those things combined, I think this holiday you’re going to see more brands take more chances with their creative and content to have more fun.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the advertising and marketing industry?

I’ve worked in advertising for over 20 years ever since I graduated from the University of Georgia. I think that there’s this shift to accountability and creativity. I really believe that marketers need to take chances from a creative perspective and create by platform. They need to stop siloing their marketing plans.

When thinking about a reset and the future, it’s time to get creative and really think about the consumer versus your internal organization. Think about what your customer really wants to engage with, understand what they want and what turns them on versus a headline that you’ll be able to show your boss.

How do you see marketing changing at large over the next few years?

I think the conversation started a while ago with AdWords. All of a sudden media became accountable with more than just a gut feeling. What you have to be able to do is take the idea that we’ve put on performance marketing—like search, Facebook—and figure out how to have a human aspect to that.

There’s still a qualitative result, but everything should be accountable and tracked back to something you’re trying to accomplish. That also forces a brand to have very clear goals. Everyone has to be more accountable. At the end of the day, there’s an evolution occurring. We have to be ready to change, and can’t be scared doing so.

Fear has a lot to do with it—marketers and executives are scared that they’ll get fired, they’re scared that their brand will go out of business. So instead of making change, they’re just frozen, which is even worse.

‘Super Mario Odyssey’ Marketing Reflects Game’s Globetrotting

Super Mario Odyssey is bringing Mario and his new friend Cappy to the Nintendo Switch. First revealed at E3, gamers lost their minds at the thought of possessing other creatures, especially a T-Rex.

In the game, Princess Peach is kidnapped—yet again—and Mario finds an unexpected ally in Cappy, a hat that allows its original wearer to transfer his consciousness into something else. This allows Mario to toss Cappy onto objects, enemies, people and more, thus “capturing” them to overcome obstacles or just have fun. Cappy can also be tossed into the air to aid in special jumps.

Nintendo UK invited fans to “capture” items of their own by offering a cut-out of Cappy and Mario’s signature mustache. Nintendo’s UK’s twitter shared fans’ uploaded Cappy shots with hashtag #CapturedByCappy.

In the game’s theme of Mario embarking on a journey, Nintendo took the famous plumber and his new game on the road. A special tour bus drove from California to New York, stopping at events along the way to offer demos, prizes and photo ops with Mario. The tour culminated in a launch celebration at the Nintendo New York store, where the first 200 attendees could purchase a copy of Super Mario Odyssey.

Mario isn’t the only one who set out on an odyssey. Nintendo game developers Yoshiaki Koizumi and Shinya Takahashi took a globetrotting tour of San Francisco, France, Germany, London and more, bringing their Nintendo Switch and posting photos from the official Nintendo and Super Mario social channels.

If there’s one thing Mario has done a lot of since 1985, it’s jumping, and that tradition continues with Super Mario Odyssey—the title became the second-best-selling game on Amazon for 2017 before it even launched.

Nintendo released a music video called “Jump Up, Super Star!” that earned over 9.2 million views over the span of two weeks. A full version of the song is available for purchase through iTunes, and the lyrics are printed inside each case for Super Mario Odyssey.

Mario’s character spans multiple gaming generations, and Super Mario Odyssey taps into that nostalgia by including homages to some of the classics, such as the first Super Mario Bros. game for NES or Donkey Kong.

“There’s a bit of nostalgia in some of our advertising for those parents that grew up gaming and now want to introduce it to their kids,” Doug Bowser, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Nintendo of America, told AListDaily. “It’s another great catalyst to get them to jump in and start bringing their kids to games. What we love about our properties is that so many of them are family and kid-friendly, and it’s a great place for parents to engage in gaming with their kids.”

For those parents or kids with an iPhone, Super Mario Bros. and 8-bit versions of Super Mario Odyssey characters are available as digital stickers for iMessage to keep the nostalgia conversation going.

One celebrity with a seemingly endless supply of nostalgia for Mario is Jimmy Fallon, The late-night talk show host is known for being a lifelong fan of Nintendo, and enthusiastically debuted the Nintendo Switch on The Tonight Show along with games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and mobile game Super Mario Run. Fallon posted a video of himself playing Super Mario: Odyssey, specifically the New Donk City level, which is inspired by New York City, which earned over 120,000 views on its first day.

All in all, this could be a positive promotional trend for Nintendo, which kicked off when Link saved the “House of Mario” with Breath of the Wild.

Intel, Mandt Execs Discuss VR Livestreaming’s Potential For Brands

Virtual reality technology is impacting practically all forms of entertainment in various ways, including video games, music, film and television. However, the area where the technology may have the biggest impact is with live events such as musical performances, awards shows and sporting events. Users can livestream these events in VR and feel as if they’re there in person, and the virtual nature of the experience opens up numerous opportunities for marketers and advertisers.

Intel has been a strong proponent of VR on multiple fronts, from gaming to sports. The technology company used the first year of its three-year partnership with MLB to test the flexibility of the Intel True VR platform by integrating different components into the fan experience. These include features such as real-time stats, pitcher and batter data, exclusive commentary and additional camera angles that leverage the unique features of each ballpark to deliver an in-stadium feel.

Intel also collaborated with the PGA Tour during the summer and strategically placed VR cameras in the water near the iconic 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass to capture the drama. In September, Intel and the PGA announced that they’d continue the collaboration and expand their VR coverage.

Similarly, Mandt Media (formerly Mandt VR) specializes in creating VR and AR content for partners such as Disney, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL and IndyCar. Founded by Emmy Award-winning producer Neil Mandt, the media company has brought events such as the World Hip Hop Dance Championship finals to VR in partnership with Hip Hop International.

AListDaily sat down with Sandra Lopez, vice president of Intel Sports, and Neil Mandt, CEO and founder of Mandt Media, to discuss the marketing opportunities livestream events have in VR, and the best ways for brands to take advantage of it.

Sandra Lopez, VP of Intel Sports

How would you say VR livestreaming compares to traditional livestreaming?

Lopez: In many ways, a VR sports livestream resembles a traditional sports broadcast. We have broadcasters for play-by-play and color commentary, and users have access to the traditional displays and statistics they’ve known their whole lives. At the same time, however, VR delivers a more immersive experience—whether as supplemental to the traditional viewing experience or as a way to bring the stadium experience to those who can’t be there in person. Short of buying a ticket and attending a game, this is the closest you can come to sitting courtside or on the 50-yard line. VR allows the fan from all parts of the world to feel what it’s like to be on the field or court from the best seat in the house.

Mandt: I look at it in a number of ways, because VR is something in the goggles. When you have it on, you’re having a VR experience. However, while a lot of brands and companies that are doing VR livestreams—a majority of their audience can’t watch them using goggles. They’re watching on mobile phones as a 360-video. So, the opportunity is great, but the brands need to consider what the ultimate distribution is going to be for the content. They need to consider the end user experience. Distribution in VR is complicated right now; the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR and PlayStation VR don’t all talk to each other, but all mobile phones do.

How can brands and events benefit from VR livestreaming?

Lopez: Consumers are demanding more immersive experiences. According to a study by Greenlight VR, 71 percent of consumers agreed that brands that sponsor VR events are forward thinking and modern. Brands that adopt VR will not only continue to be relevant with their target audience, but will also have the opportunity to more deeply engage with their consumers. VR is a tremendously inclusive and immersive experience, and one that enables brands to draw a global audience into an intimate, VIP setting. From product launches, to conferences to big games, consumers care about experiencing important events live, and VR offers a novel way for brands to connect with their existing audience in a personalized setting while reaching a new group of consumers that can’t attend an event in person.

Mandt: You have a bigger pallet to play with. In a 2D world, you would only have that specific view. As a 360-degree piece of content, you have the entire sphere to play with. So, there are opportunities to put your brand’s marker within the content in an organic way that’s non-intrusive, but allows for a continuous viewing throughout the piece. Right out of the gate in VR, a lot of people are using the bottom [floor] to put a plate with the brand logo on it. That may be too much for some people, and they may decide to put it on the side or the back, but you have a bigger sphere to play with just to put your logo. So right there, your brand presence can be in the piece in a softer way.

Neil Mandt, founder and CEO of Mandt VR

What can brands do in VR that can’t be done on a 2D screen?

Mandt: VR offers a periphery that does not exist in the 2D screen we’re used to looking at. The floor beneath you is a new area. It’s not something that you’re used to looking down at in a 2D experience, and a logo at the bottom is less intrusive to your storytelling than it would be behind you or to your side because it’s not in your normal field of view, it’s in your periphery. Putting it there does not affect the story but allows for engagement. It’s also layered on the internet, so it’s clickable using eye gaze to activate it. This is going to become more common as augmented reality takes over.

What would you say is the difference between a live VR experience and pre-recorded ones?

Lopez: Like any live event, a live VR experience is naturally unpredictable and requires a full production team to ensure everything runs smoothly. Pre-recording a VR experience eliminates many of the variables inherent to a live broadcast, but ultimately, the technical quality of the VR experience is the same. The main difference is simple—sports is best consumed live. Highlights look tremendous, but the thrill of a live game can’t be beat.

Is there a difference in how a sporting event should be presented in a VR livestream compared to award shows?

Lopez: Whether you’re broadcasting a game or an awards show, it’s essential to consider the needs of your audience. Games require broadcasters, scoreboards, close-ups, wide-shots and replays. Awards shows have a different set of needs. At its core, the technology is the same, but there’s an artistry in tailoring a broadcast to fit a specific audience. It’s not dissimilar from the basic principles of storytelling—who is your audience, why should they engage with your brand and how can you deliver a compelling experience that is worth their time?

Mandt: Yes, because sporting events are complicated. I know people are excited about sports in VR, and I come from a sports background, so I certainly am too. But the biggest problem with VR is distance to subject. If you’re too far away—beyond 15 feet—it can get soft fast. If you look at that same content on a mobile phone, things get small—quickly. In sports, getting the camera close to the action is inherently difficult, like with baseball. You can’t zoom well in VR. Some cameras can, but the quality isn’t where it needs to be yet. Whereas other sports like IndyCar, the camera can be in the car, so you’re close to the action. As opposed to an awards show, where cameras can be close to the stage. You can place the cameras in an award show where they would be acceptable, wouldn’t be in the way, and give users a sense of presence. Obviously, the biggest difference between VR and 2D livestreaming is presence—where you’re immersed in the experience and have a sense that you’re there.

Blake Rowe, from Intel True VR, jumps in to the water at the 17th hole at the Sawgrass Open to check on the Intel True VR camera. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

What kind of impact does VR livestreaming have on advertising?

Lopez: The advertising industry is super creative, and VR provides the opportunity to further expand upon their creativity. While VR is still in its early stages, the technology represents a new frontier of advertising. These are exciting times—brands and advertisers have the opportunity to work together to deliver immersive media experiences that will more deeply connect with consumers through exciting and personalized experiences.

Mandt: I think we’re in an equivalent time period to 1950s television in every respect. Not only is the storytelling new in VR, but the branding is new. If you go back to 1950s television, you have a lot of things that were wholly sponsored by brands, like the Texaco Star Theatre comedy hour starring Milton Berle. I think you’re going to see a continuation of that in early VR content, where the brand is present in being part of content. Their name will be associated with the content and they will look for content that’s organic to their story. Sometimes it will be branded content and other times not, as far as telling their specific story, but it will have an emotional connection to what they are at all times. I think you’ll see their names on things more in the coming years, similar to what we saw on TV.

How do you think VR livestreams can be further enhanced?

Lopez: Like any relatively new technology, VR experiences will continue to improve over time. Video quality will crystalize, headsets will shrink and as consumers continue to adopt VR, crucial feedback will enhance the user experience.

Mandt: I think we’ll see a combination of VR and AR coming together, where through eye gaze, you’ll trigger content. You’ll look over things like a Coke can, see that it’s triggerable and they’ll be activated. That will be enough for brands—simple looks. I think we’re going to quickly get past the plate on the bottom and you’ll see full-sphere with careful placements of their marks throughout it. I think that’s the way brands are going to do it. They’re going to make sure that the brand organically exists in VR and can be activated if a person looks at it. People will learn about the triggers, and they won’t look at them until they’re ready to commit. So, the whole time they’re watching a show, they’re aware that there’s another experience waiting for them when they’re ready. You’ll see a lot of eye-tracking data, where people will look at whatever the target is multiple times before they agree to engage with it and watch whatever that mystery content is. I think it’s a huge opportunity for brands to be front of mind for people as they’re watching content while not being distracting.

What should brands keep in mind if they’re interested in livestreaming events in VR?

Lopez: The most important thing to keep in mind is the user’s experience. Think—’if I was watching this, what would I want to see and experience?’ and work backward from that point. We’re striving to enhance the fan experience. Take our MLB VR broadcasts, for example—this summer we added our own VR commentators, picture-in-picture overlays, player cards and live stats. It sounds small, but it makes a huge difference for the fan. This technology is improving every day, and we’re excited about where it’s headed.

Mandt: Keep it simple. You don’t want to go crazy and negatively impact the story. You have to think about the way people are used to watching a story. While there is a 360-degree sphere, you have to keep in mind that most people are not in spinning chairs. They’re sitting down and anchored—their brains want to be anchored—so you shouldn’t make them unnecessarily move around. They’re going to use the periphery of VR for an enhanced experience, but the center focus of the story should still be in front of them, and they need to find an organic way for their brand to be activated within the normal sight line of what the viewer is experiencing.

Stranger Things Elevates Messaging; Amazon Music, Ads Advance On Frontrunners

Excitement about the second season of Stranger Things can drive interest in unrelated products, according to a study by Mailjet. Email messages using Stranger Things as a hook drove 74 percent higher engagement in the US, and 10 percent higher in the UK.

The Halloween season in general holds potential for marketers, with emails mentioning the holiday in the subject line enjoying a 68 percent higher engagement rate.

Amazon is set to make a dent in the Google and Facebook duopoly, according to estimates by eMarketer. The online retailer’s ad revenue has increased by 48.2 percent this year, reaching $1.65 billion. Amazon is set to account for 3 percent of all digital ad spending by 2019 due to its faster growth than any other publisher in the sector.

Amazon’s music service is likewise closing gaps between other platforms. A report by MIDiA Research indicates that Amazon is now the third-largest music streaming service, with 16 million users and 10 percent of total market share.

An App Annie report indicates that mobile app revenue and downloads continue to grow, much of it coming from emerging markets like India and Southeast Asia. Combined installs on the iOS App Store and Google Play store increased by 8 percent over Q3 last year, reaching a total revenue of almost $17 billion.

Additionally, time spent using Android apps has increased by 40 percent in the last year, nearly reaching 325 billion total hours for the third quarter.

Digital advertising continues to drive the US ad market’s growth in Q3, according to a report by SMI. Online ad spending grew by 11 percent in the third quarter compared to last year, and 5 percent in September alone. By contrast, television spending fell by 11 percent in the same period.

Splitting the segment further, local TV advertising increased by 14 percent, while national broadcast and local cable dropped by 5 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

Generations Y and Z are purchasing much more luxury goods, a report by Bain & Co. found. The global luxury market is estimated to grow by 5 percent this year, a full 85 percent of which is due to increased millennial spending.

“This power shift between generations, away from the baby boomers toward younger shoppers, means the latter are now the growth engine of the market in every region globally,” said Bain partner Claudia D’Arpizio in an interview with The New York Times

Ad spending on visual social media has exploded in recent months, according to a report by 4C Insights. This quarter, revenue for Snapchat and Instagram rose by 73 percent and 55 percent, respectively, due in part to offline features added to both apps.

Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter saw growth as well—though not as dramatic—at 26 percent, 27 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Despite recent hits to the NFL’s ratings, ad spending is still strong, as new data from Standard Media Index suggests. Total ad revenue for NFL games increased by 2 percent this September over the same month last year, from $504 million to $513 million.

Likewise, the number of ad slots purchased increased by 2 percent, and the price for NFL ads increased by 7 percent. All this comes in the face of 5 percent lower ratings this season, though recent natural disasters have contributed to fewer watchers.

New information from Nielsen has revealed that the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) market has seen minor growth in Q2 2017, reversing last quarter’s $3 billion loss in sales. According to Nielsen analysts, nearly all growth in the sector (up .06 percent this quarter) was driven by e-commerce, which makes up 7 percent of FMCG sales.

“Across total shopping trips, 14 percent of Americans say they consider buying online, which is up from 9 percent in 2015,” Nielsen reported. “Additionally, 33 percent more households are influenced by digital before they visit a physical store for non-food items than in 2015.”

Brand safety concerns are driving an increased interest in direct placement for digital ads, according to a new report by MediaRadar. The total number of brands placing ads programmatically has dropped by 2 percent from last year, with P&G and Unilever making substantially more high-CPM ad buys.

“Everyone is talking about transparency and brand safety,” says Todd Krizelman, CEO & co-founder of MediaRadar, to MediaPost. “In the quest for it, many of the world’s largest advertisers are shifting ad spend, and now spreading it across more than a dozen different media formats.”

More than half of Americans believe that fraud is an unavoidable part of ecommerce, according to a study by Paysafe. Of the 3,000 consumers surveyed, 59 percent agreed that fraud is inevitable, and 58 percent were willing to accept any security measure to protect them from it.

Higher security doesn’t hurt the shopping experience, either. Only 12 percent reported abandoning shopping carts due to delays caused by payment security, and 71 percent are open to stricter processes like two-factor authentication.

Businesses think the opposite: 67 percent say higher security would lead to higher cart abandonment, and 61 percent claim that their customers don’t want higher security.

(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated daily until Friday, October 27.)

Brands Show Cause Marketing Done Right Does Good

It’s no secret that cause marketing (when handled properly) can lead to great dividends, especially among millennial consumers. However, as more and more brands hop on board and embrace corporate social responsibility, it’s clear that just donating money to a cause isn’t enough to raise consumers’ eyebrows anymore.

Brands need to maintain control over their charitable efforts, not only to ensure that they actually help people, but to do so in a way that’s authentic and true to their values.

Disaster Relief

After Hurricane Irma struck Puerto Rico, many brands stepped up to provide support for the afflicted island when other organizations couldn’t.

Tesla jumped quickly to provide relief to Puerto Rico, working with the island’s governor Ricardo Rossello to produce batteries for relief efforts on the island. On October 24, the company revealed a massive solar array providing power to Hospital del Niño, a children’s care facility in San Juan, and promised “many solar+storage projects” to come.

Project Loon balloons provide wireless internet access to areas without proper infrastructure.
A Project Loon balloon waiting for launch

Google’s parent company Alphabet likewise made real efforts to support Puerto Rico’s damaged infrastructure, negotiating with the FCC to allow AT&T and Project Loon—balloon-based internet hotspots—to provide much-needed network access on the island.

“As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible,” the company’s blog post read.

Airbnb has used its home-stay platform to help disaster-displaced evacuees find refuge since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Users can suggest areas needing relief housing to the company and sign up their own homes to help refugees, as many did in the islands surrounding Puerto Rico. Indeed, close to 1,000 people have volunteered free accommodation in Northern California to help those left stranded by wildfires.

Airbnb’s cause support fundamentally changes the functionality of the app, not just helping vacationers but providing vital assistance during disasters.

Making It Part Of The Company Mission

There’s a fine line between authentic cause marketing and canny exploitation of social issues—a line that separates an effective campaign from a PR disaster. The brands that make the best efforts demonstrate long-term commitments to causes that align with specific, concrete brand values.

Photo of a ship trailing a rope tied to orange floaters, a wave crashing in the foreground

Microsoft and Facebook’s partnership on the Marea subsea cable exemplifies this sort of honest cause marketing. Begun in 2016 and completed in late September, the fiber-optic cable spans 4,000 miles between Virginia and Spain and helps future-proof global internet infrastructure.

Beyond just building the cable, Microsoft also promised to continue support for the project as global internet traffic increases and further improvements become necessary.

Sonos has also put its money where its mouth is, launching a multimillion-dollar grant program called Listen Better to combat censorship worldwide. The connected-speaker manufacturer announced $1.5 million in unrestricted grants to six non-profits over the next three years and will open up a free application process in early 2018.

Ubisoft Wants VR To Bridge Film And Video Game Worlds

Chris Early, VP of partnerships and revenue at Ubisoft

Ubisoft is one of the biggest proponents of VR gaming—perhaps more so than almost any other major publisher. With several VR titles that include the fast-paced Eagle Flight, the social game Werewolves Within and the upcoming action-shooter Space Junkies, it seems clear that the publisher is looking to create a wide range of experiences for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR.

The publisher is also using VR to bridge the worlds of film and video games, having helped create the Assassin’s Creed VR experience to promote the movie last year, and to a certain extent with Star Trek: Bridge Crew, which is based on the hit IP.

Ubisoft is currently working with Elijah Wood’s film company SpectreVision to develop Transference—a psychological thriller where players explore the memories of PTSD patients.

AListDaily spoke with Chris Early, VP of partnerships and revenues at Ubisoft, to discuss the company’s interest in the technology and where it might go.

What are Ubisoft’s goals with VR?

Overall, our goal is to provide amazing entertainment experiences for our players. VR is one of those places where we’re interested in figuring out how to do that and what opportunities might exist.

If you’re familiar with Ubisoft’s history, you’ll see that we’re generally early adopters of new technologies for gaming and entertainment. We use that curiosity and creativity to look at new ways we can bring new experiences to our customers.

In the past, we’ve done things with motion gaming, which led to Just Dance. We were convinced that there was more than just Wiimote-style motion gaming. We believe that there are new ways of telling stories and experiencing games.

Our efforts in VR are to that end—providing great experiences for our players.

How does promoting a VR game compare to traditional ones?

One of the challenges with promoting a VR game is that you can’t easily watch the experience. For example, we have Eagle Flight, which is a game where you fly above the city of Paris as an eagle. You can watch a video of that, but it doesn’t convey the full sense of the experience.

So, in many cases, the promotion and sale of a VR game happens when you put a headset on. But because there’s a limited distribution of headsets in the world and not a lot of places to try them out, it’s more of a challenge to promote the game.

Why isn’t Ubisoft linking its VR games with more of its established franchises?

Our focus in the VR space has been to look at what’s fun. A variety of our studios are engaged in trying new game mechanics and what fits with existing game mechanics. So, we do look at a wide variety of things, and Eagle Flight is an example of one of the mechanics we were experimenting with. You know, it’s pretty darn fun to fly around as a bird in VR. So, that went from a tech experiment, to a game pitch, to development and release.

“You know, it’s pretty darn fun to fly around as a bird in VR. So, that went from a tech experiment, to a game pitch, to development and release.”

We’ve also looked at other things, like experimenting with VR with Far Cry 3 (Vaas VR), and that was intense and compelling, but we don’t have that integrated into a game at this point in time.

From our standpoint, we’re not ruling anything out, nor are we saying that that has to be the way that we do it. We’re experimenting and looking at what’s going to be fun. We believe that there’s newness here and we want to be sure we’re not going in with preconceived notions.

A good example is Star Trek: Bridge Crew and Werewolves Within, both of which are highly social games. We’ve learned a lot about social interaction in VR, which is something that we’ve brought back to our regular games. Had we used a traditional approach in gaming, we wouldn’t have ended up with as good of products as we had.

Do you think bringing in IPs like Star Trek is the key to popularizing VR technology?

I think that well-known IPs are a good way to have people instantly recognize what the content might be like in a VR game. With the intense passion and loyalty around the Star Trek franchise, are there people who probably bought VR headsets just so they could play Bridge Crew? I believe that there are. But is it necessary to have that? I don’t think so.

We see good adoption of Eagle Flight because the concept of being able to fly is something people understand. But the further away you get from easily understood concepts, the more a brand can help generate awareness and interest.

Many people see VR as a solitary experience. What is the strategy behind making multiplayer games in VR?

Yes, most people imagine using VR in a dark, isolated environment, but that’s not the way we’ve approached this. We looked at it from the standpoint of what would make the VR experience fun.

Our Red Storm studio in particular is focused on social VR—looking for ways to enhance social dynamics in play—and that’s where both Werewolves Within and Star Trek: Bridge Crew were developed.

People have more fun playing with people. The industry thought that VR was a solitary experience, yet when we look at our usage tracking, we see that the longer play sessions come from when people are playing in multiplayer modes. People enjoy the interaction that takes place in VR at a social level, and I think that’s partly because of the innovations that we’ve brought about that make it easy to communicate in VR along with game-oriented reasons to encourage communication.

People have more fun playing with people.

These are cooperative or conversational games. Eagle Flight has a multiplayer element, the same way any other shooter, because it’s better to take on a real person than a computer. I don’t think VR necessarily makes it more fun, it’s the human interaction that does.

What led to the partnership with SpectreVision to develop Transference?

We have a deep respect for the writing and intensity that SpectreVision brings to the properties it works on. As we think about VR and its possibilities, we saw with the Far Cry 3 experiment that it was possible to have intense emotional experiences in VR—much more than we thought to begin with. That’s what eventually led to a collaboration.

We showed Transference behind closed doors at E3, and the people who went through the experience were genuinely impressed, particularly how it can be unsettling and terrifying without being too graphic. We’ve taken more of a thriller and suspense approach as opposed to gory and gruesome, which I think has broader appeal for folks.

Does Ubisoft have a unifying approach or theme when deciding which VR games to develop?

The theme that ties both our VR and non-VR content together is fun. Ubisoft does not have a portfolio strategy where we say we have to have one type of VR game or any other type of game.

What we do—and do well—is allow our game developers to be creative and come up with the ideas for games they want to make. We find that as a result of that, they’re more passionate about making them. They make better games than if there were a dictate. As a result, we will end up with games that are fun.

We won’t greenlight a game that we don’t think will be entertaining. That could be said for any variety of games, including a space shooter like Space Junkies, a tabletop game like Werewolves Within, or a flying game like Eagle Flight. None of them are tied together through a portfolio or a franchise concept. It’s more that these are fun game mechanics that people enjoy playing.

Eagle Flight has been featured at VR arcades. Does Ubisoft keep location-based experiences in mind with its games?

We’ve done both. In the case of Eagle Flight, it’s something that adapts well to both environments. We also have a VR ride based on the Rabbids franchise, which was developed specifically for location-based entertainment, and uses a motion chair along with a VR headset. You could potentially play Werewolves Within in an arcade, but it’s not designed for a theater-front experience.

Again, we focus not on prescribed solutions, but more on where it’s going to work.

What is Ubisoft’s bar for success when it comes to VR?

I would say that we generally focus on what player’s experiences are. There are several ratings around VR games, so we look at them along with fan commentary and game play [time].

It’s amazing to see that our games have some of the highest amounts of game play of any VR game out there. To us, that’s a good mark of success—when people are in headsets for hours at a time playing games, far exceeding our expectations and industry averages. Apparently, we’ve done something right and people are having a good time.

What do you think is in store for VR and how is Ubisoft helping to shape it?

I think we’re all participating in the future of VR, and nobody knows where it’s going to end up. That’s part of the reason why we’re experimenting with new ways of telling stories and new paradigms in the VR space. There are some things that are much easier in VR, some things that are much more difficult, and we don’t know where it’ll go.

We learned a great deal about in-headset communication, and how to make people more comfortable in fast-motion games. Both Eagle Flight and Space Junkies are fast-motion, and we don’t see anywhere near the same level of discomfort that some people experience in other games.

But from an overall standpoint, as we continue to drive creativity in the VR space, our hope is that we and other publishers continue to produce good products in VR. As time goes on, more people will have headsets and the chance to experience VR, and it will become a strong part of our industry.

Emirates Airlines Brings On Boredom Specialist; Amazon, Apple Hire New Creative Talent

Emirates Airlines has created the position of “boredom specialist,” bringing on Dr. Sandi Mann to reduce the number of complaints by young children about the length of plane trips. The company has also released a special report to assist parents traveling with children keep them happy and entertained.

Amazon’s reality television department has a new executive leader in Heather Schuster, just hours after the previous head of unscripted programming, Conrad Riggs, left the company. Schuster has only been with Amazon since August of this year, after joining the company from Ryan Seacrest Productions.

Jay Hunt will be joining Apple’s Worldwide Video platform as creative director for the European region. She joins Apple after departing Channel 4 in June, having developed, among other series, the first two seasons of Black Mirror before it was acquired by Netflix. Additionally, at BBC One, she led creative teams for both Luther and Sherlock.

Over the next 18 months, Walgreens will close 600 of the close to 2,000 stores it acquired from Rite Aid in September. The affected locations will be now-redundant stores located within a mile of other Walgreens and Rite Aid stores.

GSN has hired Fran Shea to the position of executive vice president of programming and marketing after the recent departure of Amy Introcaso-Davis from the same role. Not only will Shea oversee all GSN productions, she will handle both network branding and messaging as well.

“Fran has an impressive track record of creating phenomenally successful and culturally relevant content,” said GSN CEO Mark Feldman. “Her creative vision and leadership will be critical to GSN as we continue to enhance our programming choices, both original and acquired, to engage our core viewers.”

Before joining GSN, Shea served at E!, where she briefly led the company as interim president.

Mike Hopkins, formerly the CEO of Hulu, has joined Sony Pictures Television. Replacing him will be Randy Freer, former Fox Networks Group president and current Hulu chief operating officer.

“Mike is a proven and innovative leader who has played a key role in redefining today’s television landscape, both for consumers and for how content producers reach them,” said Tony Vinciquerra, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO.

Hopkins led the streaming service’s expansion into live programming earlier this year, and spearheaded efforts to grow the company’s slate of original programming. Before joining Hulu, he worked at Fox Networks as president of distribution.

LeeAnne Stables is leaving Paramount Pictures, where she served as president of worldwide marketing partnerships, to better care for her aging mother.

“LeeAnne is an industry trailblazer and tireless deal maker that has delivered amazing marketing value to our Paramount films over the years,” said Megan Colligan, Paramount’s president of worldwide distribution and marketing. “We respect her choice to leave at the end of the year, but our team will truly miss her talent, leadership and wit.”

Stables worked at Paramount for 12 years, heading marketing campaigns for five Transformers movies, three Star Treks and three Mission Impossible sequels. Additionally, she served at General Motors, where she was instrumental in the car manufacturer’s many partnerships with major film franchises.

After the sudden departure of Airbnb China’s vice president Hong Ge, co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk will be taking over operations in the region. Ge resigned from his position just months after his hiring, with little information given as to the reason.

“China is Airbnb’s fastest growing domestic market ever as well as our second fastest growing outbound travel market ever,” said the company in a statement.

Blecharczyk’s new title will be chairman of Airbnb China, though he will not be relocating to the region.

Ford Motor Company will undergo major global leadership reorganization, promoting Kumar Galhotra to chief marketing officer of the company. Both Stephen Odell, executive vice president of global marketing, and Bennie Fowler, group vice president of quality and new model launch, will be retiring.

“As we develop our strategy to become the most trusted mobility company, designing smart vehicles for a smart world, we will continue to reshape the organization to deliver the most value for our customers and all of our stakeholders,” said Jim Hackett, president and CEO of Ford. “The changes we are announcing today will further align resources and improve efficiencies throughout our global markets and operations.”

Coca-Cola North America president J. Alexander Douglas Jr. has announced his retirement. He will be succeeded by James Dinkins, current president of the Minute Maid business unit and chief retail sales officer for CCNA.

“Douglas has done a tremendous job of leading CCNA to a strong position,” said James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s president and CEO. “Dinkins is a highly experienced, respected executive who will lead Coca-Cola North America as it continues to evolve and grow.”

Dinkins has been with The Coca-Cola Company for 26 years, holding senior roles in the 7-Eleven global customer and national retail sales team.

Pharmaceutical giant Merck will lay off 1,800 sales representatives in the near future, but will create a “chronic care” sales team of almost 1,000 members to promote its top-selling drugs. According to The Wall Street Journal, Merck claims the move is a reorganization measure to reduce costs and shift focus to drugs showing more potential for growth.

Caesars Entertainment announced the hire of Chris Holdren as their new chief marketing officer, where he will focus on advancing the company’s Total Rewards loyalty network.

“Chris has broad marketing experience overseeing one of the best-known and most successful loyalty programs in the hospitality industry, as well as leading analytics, digital and partnerships,” said Mark Frissora, CEO of Caesars. “His experience will complement our efforts to further cement Caesars Entertainment’s marketing leadership in the gaming and hospitality space.”

Before joining the casino conglomerate, Holdren worked at Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and The Walt Disney Company, contributing to the loyalty programs of both brands.

Kevin Shelby has joined Orion Pictures as its senior vice president of marketing and distribution, shortly after the studio hired Kevin Wilson as executive vice president of distribution.

Prior to Orion, Shelby held the role of senior vice president of marketing at BH Tilt, overseeing planning and distribution of films such as The Green Inferno and Lowriders. Before BH Tilt, Shelby worked at New Line Cinema as senior vice president of theatrical marketing.

Jerry Storch, CEO of Hudson’s Bay Company, will be stepping down from his position on November 1, after activist investor Land & Buildings pressured the company into selling several of its properties. Taking over is Richard Baker, governor and former CEO of Hudson’s Bay, on an interim basis while the company searches for a permanent replacement.

“The Board and I are grateful for Jerry’s contributions over the past three years, including enhancing our all-channel strategies, recruiting key talent, leading our cost-cutting efforts and working to address the challenges for our banners in the fast-evolving retail environment,” said Baker.

Moonpig has hired Andre Rickerby as their latest CMO, shortly after a major rebranding campaign. Rickerby joins the company fro Etsy, where he served as its vice president of global marketing for four years.

(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated daily until Friday, October 27. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at

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Theme Parks Market Halloween-Craving Consumers By Creating Communities

When it comes to the Halloween season, spook-starved inhabitants apparently have an uncontrollable appetite that constantly needs to be satiated.

The National Retail Federation forecasts that 179 million Americans will spend a new high of $9.1 billion for Halloween-related festivities across all purchasing categories this year, an increase of $700 million from the previous record set last year.

As the horror-themed holiday season keeps bleeding more into September, theme parks continue to shape fright-filled experiences, from securing exclusive IP to having one-to-one dialogue with the community, to capitalize on revenue streams for the fertile market.

The big four—Disney, Cedar Fair, Six Flags and Universal Studios—all have their own branded variation of Halloween-themed attractions as soon as the leaves begin to fall each autumn.

Six Flags is celebrating by startling horror fans across its theme parks with Fright Fest for the twenty-fifth consecutive year this season with properties like Suicide Squad and a variety of other attractions, mazes and even a night club.

James Geiser, vice president of marketing and sales for Six Flags, says Halloween has become such a huge event and cause for celebration that it’s grown from a single day at the end of October to some retailers launching campaigns immediately after Labor Day.

“Since Six Flags owns the biggest, scalable event across North America, and we’re able to deliver co-branded marketing programs with huge brands like Coca-Cola and Mars,” Geiser told AListDaily. “We provide brands who might have a Halloween specific campaign the opportunity to reach the family audience through sampling, and we also work with brands targeting consumers who are 18-and-over by creating custom content across our Nielsen-measured digital network. All of these touchpoints drive awareness and engagement throughout the run of Fright Fest.”

Six Flags, who reported $580 million revenue for the recent quarter, an increase of $23 million to the same period last year, looks for the best brand fit based on common strategies and goals. For Coca-Cola, the Snickers-sponsored Fright Fest partnership made perfect sense, Geiser said.

“Coca-Cola’s goal is to connect with teens in an authentic and engaging manner. Those teens are fans of our brand and Fright Fest in particular,” he said. “From there, we look for common space to activate the brands and promote the in-park experience. It’s really a win-win all around.”

To retool their storytelling and marketing strategy each year, Geiser said the Six Flags creative teams work on content both from an entertainment perspective and on the communications front, looking at current events, along with trending topics and interests to build unique concepts and experiences. One creep area the theme park is capitalizing on is the current captivation for clowns as well as featuring scareactors in advertising.

“Six Flags owns the thrill space for theme parks, and Fright Fest provides the perfect opportunity to scare people in a fun and thrilling kind-of-way,” Geiser said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously and we encourage our creative teams to have fun with this event. Great ideas come from everywhere, including our guests and employees. We keep it fresh by updating the scare factor every year. Research has told us our guests want it scary, so we plan to over-deliver on that front.”

As for the actual marketing of Fright Fest, Geiser said Six Flags continues to see social media playing a key role in driving awareness and demand. The media teams are focused on Instagram and Facebook to drive campaigns.

“While the platforms themselves are not new, the way we’re using them is,” Geiser said. “We’re developing our ads to feature social content using tailored creative for the platform. We want to startle people as they’re scrolling across their news feed. In addition, we’re using data better than ever to prospect for new guests and connect with existing ones.”

Another theme park leveraging a strong social media strategy is Universal Studios.

John Murdy, creative director of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood, has year-long, one-on-one conversations with consumers by personally running the Halloween Horror Nights Twitter account. His tone and approach on the platform includes building relationships by sharing behind-the-scenes content and insight into how the event is created.

“Our fan base is not shy. They like to suggest properties we should be doing. Halloween Horror Nights is super important to our fans—more than you would ever think,” Murdy told AListDaily. “Their passions fuels us. Horror is cyclical and goes through phases, so I solicit their opinion and ask them what they’d like to see to stay one step ahead. A lot of times, we get a temperature check on the brand just by the reaction we see on social and their desire to see certain things. That very much informs what we do. There are several properties that we’re in negotiations now for the future that we can very much attribute to the fan base.”

Murdy says the Twitter community literally demanded he look into Insidious. The back-and-forth dialogue made him realize how much the community cared about the property. Coincidentally, contemporary horror films producer Jason Blum wanted to work with Murdy and Universal too, and so the journey started. This year they gave birth to “The Horrors of Blumhouse,” mazes inspired by the The Purge franchise, Sinister movies and the recently released Happy Death Day.

“Our vision for this event since day one is that we’re going to work with the biggest brands in the world of horror—and we’re going to create living horror movies that are coming after you,” Murdy said. “Being the studio that invented the horror movie, we’ve been true to that brand.”

Blum pitched the idea of a compilation maze based on his films and then left the rest to Murdy and his team at Universal to decide what that iteration and inspiration should be. Both Murdy and Blum came to the agreement that mazes serve as the best form of marketing for a moviemaker because consumers get to the live through the films first hand.

“From a movie or TV marketer’s perspective, you’ve got a massive number of people from the same demographic that you’re trying to reach—and you can touch them all at the park with a physical and visceral experience through a maze,” Murdy said. “In my mind, it’s the best possible way to promote a property and get people excited about it. That’s pretty exciting for our fans, because the mazes turn into the ultimate live-action trailer for the movies.”

Insidious does not hit theaters until January, and Happy Death Day was released in the middle of Halloween Horror Nights, so fans are getting a chance to live through the experiences before potentially seeing it on screen. Universal has also experimented with other interest areas like the Black Sabbath rock and roll maze in 2013. Murdy said that the filmmakers he works with are naturally horror buffs themselves and for the most part, frequent Halloween Horror Nights each year.

“We get in on the ground level with the moviemakers,” Murdy said. “I’m reading scripts at the early stages practically before everyone. We have a comfort level between us because it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. We get great content for our event and they get an audience excited about a property. When we start the design and publicity process we always approach it as year one. We don’t ever get to a place where we’re comfortable and say ‘we got this.’ It’s always about being hungry and taking it to the next level no matter how successful the event has been before.”

Rovio’s Iron Maiden Fandom Begets ‘Angry Birds’ Partnership

Angry Birds Evolution is hosting a head-banging Halloween thanks to a partnership between game developer Rovio and metal band Iron Maiden. The two-week celebration transforms Bird Island into a battleground that pays homage to Iron Maiden, its mascot Eddie the Head and the heavy metal universe as a whole.

Angry Birds Evolution is a game built for an older audience with tons of interesting pop culture references, really crazy looking birds and sometimes even with somewhat dark humor,” Miika Tams, vice president of games and product lead for Angry Birds Evolution told AListDaily. “The game’s version of Bird Island can contain pretty much anything—we always aim to surprise the audience with something that they would not be expecting to see. Obviously, [including] Eddie the Head and Iron Maiden is a great example of telling an unexpected story.”

Through November 1, Eddie the Bird—an avian version of Eddie the Head—is a collectible character in the game, and his four evolutions represent four different album covers from Iron Maiden. Players who successfully recruit Eddie the Bird to their team during the Halloween event will get to keep him forever.

The team at Rovio are fans of the band, and Iron Maiden’s many album covers provided no shortage of inspiration from demons to Egyptian pharaohs. Tams told AListDaily that they wanted to pay attention to every detail when translating Iron Maiden’s aesthetic to the game.

“It is actually quite surprising how well Eddie fits the Halloween version of the game,” said Tams. “Evolution´s Halloween and Eddie [may sound] very surprising and somewhat strange, but when you see the game, it is actually very natural fit.”

Angry Birds Evolution may be one of many spin-offs in the popular franchise, but teaming up with Iron Maiden represents new territory for the Finnish developer.

“This is the first time Rovio has partnered with Iron Maiden and Eddie the Head,” explained Tams. “This is also the first time Iron Maiden has partnered with a mobile gaming brand, the first time Iron Maiden has allowed a partner to use their typography and the first time Rovio has changed the typography of Angry Birds to a partner’s font. A lot of firsts.”

Rovio is finding “birds of a feather” with musicians across the world and has partnered with artists like Shakira and De La Soul in the past.

Iron Maiden has its own official mobile RPG game called Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast that will incorporate Eddie the Bird sometime next year. The free game puts players in the role of Eddie in one of his many forms to create teams and battle through multiple worlds with turn-based combat. The band declined to comment for this article.

Rovio will be offering exclusive Eddie the Bird merchandise to fans throughout the event, although Rovio was unable to share details at this time.

“The team is a big fan of Iron Maiden, and we are super excited about how well Eddie the Head fits in Angry Birds Evolution,” said Tams. “Even Iron Maiden’s music fits very well with the game. This truly is the most metal Halloween campaign ever.”

‘Raw Data’ Creator: Promoting VR Takes Spectacle

James Iliff, co-founder and chief creative officer at Survios

Raw Data is regarded by many as the ultimate sci-fi VR action experience. Players must infiltrate the company Eden Corp to uncover its dark secrets while fending off waves of robotic attackers. Players choose from a variety of characters, each equipped with different weapons and abilities, and they can either play alone or alongside friends in the two-player cooperative campaign or the team-based competitive multiplayer mode.

Developed by Survios, the game launched for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR in October. Many see Raw Data as a flagship title, given how it helped set some of the standards for VR gameplay that we see today, such as blending teleportation with a movement animation like dashing so players aren’t taken out of the experience. That’s one of the reasons why it’s a featured experience at arcades like the IMAX VR Centre.

“We feel that VR is much better as a shared experience,” Survios co-founder and chief creative officer James Iliff told AListDaily. “We saw how lots of people in the early days were complaining about how VR could feel isolating and how putting on a headset was like putting on a blindfold. We realized that having a multiplayer experience made things better because that’s how human bonds are formed—having a shared goal that you can work together to achieve.”

Iliff, who was joined by Survios senior product marketing manager Hunter Kitagawa, discussed how VR built relationships in ways that weren’t possible in traditional games, where the primary means of communications are either through text chat or voice. Players lose the “carnal vessel,” otherwise known as the ability communicate using body language and facial expressions. VR gives players that connection using in-game avatars.

“We realized that the most engaging, engrossing and exciting form of experience you can have in VR is with a game,” said Iliff. “People like to play together, and play is a desirable and honorable goal in and of itself because we don’t see it—or any form of entertainment—as a form of escapism. In fact, we’re trying to enhance and expand lives.”

Engaging The Community

Kitagawa said that Survios has been active in the gaming and VR communities to promote Raw Data.

“There are a ton of VR meet-ups and conferences that we attend to showcase our product,” said Kitagawa. “Unlike most other games, the challenge for VR is that you have to try it to fully understand it. So, experiential and event-based marketing is extremely important for us. Getting this out to the public has been one of our top priorities.”

Hunter Kitagawa, senior product marketing manager at Survios

Outside of gaming, there are lifestyle events like SXSW and tech events, and in addition to those, Survios has been engaging with communities online, particularly on Reddit.

“One of the great things about the VR community is that it’s extremely passionate and optimistic,” Kitagawa explained. “They want to engage and feel like they’re part of the development of the game.”

The developer connects with its community through regular livestreams and Discord. Iliff went so far as to describe the community as an extension of the team, given how dedicated it is at helping to improve and promote the game.

“It feels like there’s a larger team out there that has our back and we’re sharing in the creation of this experience,” said Iliff. “They’re just as much product owners as we are.”

“These are the people who are completely buying into the dream of VR, and they need ammunition,” Kitagawa added. “They need great games, great experiences and great developers. So, we try to give as many opportunities for our community to go out and evangelize as possible.”

Survios is being ambitious with its growth strategy, going beyond the game to build a franchise. This includes Raw Data comic books and developing a video series. The company also has an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) campaign in effect, where Eden Corp has its own websites to draw fans deeper into the world of Raw Data.

“We try to put out as many dimensions of our universe as possible for our fans to get lost in, talk about and share with their friends,” said Iliff. “Building out that franchise is a big aspect of getting the word out. Having that attention to detail to a product and expanding it outside the game so that it feels more like a universe gets people excited about it on a deeper level.”

Iliff also said that the company will be looking for more franchising opportunities and cross promotions as its portfolio grows. In addition to developing its own games, Survios also publishes games from other developers in digital stores and in arcades across the globe. All of it is building the company up as a major digital enterprise.

Making A Spectacle

Although conveying VR on 2D platforms such as Twitch, YouTube and Facebook can be challenging, Kitagawa said that mixed reality is going a long way toward getting the message across. With mixed reality, influencers can place themselves inside of a virtual world and viewers can watch them and go through it in real-time. It connects the physical and virtual worlds and it could prove to be a major hardware driver.

“When non-VR users see that, things suddenly start to click for them,” said Iliff. “They realize that it’s more than just a traditional game—it’s a new generation of experience that they haven’t had yet. It primes them for seeking out the experience for themselves in stores or arcades.”

The chief strategy for Survios has been to get as much exposure as possible at events. Kitagawa recounted a time when VR demonstrations were held privately behind closed doors, bringing that aura of mystery and exclusivity that works well for traditional game and technology marketing.

“Our philosophy has always been to be inclusive and make it available to everybody,” said Kitagawa. “So, our strategy has always been around the idea of spectacle. How do we create spectacle in a public setting? We don’t want to hide the players. We want to elevate them.”

Iliff added that at events, Survios is always looking to show its content on stage, with screens on every wall, while a broadcaster talks about an ongoing competition on a loudspeaker.

“It draws a crowd and gets you excited,” said Iliff. “There’s nothing to hide and there are no secrets. That much flies in the face of what you would traditionally see at conferences such as CES, E3 or GDC, where there are big billboards on the outside but it’s actually kind of like a dungeon on the inside. We’re trying to turn that on its head and showcase everything all at once in a big spectacle, so people get excited about it.”

Making Friends

Attending events and making a big spectacle is great, but you have to get there first. Iliff said that Survios wouldn’t be as well positioned as it is today if it weren’t for partners and sponsors such as AMD and Alienware, which hosted an afterparty when Raw Data was announced in January 2016. Afterward, hardware companies such as Nvidia and Intel brought Raw Data to major conventions like GDC and PAX by integrating the game into their booth spaces.

“Getting that love and excitement from partners has been a huge boon for companies like Survios in getting products in front of more eyeballs in addition to getting a legitimacy boost from these big corporate brands,” said Iliff. “They’re putting their stamp of approval on it.”

There’s a second important support structure that complements that seal of approval from large companies, and that’s other VR game developers. For example, Kitagawa talked about an ongoing social campaign called “FreeKeyFriday,” where Survios challenged someone to play a competing game for the chance to win a Raw Data key. Then the following week, that game developer would do the same in reverse.

“We’re marrying our communities together and growing those ties,” said Kitagawa. “It’s extremely collaborative.”

Past events have included games such as Arizona Sunshine, Rec Room and The Brookhaven Experiment.

“We cross-promote with these other VR developers and we’re bringing conversions to each other while growing the community at large,” said Iliff. “It’s a scenario of ‘a rising tides raises all boats’ because we all know that we’re all in this together and we’re all believers in this technology. So, we have to support each other.”

But this cross-promotional effort goes beyond mingling different VR game communities. According to Iliff, it creates a platform for social discovery.

“Once people become VR users, they become more dedicated to it,” said Iliff. “That means, all of sudden they hop on social media and Reddit and they’re getting a whole interwoven web of discovery where all the VR developers are talking about each other’s innovations. They’re able to discover new products faster that way, and we think that’s growing the market in a healthier way than if everyone was closed off and focused only on themselves. People want to help each other right now because they want VR to succeed.”

Understanding The VR Space

Survios remains optimistic about the future of VR, despite how the technology is currently in the “trough of disillusionment” part of the hype curve. In fact, both Iliff and Kitagawa say that they’ve observed significant growth in VR within the gaming sector, with more enthusiasts looking to pick up the next high-tech gadget, more VR arcades popping up all over the world and leaders in the industry like Bethesda committing to VR.

Iliff believes that confusion among consumers may be coloring the perception of VR. That is, low-cost solutions such as the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard provide largely passive experiences like 360-degree videos, which are just one step up from watching them on a 2D screen. Although the low cost will attract many users, they don’t necessarily promote understanding for the deep, active experiences games like Raw Data provide on premium (and significantly more expensive) headsets.

“Active VR is where our heart is,” said Iliff, explaining how more advanced and compelling content will drive acceptance of the technology. “We put user experience above everything else. Having the best experience is going to be what drives technology and content forward.”

Hardware improvements such as becoming untethered and having a more comfortable, attractive form factor will also go a long way towards mass consumer adoption. But ultimately, it may be the VR arcades that will be most people’s first point of contact for premium VR.

“Arcades have been a big focus for our business,” said Kitagawa.

Survios observed how at events, users who take the headset off frequently want to know how they can have the experience at home. With this in mind, the developer adapted Raw Data to fit the arcade setting, complete with the call-out to pick up the full game at the end.

“Had we known that VR arcades were going to be so big, we would have built Raw Data from the ground up to function in retail and arcades,” said Kitagawa.

“That’s the best way to market,” Iliff added. “If people are already voluntarily playing your game in a public location, that’s the best way to convert them.”