Facebook Expands Support For Donations, Nonprofits

If Facebook’s advertising principles were just vague gestures at what it hopes people want to hear, the results from the second Facebook Social Good forum mark genuine efforts to “put people first” and support cause marketing efforts.

Naomi Gleit, Facebook’s vice president of social good, has revealed a list of concrete policies to help organizations, communities and individuals, including a $50 million donation fund, removal of fees for nonprofits and feature support for charitable groups.

New Charity Features

Facebook now offers nonprofit organizations several new features, applicable to efforts from fundraising to support services.

The simplest feature is a new API that allows charities to sync outside fundraisers, allowing them to receive donations directly from Facebook in addition to other platforms. The feature will be available to 500 nonprofit organizations by Spring 2018.


Facebook is also partnering with organizations like the Red Cross and NetHope on its Community Help service launched earlier this year. Now, these groups will get access to help requests by the Facebook community, providing them with more information in the case of a disaster or crisis.

“This data will help organizations coordinate information and response resources as fast as possible,” said Gleit.

In a similar vein, Facebook is now launching a mentorship service to connect nonprofits with people in need.

“Our goal is to expand these tools to help connect people around a variety of causes like addiction recovery, career advancement and other areas where having someone you can count on for support can make all the difference,” said Gleit.

Social Good Updates

Facebook is also updating several of its existing social good features, starting with the elimination of nonprofit fees. The social media giant will no longer skim some off the top from user donations, allowing 100 percent of funds to funnel to the respective charity.

The site’s blood donation feature, first launched in India this September, is expanding to Bangladesh, allowing non-profits to notify nearby donors when they create blood drives.

Lastly, Facebook is expanding support for nonprofit and personal fundraisers to Canada, Austrailia, Europe and New Zealand.

These changes, in addition to marking real efforts by Facebook itself to support social good, allow companies to more easily host donation campaigns and other cause marketing efforts.

“We are constantly inspired by all the good that people do on Facebook and are committed to continuing to build tools that help communities do more good together,” said Gleit.

HP Brand Sees Promise In Franchise Model For Esports

Josh Kocurek, global marketing manager for gaming and esports at HP

Next year will see an unprecedented shift in the business of esports, as both Riot Games and Activision Blizzard will shift to a franchise model inspired by traditional sports.

Riot has awarded ten North American teams a franchise, establishing a solid structure to build around. Meanwhile, Blizzard is taking things a step further by introducing a dozen city-based franchises for the inaugural Overwatch League, which commences Jan. 10, 2018.

Both of these moves, which could be a harbinger of more shifts in the esports ecosystem, open up new opportunities for brands such as HP. Omen by HP is the official PC and display brand for the new Overwatch League, the result of a multi-year sponsorship deal, and the company most recently worked with Blizzard on the recent Overwatch World Cup.

Josh Kocurek, global marketing manager for gaming and esports at HP, feels the franchising of esports is the best thing that could happen.

“From a sponsorship standpoint, one of the biggest pain points in esports has been the long-term stability of the teams and players involved,” Kocurek told AListDaily. “With relegations and not having a solid infrastructure inside these leagues, you never knew who was going to be around tomorrow, and it was difficult to place bets and form strong relationships with everyone involved.”

Now that Riot and Activision Blizzard have put a stake in the ground, Kocurek sees this infrastructure focusing on player longevity.

League and Overwatch will both get better and bigger as time goes on,” Kocurek said. “It’s a safe, comfortable place for big brands to come in and commit to esports with a long-term vision, instead of only planning things year-to-year.”

Kocurek spearheaded HP’s esports game plan for over a year, and he’s seen the marketing initiatives pay off with establishing the Omen brand.

“Since I decided to make this big shift and lean on esports for our approach, we’ve seen growth of awareness of Omen and what we’re here to do with the gaming audience,” Kocurek said. “That’s reflected all the way down to sales and the growth of our market share in key countries.”

HP recently launched its OMEN X gaming laptop, which has been integrated into the Blizzard marketing campaigns. Kocurek said OMEN by HP marketing is targeting gaming enthusiasts, esports athletes and competitive gamers, which ties in nicely with the Overwatch League.

Kocurek believes Blizzard’s decision to utilize Disney/Pixar style graphics makes the game more inviting to both gamers and spectators. To date, over the game has over 35 million players. The Teen rating also allows for more global marketing push, as Blizzard recently flooded the airwaves with commercials promoting a free gameplay weekend.

Having worked with Blizzard on the Overwatch World Cup, HP confirmed that Blizzard has a vast international audience. Therefore, all marketing initiatives for the brand need to activate on a global scale.

“When we do deals and partnerships like those on the size and scale of Overwatch League, it’s crucial for that partnership to work around the world,” Kocurek said.

Blizzard has structured its Overwatch League to have teams in cities across the US, as well as in Shanghai and Seoul. But the international appeal for brands goes beyond those cities. Having a dozen teams spread across the US and Asia also opens up a regional layer for brands to market products directly to local audiences—something that’s a staple in traditional sports.

“When it comes time for us at Omen to do any marketing activity, whether an event or some type of creative at a retail space, knowing there’s going to be local representation from the Overwatch League there allows us to tweak things to that audience,” Kocurek explained. “I’d love to see in the future that if you go to a Best Buy in Dallas there’s an end cap for Omen by HP products feature Dallas Fuel team colors, logo and players. In San Francisco it’d be the Shock and we could even do this in Shanghai and Seoul.”

Kocurek believes regional relevance is crucial for any brand marketing any product today. The goal at HP is to make the creative and messaging be as relevant to the audience as possible, but it’s difficult to do that at scale.

“The city-based league will win because over time as these teams develop that local fan base, the same type of camaraderie that you see today with college and pro sports local teams will occur,” Kocurek said.

While each team will be representing their city in 2018, they won’t begin playing in their home arenas until season 2 at the earliest. But having all of the teams based at Blizzard’s Burbank Studios does offer some advantages for sponsors who need access to players for video, social and other content.

“It gives us direct access to all of the teams and players,” Kocurek said. “We want to establish relationships and a rapport with them so they understand what our objectives are as a brand. The Overwatch League shares a lot of our broader vision of what we stand for in the gaming space, which is to celebrate the competitive fire that’s inside all of us—whether you’re a pro gamer or a casual player. As we look to develop more player profile-centric pieces, it’s important for players to understand what we’re out to do to make the best possible narrative.”

Forrester Predicts Growth For Amazon, Apps, Decline For Programmatic Ad Spend

Forrester Research released yet another set of predictions forecasting the near-term effects of several of advertisers’ largest concerns, noting that ad spend on Amazon and mobile devices are set to increase while fraud, ad blocking and brand safety concerns will continue to influence spending.

According to the “2017 To 2021: US Online Display Advertising’s Great Reckoning” report, Amazon’s ad revenue will pass $2.5 billion by 2021, though other guesses already place the company’s earnings at $3.5 billion for this year alone.

Forrester predicts that this growth will come, in part, at the expense of Facebook and Google, though the total value of Amazon’s ad business is so minuscule by comparison that it’s unlikely to serve as a credible threat to the “duopoly” just yet.

Even if Amazon joins Facebook and Google’s playing field, it’s unlikely that the e-commerce giant will affect their “walled-garden” behavior in any significant fashion, given that it already acts just as, if not more, secretive about its advertising business.

While Amazon is predicted to eat up some of Google and Facebook’s share of consumer product advertising, Forrester predicts the duopoly will see significant growth on mobile. The report anticipates that mobile spending will shift increasingly to in-app ads, reaching 66 percent share by 2021. This bodes well for the pair of advertising giants, as both control the majority of the most-used apps in the ether.

According to Forrester, the shift will be driven, in part, by concerns about ad fraud and blocking, which will consistently waste 33 percent of all digital display ad dollars through 2021. Programmatic exchanges will suffer at the hands of smaller groups of more reliable private and direct-trading platforms, the firm predicts.

Though ads placed on Facebook, Google and Amazon may be more expensive than other programmatic options, marketers will opt to pay more for reliable measurement and safety.

“Marketers want more visibility on the inventory they buy and are willing to pay more to appear in a brand-safe environment that promotes viewability, controls fraud and makes sophisticated use of data for targeting,” the report reads. “The state of ad fraud and viewability in open programmatic will push them to implement tighter guide rails around their media buys.”

HyperX Plans To Appeal To Gamers By Becoming A Lifestyle Brand

Daniel Kelley, HyperX director of marketing

HyperX specializes in PC gaming hardware and has been active with esports almost from its beginnings by sponsoring players, organizations and tournaments. As a result, gaming and esports enthusiasts have developed an affinity for the brand and its products, but it’s still primarily known in the competitive PC gaming scene.

The tech brand is further expanding from esports and into the world of traditional sports through an NBA partnership with the Dallas Mavericks, becoming the official headset provider for the professional basketball team. The announcement, which follows a similar partnership formed with the Philadelphia 76ers in October, demonstrates how the tech company is further evolving its marque past hardcore gamers into more of a lifestyle brand.

Daniel Kelley, director of marketing for HyperX, told AListDaily that his company’s goal is to become known more broadly as a “gaming-lifestyle” brand that attracts both hardcore and casual players. The key to achieving this is through continued authenticity and remaining confident in product performance and quality, all while conveying that sense to audiences through esports tournaments and NBA partnerships.

“We built a marketing program aimed at positively engaging and supporting the gaming community with a large focus on the competitive gaming scene,” said Kelley. “We now are aggressively expanding our brand to be more approachable and trusted by the casual gamer who likely primarily plays on PlayStation, Xbox or other consoles.”

Kelley said that this approach is an extension of the company’s “we’re all gamers” tagline, which it uses to drive its marketing strategy.

HyperX looks to utilize the known personalities and organizations it sponsors to get more instant recognition by working with esports teams such as Echo Fox, owned by former Lakers star Rick Fox, and NBA veteran Jonas Jerebko’s Team Renegades.

Kelley and company have also procured partnerships with professional basketball players Gordon Hayward and De’Aaron Fox as brand ambassadors. These efforts, which mainly involve its Cloud gaming headsets, help to get the HyperX brand and products in front of more casual gamers who are also fans of the NBA.

But HyperX isn’t just looking to win over casual gamers—it’s looking to the parents of young gamers to adopt it as a lifestyle brand, too.

“Getting brand awareness with the mom or dad is also quite helpful when they’re looking to outfit their son or daughter with some gaming gear,” said Kelley. “HyperX is a gaming brand, and we feel that anyone that plays games, watches games or is the parent of an avid gamer are part of our community. If we can stay true to what gamers want and need, this will resonate beyond esports and into traditional sports fans, who also appreciate the dedication and quality of other brands in the space.”

The relationship between esports and traditional sports continues to grow closer with a wave of NBANFL and MLB franchises—among others—getting involved with competitive gaming. HyperX will continue to look toward traditional sports to assist with its brand evolution.

“NBA franchises and owners are buying esports teams and preparing to fill arenas and stadiums with esports tournaments and events,” said Kelley. “The NBA, in particular, has been very progressive as it relates to embracing esports and there is a lot of overlap between hardcore gamers and NBA fans.”

Fans Of Premium Games Approve Of Monetization Despite ‘Battlefront’ Backlash

Video game monetization is most widely associated with the free-to-play (F2P) business model, but in recent years it has become commonplace for premium, or paid titles.

Based on public outcry over loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront II, one might assume that players would do away with premium game monetization altogether. But studies—and revenue—reveal that quite the opposite is true.

Players Are Down With DLC

Downloadable content (DLC) such as expansions and add-ons have been a part of gaming for over a decade, and additional content will make up over 50 percent of digital consoles’ total revenue for 2017, according to SuperData Research. In fact, some publishers earn far more from DLC than the base games themselves. FIFA 17, for example, has earned more than $497 million in DLC, compared to $182.3 million in base game sales as of October.

“This trend is interesting because it’s a demonstration of a ‘games as a service’ monetization strategy,” Elena Fedina, senior analyst at SuperData told AListDaily. “Free-to-play games have always followed it, but now big publishers like Activision and Take-Two also see the benefit in it—gamers are willing to spend $60 at launch and then double or triple that on additional content, so each spender’s value is at least $60 and the maximum they can spend is virtually unlimited.”

A study by LendEdu found that 56.6 percent of video gamers think paid downloadable content is “beneficial to the industry and adds a lot of value to a video game.”

Balance And Legality

One method of game monetization is the “loot box,” which are randomized in-game crates that can be purchased with real money, but the usefulness of their contents are not guaranteed.

“[Loot boxes] add randomness to the process, so it feels more rewarding when the player gets the item they wanted,” said Fedina. “Overwatch has been especially successful with that, but Destiny 2 and Call of Duty WWII also have loot boxes in their stores, because this mechanic proves very successful in generating revenue.”

EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront II woes stem not from the very idea of monetization, but a perceived lack of value to the player. In addition to a base price of $60, players had the option to earn credits (over tens of hours of gameplay) or purchase “loot boxes” for a chance of unlocking characters like Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker.

To put it into perspective, these characters offer a significant advantage over the default Storm Trooper and Rebel characters in multiplayer matches, and thus would have rewarded those who paid real money over those who didn’t. In response to criticism, EA removed all in-game purchases just hours before Battlefront II launched. The controversy cost EA what might have otherwise been a much more successful launch. As it stands, Battlefront II sales are 60 percent lower than its predecessor, and EA stock plummeted $3 billion on Tuesday.

In many games, items up for grabs are cosmetic only—changing the look of a character or in-game items such as a car or a horse, but not offering an advantage for those that pay real money. Due to the randomness of loot boxes, parents and governing bodies have raised concerns over similarities to gambling.

Keeping It Cosmetic

Rocket League developer Psyonix has seen tremendous success through its game monetization strategy but attributes that success to one important factor—balance.

“We believe that add-ons should be complementary to the main game and not required to get the most out of the experience,” Jeremy Dunham, vice president of publishing at Psyonix told AListDaily. “We also believe that add-ons should not harm other player experiences and it’s that philosophy that has allowed us to keep a very simple and straightforward rule for all paid Rocket League content—it’s cosmetic only!”

In Rocket League, players compete in a soccer game that replaces people with vehicles. Optional add-ons allow the players to customize their vehicles from decals to colors and even branded options like the DeLoreon from Back to the Future.

“Cosmetic-only paid content means that we don’t have to make balance compromises at all, and it’s remained that way since our launch in 2015. If you’re buying an add-on for Rocket League, you’re either getting Garage customization content that has no special abilities or powers, or a new vehicle based on a standardized set of Rocket League hitboxes (the area on a vehicle that hits the ball). We have also been known to sell a soundtrack or two each year, but that’s it.”

DLC: Neat, Or Necessary?

Psyonix isn’t offering paid content out of greed, but necessity.

“With Rocket League, we’re a $20 game with millions of monthly players who put in hours and hours of game time, so we need the extra income from add-on content to pay for servers and to grow the team to better support the game as a whole,” explained Dunham. Game sales on their own would make that very difficult.”

Since the dawn of the arcade, players have been pouring their hard-earned cash into machines upfront and then countless quarters more in an attempt to beat the game or high score. All players earned for their money was another chance at glory.

Once consoles made their way into consumer households, one-time purchases became the norm—consumers bought a game cartridge and if they wanted more, they had to wait for a sequel. It wasn’t until within the last decade or so that premium titles began selling additional content. These add-ons or DLC ranged from new maps to cosmetic items and are still popular today.

Whether it’s adding new maps for Call of Duty or driving the Batmobile in Rocket League, video game consumers are used to—and willing—to pay more as long as the DLC enhances the experience. Game monetization doesn’t have to be a frustrating experience for the players.

“My advice is to understand what add-on content makes the most sense for your audience and go from there,” said Dunham. “You have to get to know your community before you can ask them for more money but sometimes you also need to know when you shouldn’t ask for more money. It’s not as helpful to your bank account, sure, but understanding that your game may not support a long-tail financial model can be just as important to your reputation as a studio and business.”

Female Execs Review State Of Gender Diversity In Video Game Industry

Women account for almost half of the global gaming community and they’re becoming increasingly involved in all its aspects, from development to esports. To accurately reflect this dynamic, it’s important for video game companies to diversify—particularly among their leadership roles.

To get deeper insight about the state of the video game industry, AListDaily spoke to Kongregate CEO Emily Greer, Digital Extremes VP of publishing Meridith Braun, Blue Planet Software (the sole agent for the Tetris brand) CEO Maya Rogers and Maureen Fan, who worked at Zynga for six years before becoming the co-founder and CEO of Baobab Studios, which creates animated virtual reality films. They recount their experiences as executives in the games industry and share their thoughts on how it can be improved.

Recognizing The Problem

When it comes to gender diversity at the top levels, Greer would score the industry pretty low, stating, “It’s at a point where if I’m in a group of 20 other leaders in the games industry and there are two other women, it feels like a lot. Very often it’s just me and maybe one or two other people.”

Maya Rogers, president and CEO of Blue Planet Software, the sole agent for the Tetris brand

She isn’t alone in observing that gaming has some diversity issues. Although all four women agree that the industry has come a long way in the past decade or so, both Fan and Rogers said that there is plenty of room for improvement.

“To this day, I don’t think we see nearly enough women in key leadership roles,” said Rogers. “It’s a shame, because the women I have interacted with in more senior roles are absolute rock stars—creative, innovative and strategic. They’re great mentors for all their employees, not just women.”

“There needs to be more progress when it comes to gender diversity in both leadership roles and in non-leadership roles,” Fan added. “It is good business sense. Don’t we think women could have an edge designing for female audiences? All the research also shows that having female in leadership roles at companies increases profits too.”

Fan also said that research has shown that women are just as ambitious as men are to rise to the C staff level, but many “drop out”—not because they don’t want to reach the top, but because they see the system stacked against them.

All agree that the challenges that women face are not unique to the games industry, and issues such as pay inequality and difficulties rising to senior roles can be found in all sectors. However, Braun, who has been in the games industry since 1999, is the most optimistic of the group, stating that the opportunities to advance are present, but more women need to be made aware of them.

“I feel that the people who have the most qualifications, who pursue these opportunities and put in the effort and dedication to learning the jobs are the ones who should be in those jobs, no matter what gender they are,” said Braun.

While Rogers is glad that there are now twice the number of women in the industry than when she entered it in 2003, Fan observed that people tend to hire people that they’re comfortable with, which oftentimes means people like them. Therefore, for women to get to the top, women need to be at the top, either by starting their own companies or getting male advocates in existing ones as there are at Zynga.

CEOs Aren’t Exempt From Harassment

Emily Greer, co-founder and CEO of Kongregate

Greer is an example of someone who co-founded her own company alongside her brother Jim Greer, who had already been involved with the gaming industry. But even though she admits that, having always been the boss of her own company, she hasn’t had to face some of the struggles that other women have, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been challenges.

Although Greer says she has always felt welcomed in the games industry and describes her overall experience as a positive one, she has felt doubts from investors who may not have believed that she knew enough about games to be a CEO. Furthermore, she has been harassed by the gaming community, which she wrote about in a blog post three years ago.

Greer discovered that even though she and her brother both received about the same number of messages from community, she received 4X the number of sexually explicit messages than her sibling (who barely received any), some stating that the two were having an incestuous relationship.

“I’ve never experienced sexual harassment at conferences until I joined the game industry,” said Greer.

It’s important to note that the Gamergate controversy also arose 2014, where a loosely organized movement formed a harassment campaign against women in the games industry.

“Running these numbers through a statistical significance test confirms what should be obvious to anyone following Gamergate,” Greer wrote at the time, “with a 99.9 percent confidence level it is harder to be a woman than a man in the game industry, independent of what you say or do.”

The industry largely stood together against what Gamergate represented, but it left a mark and has led more companies to focus more on online harassment.

“Awareness is the best way to start to ferret out those bad aspects of the industry,” said Braun. “I find it absolutely horrific that women today get treated so poorly in some cases just because they want to play video games. That makes no sense.”

Improving The Industry

Rogers and Fan both said that women are not rising to leadership roles at a fast enough pace, but all four agree that opportunities will arise as the industry continues to grow. Much has to do with educating both men and women.

“Educating men is the greatest opportunity,” Fan explained. “If the men are in charge and they hold the keys to the system, informing them of our inherent biases can help them change the system.”

Fan also said that as a female CEO in the entertainment industry, gender diversity within her company is a very important topic for her. She said that Baobab is constantly looking to improve its gender diversity by examining its hiring practices and engaging in public forums about the importance of gender diversity.

Maureen Fan, co-founder and CEO of Baobab Studios

“Women may feel pressured to act more like men—to be seen as more leader-like,” Fan continued. “Yet, the best form of leadership is authentic leadership. Why should you have to be someone you’re not to be accepted by others? I feel men should meet women half way. Instead of asking women to change, men can value the differences in women.”

Greer, Rogers and Braun stated that there was no grand plan behind the diversification of their companies. Instead, they largely happened naturally. According to Greer, Kongregate ended up with a 35-40 percent female representation, which she said is on the higher end of the industry average, as a happenstance of having both a man and a woman as its leaders fostering a welcoming culture.

But Greer also stated that some mindfulness has to go into hiring, citing an example where the company brought two women to a predominantly male engineering team so that there wouldn’t be a lone female member.

“Think about it from the start,” said Greer. “It can be really hard to be one woman on a 20-person team in ways that are unconscious for everybody. When you start a new company, don’t have it be something that you think about after three years when you’re already at 90 percent male level. That can be hard to get back from.”

Additionally, Fan encourages women to research how they are being perceived so that they can gain awareness and make changes accordingly.

“In my experience, the men in my team always asked me for promotions and raises. The women didn’t because they expected to get it when it was fair,” said Fan. “You’re disadvantaging yourself by not asking because everyone else is.”

Meridith Braun, VP of publishing at Digital Extremes

Kongregate has also brought in people from outside the industry. Individuals who began as volunteer moderators within the Kongregate player community were hired to do community and customer service management, giving them career opportunities that they might not have otherwise considered, and some were later promoted to other roles.

Rogers, whose admittedly small team at Blue Planet is mostly female, said that the gaming industry needs to bring in women at all levels, from development to executives, to address the female gaming audience.

“Ensure development teams have women in all key areas of game design,” said Rogers. “Plus, encourage females in executive roles to drive strategies for capturing this growing market. This isn’t a new concept. Other industries, such as automotive, electronics and appliances, have been doing it successfully for years.”

Both Fan and Braun believe the key to achieving that is through better education for girls at a young age.

“The opportunities are there, and just like any other industry, [gaming] has to work on awareness of those opportunities so that girls know about them at an earlier age and how to pursue them,” said Braun. “There is no role you can’t rise to if you have the dedication to learning everything you can and put in the effort to build the skills to achieve them.”

“Partner with women and under-served communities through development schools, schools and internship programs. Increase the funding resources for indie creators, along with stronger executive mentorship programs,” said Fan. “The more diverse a company is, the greater the chance new ideas and unorthodox approaches make it into the project. Games that bring something unique are the most popular and heavily promoted.”

Snapchat Update Splits Users From Publishers, Ads Unaffected

Snapchat promised investors that it would launch a major redesign update earlier this month and has now followed through, separating people from publishers, splitting social from media. The company’s ad products will not be affected, meaning that Stories ads, Lenses and filters will all function as they have in the past.

In a blog post released today, Snapchat promised that it is departing from the integrated-content approach taken by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram—every other social network—blaming it for the fake news crisis specifically and social performance-caused discontent in general.

“This means that the Chats and Stories from your friends are on the left side of Snapchat, and the Stories from publishers, creators and the community are on the right,” the post reads.

For the confused users, Snap’s co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel released a 62-second video outlining the changes, but for the most part they’re self-explanatory. In essence, Snapchat is just moving friend Stories from the Discover tab to the Friends tab.

Despite Spiegel’s language about moving away from traditional social media business practices, other changes in the Snapchat update see the company falling further in line. The company will begin to algorithmically sort both its Friends and Discover pages for users on an individual basis, something that Facebook and Twitter have done for years.

Though the blog post promises that Discover content will continue to be reviewed by real humans, this algorithmic filtering of content has been attributed by many, including Bill Gates, to be the source of the spread of “fake news” that Snapchat blames on “blurring lines between professional content creators and your friends.”

It’s no secret that investors have expressed concerns over the app’s usability, and this is likewise not the first time that a Snapchat update has implemented technology long used by other social media companies.

This update only further brings to light Snapchat’s ongoing identity crisis. While Facebook just yesterday promised to provide sponsored content as indistinguishable from user posts as possible, Snapchat is widening the divide between communication and community. Is the app a photo-sharing service or a video-content delivery platform?

“Separating social from media has allowed us to build the best way to communicate with friends and the best way to watch great content,” the blog post reads. “And, as always, Snapchat opens to the Camera.”

According to Spiegel, the answer is both, though the ties that bind them together are tenuous.

Pong 45th Anniversary Helps Usher In New Era For Atari

The first annual Pong Day has been declared, celebrating the 45th anniversary of Atari’s table tennis video game. First released on November 29, 1972, Pong became the first commercially successful video game and a source of nostalgia for many. Atari hopes this claim to fame—along with new products—will fuel its resurgence as a lifestyle brand.

“A lot of the things we are doing are rooted in the notion that Atari and Pong didn’t just start the video game industry, it launched a lifestyle movement that still endures today,” Atari Connect COO Michael Arzt told AListDaily. “Atari has the unique distinction of being able to say we were there at the beginning and are still here.”

In addition to publishing video games like Rollercoaster Tycoon, Atari now offers connected products beginning with its line of Speakerhats. These Audiowear-powered, Bluetooth-enabled Speakerhats play audio through speakers in the visor or headphones. In honor of Pong Day, a Pong Anniversary Limited-Edition Speakerhat has been added to the lineup.

Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, a coffee table version of Pong is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2018. Table Pong recreates the original game in 3D with motors, rails, pulleys, and magnets while offering Bluetooth connectivity and four USB charging ports.

Pong Day is designed to strike an emotional chord with generation X, which grew up with the game, but Atari also wants to reach younger audiences.

“For those old enough to remember, it’s a celebration of ‘the game that started it all’,” said Arzt. “So many of our classic Atari fans have fond memories of their first encounter with the revolutionary little TV game tucked in among the pinball machines at their local hangout, or the day that mom or dad brought home that box from Sears, tuned the TV to channel three and blew their minds.

“For younger video game fans, it’s a celebration of how far the industry has come—into an age of online PC gaming, 4K home consoles, advanced VR, mobile gaming, esports and so much more—that all started with a little beeping dot. It reminds game and entertainment fans of all ages where we’ve been and where we will go with exciting new products like the Ataribox, new games and our various lifestyle products.”

Atari received a boost in public awareness thanks to a prominent spot in the trailer for Blade Runner 2049. When the brand appeared in the original Blade Runner in 1982, it was still a new and popular gaming company. Much has happened since then, and although Atari’s elite video game status may have been overshadowed by PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo, it never stopped trying to create the next thing ‘that started it all.’

In the meantime, Atari is well aware of its naysayers.

“A lot of people like to dismiss us because we are not the same Atari that created Pong and the 2600, but it’s about the brand,” said Arzt. “It’s had ups and downs, but it’s endured, persevered and even triumphed on occasion. It’s still here and still means a whole lot to a lot of people because of all the fun its provided. As we continue to create new products for both our classic fans and new fans, that idea of the Atari Connected Lifestyle will thread through them all.”

If you think Atari is holding on to its past a little too tightly, it’s a great time to do just that. Shopping at the thrift store and buying albums on vinyl isn’t just for hipsters anymore.

“Clearly we’re in a wonderful pop-culture, retro-driven cycle right now where everything old is new again, and it’s a good time to be Atari,” said Arzt. “They say the definition of good luck is when preparation meets opportunity. We’ve been preparing for years!”

Arzt added that the brand has a lot of cool ideas and “a couple hundred iconic franchises to tap,” so Pong Day is just the beginning.

Facebook Sets The Record Straight On Its Advertising Principles

Facebook, lately under fire for its lack of transparency in its advertising policies, has gone on the record about what it stands for as a social network and platform.

Rob Goldman, Facebook’s vice president of ad products, stated that his advertising team’s goal is to primarily make connections, going on to add that they strive to “show ads that are as relevant and useful as the other content you see.” In general, the language in the blog post is consumer-facing, meant to assuage fears drummed up by Russian election interference.

The post begins by tying Facebook advertising to the health of the American economy, establishing the somewhat inescapable necessity for businesses to work with the social network to survive.

In a status update promoting the announcement, COO Sheryl Sandberg summed up Facebook’s advertising principles in a few bullet points:

  • We build for people first
  • We don’t sell your data
  • You can control the ads you see
  • Advertising should be transparent
  • Advertising should be safe and civil; it should not divide or discriminate
  • Advertising should empower businesses big and small
  • We’re always improving our advertising

The first point, “We build for people first,” simply reflects Facebook’s policy of prioritizing relevant ads over higher-CPM keywords, meaning that companies cannot just throw money at Facebook to make up for improper targeting.

The post also highlights the company’s plans to introduce transparency features permitting users to see all ads paid for by any given Page but does not give any further information on when this feature might be released.

However, a few of these points may be misleading. Primarily, Facebook very much does sell data. The company specifically withholds users’ names, posts, email addresses and phone numbers from advertisers, but everything else, such as liked Pages and interests, are fair game.

Also, although Facebook announced that it would be tightening enforcement of its advertising policies related to hate and discrimination, a recent report by ProPublica found that this may not be the case. Several housing ads specifically excluding ethnic and religious groups were not flagged by Facebook, a possible violation of federal fair housing rules.

Sandberg’s post also urges users to provide Facebook with feedback, and the blog published Monday points to the company’s shift to mobile advertising four years ago as evidence of the company’s willingness to change. The post compiles information from Facebook’s other promises in recent months but provides very little new on its own.

Even the central theme, that the advertising team seeks to build “connections” between users and brands, was a sentiment similarly espoused by Facebook’s CMO Gary Briggs earlier this year.

William Shatner Reflects On His Career As Brand Spokesman

William Shatner has honed the sense of what sells over several decades while plying his trade across a cavalcade of acting, writing and directing credits, most notably as captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek franchise.

For those not old enough to recall Shatner’s stint on the USS Enterprise, the octogenarian reentered the cultural conversation at the turn of the millennium on shows such as The Practice and Boston Legal, and more prominently with years-long promos as the celebrity pitchman for Priceline as the online travel site’s “negotiator.”

The brand ambassadorship, which entailed Shatner agreeing to do the spots in exchange for stock in the company from 1997 to 2012, turned out to be a prosperous one for the Canadian actor, who reportedly made a considerable profit from the options he secured as soon as Priceline stock started to skyrocket.

At 86-years-old, Shatner is still going strong with a sharp eye toward the future, trying to find a seat at the table of brand innovation and disruption. Earlier this year, he saddled in as a spokesperson with start-up LottoGopher, an online messenger service that allows consumers to order and manage state lottery tickets online.

In an interview with AListDaily, Shatner said he was intrigued by the brand because he deemed it as a social-first company of the future that is looking to disrupt the $70 billion US lottery market.

“LottoGopher is in the same position [as Priceline was] because it really works,” Shatner said in a conversation from his office in Los Angeles. “Although LottoGopher is not going to save your life, it’s part of the principal for the future. ‘What is happening next year? In five years? In 10 years? What will my children and grandchildren be interested in? How will they live?’”

Shatner is also using his science stardom as a “man of the future” to position himself in verticals like solar power (Solar Alliance Energy), electric bikes (Pedego) and other kinds of alternative ideas because such advancements “cannot be denied for the survival of mankind,” he says.

James Morel, president and CEO of LottoGopher, said Shatner’s profile and status landed the actor as the first spokesperson on his personal wish list.

“He brings certain credibility to us on the public market side because he’s known as a good stock picker,” Morel told AListDaily. “I’m not saying Mr. Shatner drove Priceline’s stock prices, but you do associate him with the brand as the Priceline negotiator. He’s legendary in marketing and public stock stories.”

To stress such importance as a marketer and pitchman, Shatner said it all starts with messaging that conveys the disruptive qualities of a product that actually works. It’s largely the reason why Priceline survived the dot-com bubble, he said, because “there is a way of selling something good.”

“There is a revolution going on in marketing,” Shatner said. “I am not so callow as to think I’m telling consumers anything that they don’t know already. But where is that revolution? . . . It takes a mistake to understand ‘that was a mistake.’ We’ll learn from those mistakes. You’ve got to keep your eyes open as to what’s happening. You’ve got to be adept at innovation—and if you fail at one of the innovations, don’t worry about it because the next one will be successful.”

Shatner says the spokesperson-consumer relationship has fundamentally changed throughout his career—most recently due to the rise of social media platforms. Millennials are seemingly the core consumer the brands he’s working with are targeting, but even he admitted that he doesn’t realize why he resonates so well with the group.

“It’s just me talking,” Shatner said. “Whatever it is, I’m willing to reach out in advance to look at new things positively. I think people may sense that and follow me.

“There is no question social media is what’s happening. All other types of marketing are fading. Everything is different. People over the age of 25 are walking around thinking ‘how do I get a movie? How do I sign up for this, or that? Everything is new and yet, it’s simplified and getting more user-friendly . . . I like to participate in new things. I’d rather explore what is happening.”

Even though he’s nearing 90, it sounds like Shatner has no plans to slow down on his quest to discovery. He’s still touring the one-man Broadway show, “Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It,” and earlier this year lengthened his dossier as a scribe with the book “Spirit of the Horse: A Celebration in Fact and Fable.”

Shatner said he doesn’t know if there’s ever a right time to jump on board with a brand, but LottoGopher fit into his personal business plan. His one-year deal with the start-up includes company assets that extend in perpetuity.

In the meantime, he’ll keep talking up LottoGopher’s social-first, digital qualities as “something that should take the country by storm. It’s an idea that should be popular the same way Uber and Netflix became popular overnight. Everyone knows it’s a gamble, but it’s a very popular activity to buy a lottery ticket with hopes of instantaneous riches. These are disruptive industries taking what was there before and changing it.

“We’re rounding the corner—or we’re there now. It’s hard to tell,” Shatner said in a prophetic tone. “But those who aren’t advancing with the sciences will be left behind.”