Geoff Keighley Affirms Strategy For ‘Game Awards’ Digital Expansion

Geoff Keighley, executive producer and host for The Game Awards

The Game Awards is slated for December 7 at The Los Angeles Theater, having announced all of its categories for audiences to vote on, and the show is looking to grow further in its fourth year with more interactive features and broadcasts in additional countries.

Although the show is called The Game Awards, it’s more than just an awards show—it also breaks news and explores where video games are headed. This is proving to be a major attractor for both audiences and sponsors—especially since interest for mainstream awards shows begins to wane. That is underscored by the show’s mantra of reaching every gamer live on every video game screen, in addition to its continuous build-up of digital and social offerings to satiate multi-screen behavior among its digital viewership.

In an interview with AListDailyGeoff Keighley, executive producer and host of The Game Awards, exclusively announced that this year’s installment will allow people to vote through a live Twitter Direct Messenger and Facebook Messenger bot. The production team is also working with Google to allow fans to vote on categories through Google Search.

“Those ideas are things that we’re looking to pioneer,” Keighley said. “The general idea is to let users interact and let them feel like they’re part of the show by gamifying it . . . A lot of people were skeptical on whether an online streaming show would reach a mass audience. What we found was that every year, more people discover the show, and there are a lot of benefits to digital streaming. Especially as so many young consumers now either don’t have cable or have cut the cord.”

The Game Awards Global Platform Strategy: Growing Accessibility, Every Screen, Everywhere

One of the major benefits of being a digital-only production is global distribution. Last year’s show aired in China for the first time in partnership with Tencent, and the show plans to expand even further this year, supporting over eight languages live with distribution in Japan, Korea, Russia, Brazil and more.

“One thing that has been important to me is that you don’t need to sign up for anything or pay a subscription,” said Keighley. “We make the show very accessible, and because of that, it’s easy for people to share the show with their friends. They can just send the link and watch.”

Although the show may air a bit late for some audiences, data has shown that many will stay up and engage with it live. Furthermore, there’s high viewership within the first 24 hours after airing, as people either watch the entire program on demand or browse through the highlight clips. There’s even a partnership with Snapchat to produce The Game Awards as a three-to-five-minute Snapchat live story that recaps the show’s highlights, engaging millions of people around the world.

“What we like to do is give each platform a chance to speak to its audience and do unique things,” Keighley explained. “There are different conversations happening on each platform, but they’re also their own communities. The Twitch audience will have their own experience and Twitter will be a different audience.”

Schick Hydrobot at The Game Awards 2016. (Photo by Scott Kirkland/PictureGroup)

In addition to their Facebook-and-Twitter Messenger bot rollout this year, there’s interactive live voting on Xbox Live; Twitch emphasizes its chat features, and last year’s YouTube broadcast was in 4K resolution. The Game Awards aims to showcase each platform in the best light and strengthen their communities. Keighley also noted that there may also be some crossover. It’s not unheard of for viewers to watch on YouTube while engaging on Twitter, even though it can be watched natively on the social platform. Users are allowed to engage however they choose to, and the show is always looking for ways to be more interactive.

The Game Awards debuted for the first time on VR platforms last year in partnership with NextVR, where 360-degree cameras were placed throughout the theater for an immersive viewing experience. Although Keighley said it was an interesting experiment, he admitted that it was too much to expect people to wear headsets for two hours.

“It’s just a new way to experience the show, and we’re all about finding new ways to present the show to viewers,” said Keighley.

VR will remain an integral part of the experience, and the show is exploring ways to better leverage the platform. It’s also contemplating more traditional channels. TV networks have approached Keighley about televising the show, and even though he’s open to the conversations, he remains committed to keeping the show digital because of its niche-programming power and accessibility.

“We think that we’ve evolved beyond television with this show,” said Keighley. “Digital is where the audience is . . . I feel that we have to stay focused on a digital-only approach to distribution because that’s the future.”

Having the show locked behind a paywall or restricting it to TV runs counter to the show’s goals, and Keighley said that it may be one of the reasons shows like the MTV Video Music Awards are experiencing declining viewership.

“The general idea is to let users interact and let them feel like they’re part the show by gamifying it.”— Geoff Keighley, executive producer and host of The Game Awards

A new wrinkle may be that the future of digital distribution may be within the games itself since titles like Call of Duty already have in-game broadcast viewing capabilities normally reserved for esports tournaments.

“The idea of either broadcasting the show in-game—or at least linking out to the show from the game—is a big opportunity. That’s the next platform to conquer—giving the show live to players as they play a game.”

Integrating Non-Endemic Brands

In addition to interactivity, the show is also looking to bring balance between presenting awards and providing first looks at games. The main challenge is presenting forward-looking content without them like advertisements, Keighley said. Companies that do it well will create scenes that feel like it’s from a blockbuster movie instead of a highly produced game trailer.

The show is also working on integrating more non-endemic sponsors in meaningful ways, which is complicated because the digital show doesn’t have commercial breaks. Keighley said the show has worked with sponsors over the years, including Verizon, Bud Light, HP and Intel, and more brands are looking to engage with the gaming audience. But last year, some viewers thought that certain segments were overbranded or too promotional.

“That’s something that we certainly listen to, and I think the brands that we’ve been involved with are also listening to that and are figuring out the best ways to be a part of the show,” said Keighley. “What we’re working on this year is how they can add value and meaningfully contribute to the gaming industry to create opportunities that are unique inside The Game Awards so that they’re giving back to the game community.”

He cited HP’s sponsorship of the esports awards as a prime example of doing things right. He stated that as a brand, HP was celebrating the best gamers in the world while promoting its gaming PCs.

“It’s really important to know that anyone who wants to play in the gaming world needs to take the time to understand the audience, the games they’re playing and the opportunities that exist in both the games and The Game Awards,” Keighley said. “It’s not an easy thing to do, but the brands that put the time will definitely see a payoff. The bar is very high for what gamers expect out of the show. When a brand comes in and it doesn’t feel like they’ve put the time in to do something special for this audience, gamers will rightfully push back.”

Intel Explains Plan To Connect Esports With The Winter Olympics

Intel is one of the oldest brands to sponsor competitive gaming, having worked with ESL in its early days 15 years ago. Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) is in its 12th season, and Intel worked with ESL and competitive gaming before that global tournament even launched. Now the brand, which bridges the endemic and non-endemic worlds of marketing, is taking esports to the Olympics.

Although competitive gaming isn’t an official Olympic sport yet, esports will share center stage in PyeongChang, Korea ahead of the February 2018 Winter Games. Intel is extending its Intel Extreme Masters brand, produced in partnership with ESL, to the Olympics.

IEM PyeongChang will feature two competitions with Blizzard Entertainment’s sci-fi strategy title StarCraft II and Ubisoft’s winter sports game Steep: Road to the Olympics. Competitions are open to gamers from around the globe, which is a departure from typical IEM events that feature professional teams and gamers, but ties into the nature of the Olympic Games.

“We’re starting this Olympic partnership in Korea and we’re picking a game that resonates with the Korean audience,” John Bonini, vice president and general manager of esports and gaming at Intel, told AListDaily. “StarCraft is celebrating its 20th anniversary, which provides a nice storyline for the event.”

Bonini said the goal with bringing esports to the Olympic Games is to celebrate the competition across video gaming while introducing new audiences to competitive gaming.

“New audiences have probably heard a little bit about esports, but this format allows kids and parents and grandparents to learn about how the final 16 StarCraft II players made it through North America, Europe and China. There’s also the element of national pride with this tournament.”

Bonini said the fact that most people play games now also helps connect with a broader audience, as do the human stories behind the competition—a staple of traditional Olympic sports coverage.

“Having IEM and ESL involved brings more credibility to this event,” Bonini explained. “If you’re in the gaming community you know the IEM and ESL brands. We’re bringing high production quality to this competition. For those who aren’t currently gamers or esports fans, having Intel involved at the Olympics opens up an opportunity to entice a more mainstream audience.”

Bonini admits that this first event in Korea is part of a big esports experiment.

“The IOC (International Olympic Committee) trusts us in advising what makes the most sense with esports,” Bonini said. “We have to see which works best and what connects with fans and take those learnings to the Tokyo Games.”

Intel is still finalizing details on how these esports competitions will be distributed to the world, although both traditional broadcasters (NBC has the Olympics exclusive) and digital platforms like Twitch are involved in those conversations.

Beyond the Intel Extreme Masters demonstration, Intel will set up Steep gaming kiosks throughout the Olympic Village for attendees and athletes to play.

IEM PyeongChang is an extension of Intel’s recently signed long-term worldwide The Olympic Partner (TOP) sponsorship with the International Olympic Committee, which focuses on Intel employing new technology to steer the future of the Olympics.

“Esports will be on the earlier side of the three-week marketing window, but that momentum will carry through the Winter Games when we feature 5G and our Core i7 technology,” Bonini said. “We’ll have VR technology experiences for fans to view the action in 360.”

In a way, Intel and ESL has turned the IEM Finals, which occur in Katowice, Poland every spring, into an esports Olympics in its own right.

“There were 170,000 people at IEM Katowice this year, and millions more watching it online. It has become its own phenomenon,” Bonini said. “It’s about pushing the envelope and trying new things, which is something we’re seeing a lot of in esports with Riot Games’ League of Legends and Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, which we’re a sponsor of as well.”

How Gaming Hardware Brands Are Marketing Through Esports To Gain An Audience Share

The peripherals and esports ecosystem is flooded with brands, globally recognized teams and upstarts looking for ways in which to forge relationships.

As the video games consumer continues to evolve, so must the peripheral marketing for industry titans that peddle headsets-and-accessories products in order to reach highly engaged audiences with seemingly endless amounts of money to spare. Innovating and adapting products to changing needs is one thing, reaching the target consumer is another.

How are gaming hardware brands highlighting their company’s calling card with esports and tapping into the spirit of marketing competition to gain an audience share?

AListDaily separately interviewed executives from HyperX, Turtle Beach and Bloody Gaming to learn how their marketing is evolving.

How are you fighting for market share against the competition that’s also marketing through esports?

Daniel Kelley, HyperX’s director of corporate marketing: There is no one formula for successful marketing here, but we begin and end any of our endeavors by thinking how we can get fans closer and more engaged with the scene, while ensuring our products and brand get exposure along the way. We’ve been in the middle of the esports scene for 10-plus years, so we have a good handle on how to approach our marketing investments, particularly against our direct endemic competitors.

As the scene grows and more money comes in from the larger non-endemic brands, it does force us to think more creatively and be even more opportunistic on the best ways to get HyperX in front of the passionate gaming audience. This is the fun and beauty of esports in that it’s ever-changing and growing quickly with new game titles, tournaments, teams and personalities to align with.

Bill Hsu, sales and marketing director for Bloody Gaming: We stand out against the competitor in the market by developing from ground-up our own innovative technology that provides the gamer with a tool to dominate with a competitive edge. We put a lot of thoughts into developing the latest technology. One of those is our Light Strike technology that will bring mechanical keyboards out in to the digital age. With this technology it will combine competitive edge and reliability.

When the game is on the line, pro gamers need pinpoint precision and speed to keep up with the grueling competition. Mechanical keyboards have been all the rave, but it is a technology that was primarily from the 1980’s. We began to understand that the tactile feedback or lightness of various switch designs is what gamers truly wanted. So, we developed an optical switch that eliminates all the fundamental problems of mechanical keyboards and opted to create a zero-lag digital switch that can still fulfill the satisfying tactile or linear feel gamers have come to love and expect.

BLOODY LIGHT STRIKE GAMING KEYBOARD

Mac Marshall, ‎senior director of brand, PR and communications for Turtle Beach: In terms of broad market share we’re always looking for ways to maintain and improve our leadership position, which has been over 40 percent of the overall console gaming headset space for the past several years running now.

As far back as 2012 and 2013 we realized there hadn’t been a truly innovative and ground-breaking headset created for today’s generation of esports athletes and hardcore gamers, so we set out to rectify that and came up with the concept for the Elite Pro, which launched in June 2016.

Once the Elite Pro was in development we knew just creating the headset alone wasn’t enough, so we began showing early versions of it behind closed doors to esports teams and players which inevitably led us to join forces with OpTic Gaming, as well as a variety of other higher profile and up-and-coming esports teams and organizations.

In doing this, we moved away from being just sponsors with banners on the wall at events and instead went the route of putting our wares on the heads of some of the best gamers in the world. If the pros feel the Elite Pro is worthy enough for them to use when they compete, then it becomes aspirational for other gamers to want to use the same gear they see their heroes playing in. Since launching the Elite Pro, we’ve received countless requests for potential partnership opportunities, which means we’re on the right path. 

Nick Bourne, director of esports, partnerships and product for Turtle Beach: It comes down to making smart choices, and forming real-lasting connections with the right teams and personalities. We’ve chosen to strategically align ourselves with key partners across the esports and gaming world. Esports is the pinnacle of competitive gaming, but the challenge comes in relating that to a gamer’s journey, wherever they are and however serious they consider themselves.

Collaborating naturally with the right partners, including the players and content directors at OpTic Gaming, the CS:GO powerhouse Astralis or professional FIFA players of VFL Wolfsburg allows us to tell meaningful stories and not just dip in and out when a team wins a tournament. We work collaboratively with our partners and try to maximize scope by combining their efforts inside and outside of esports. An example of this is how we recently brought Dr. DisRespect to the OpTic Scuf House to create The Summoning video and other content around his visit.

What is the key ingredient in order to resonate with your marketing? How are you differentiating your brand with this strategy? 

Kelley: We brand a history of growing with the gaming community over a long period of time including activities at tournaments, events and sponsorships that include over 450 professional players in 2017. We also spend a lot of time listening to our customers before we develop a new product. We include their opinions and wants in our design cycle, supporting what the community wants.

Finding ways to deliver our message to the dozens of micro-communities within gaming culture is a key to our success. Creating a one size-fits-all message for gamers is bound to feel inauthentic. We recruit ambassadors, influencers, players and teams from a range of game types and communities so that there is HyperX brand representation wherever gamers hang out, stream and interact with one another.

HyperX signed NBA star and avid gamer De’Aaron Fox as a headset brand ambassador this year.

Hsu: Thirty years of experience has led us to the forefront of gaming technology. Gaming is in our blood and we live to innovate in this market. Each year we continue to develop new technology to benefit the competitive gamers, we listen very carefully to the community and see what they lack and what is it that they would like to improve their gaming experience.

We value our fans and supporter’s ideas and thoughts, so we always try to listen and develop something to provide them an edge for gaming . . . Unlike most of our competitors, we take a much more proactive approach in fully understanding what we can do to push the boundaries of gaming peripherals by talking to those who are in the heat of battle at all times. Many of our own key staff members have competed on those very same stages and can tweak our technology to the various changes in styles and strategies that dominate the leagues today.

Marshall: The key ingredient here plays off what I said earlier. For us, this is about being a partner, not just a sponsor. We strive to be more than just a revenue stream. We pay attention to the teams and players and their needs. We go above and beyond to try and do cool stuff for them.

Bourne: Completely agree. The key for us is the connection and the relationship we’ve fostered with our partners and how that makes better products and experiences. For instance, we developed an OpTic Limited Edition of our Elite Pro headset, and every detail of that product was collaborative with the OpTic team members and players, with the final product being both an homage to OpTic and a true expression of what OpTic is to their fans—and to us.

We followed that up by debuting that headset at an OpTic Turtle Beach Ping Pong tournament, of all things, and what that did was allow the OpTic players to express their personalities through a different kind of competition. And of that whole activation, the moment that stands out for me is the presentation we did for OpTic H3CZ where we packaged his new Elite Pro OpTic Limited Edition headset with an original Turtle Beach X1—the first gaming headset he ever owned, and something it took a long time for us to find in our archives. His reaction, and those moments of connection through gaming are something everyone can relate to.

How is your esports marketing continuously evolving? What are the successes and failures that you can share? 

Kelley: In 10 years, from signing our first esports team, to now with over 35 organizations covering over 90 teams, it has been a healthy and exciting experience with our fans and gaming community. Growth in the last couple years includes more activities with NBA players like Gordan Hayward and De’Aaron Fox, including our recent sponsorship as the official gaming headset of the Philadelphia 76ers and Team Dignitas have brought us closer to traditional sports too. As more and more of the traditional stick-and-ball sports execute on strategies to embrace esports, there are so many fun and unique opportunities for HyperX and others that are paying attention.

Marshall: To me, the marketing success rests in the product, and through the product the teams, and through the teams their fans and through the fans to a wider audience of gamers. Truth be told, the Elite Pro came out of left field as I don’t think anybody was expecting us to be the force behind what’s arguably the best competitive gaming headset money can buy. If the Elite Pro sucked, then we’d be in a much different boat compared to the one we’re in today.

Just taking the steps to get to where we are now was a massive evolution of our prior marketing strategy tactics, and we continue leaning into this mentality as we move ahead. We’ve already started waterfalling some of the Elite Pro’s unique features down into other Turtle Beach gaming headsets . . .  As for failures, I just wish we would’ve gotten started on the Elite Pro line a few years earlier than we did as it would be nice to have the Elite Pro get more time in the saddle since its debut. It’s been a very fast-paced wild ride getting here, but a fun one at that.

Bourne: That’s exactly it. We’re looking at esports the same way Mercedes looks at F1 racing, or Nike looks at the NBA and NFL, as the crucible of innovation for gaming audio, be that at the tournaments or in supporting a non-stop eight-day-long “Race to Prestige” stream.

We’re constantly working on innovations that make gaming better . .  . We want to bring the best experiences to every gamer, and the next generation of Elite Pro are the most exciting products I’ve worked on. We’re taking every iteration back to the pros we work with. Every innovation has been battle, tournament and stream tested.

We’re hiding in plain sight testing new innovations every day with our partners, and far more things fall out as make it into the products. It’s a constant process of refinement, and failure is a necessary part of development. Our marketing follows the product, and follows the gamer.

Innovation means leading and taking difficult steps. We’ve learned lessons from our time sponsoring tournament series like MLG, gamer events like Dreamhack and our teams. Our success is built on a platform of consistent content, engagement through conversation and telling stories people want to participate in.

Hsu: The gaming market is seeing explosive growth globally due to the rise of esports. From blue-chip corporate sponsorships, big prize pools and massive fan followings. We continuously strive to make a difference in the esport community by supporting the teams, shows, events and influencers. Bloody shared a strong message of our ability to listen to our customers and understand opportunities to bridge the gap to newcomers.

Our most recent collaboration with Immortals led us to sponsor an esports event at the LA County Fair. While it’s the largest fair in the west coast of the US, it never held any esports-related activities. So we decided to support efforts into pushing mainstream awareness of esports and hosted the Immortals for a live tournament, meet-and-greet and help introduce Los Angeles to their Overwatch League team.

What we saw through this event was the power of esports competitors showcasing their talents to groups who have no idea what they are, but have since become more intrigued. Bloody believes that to grow the culture, we must first infuse them with the experience. The result has been phenomenal, and we believe these small micro-moments for those unaware with esports will lead them to becoming fervent fans. And who doesn’t want that?

 

3 Things About TV Binge-Watching Every Marketer Should Know

Binge-watching TV has become the new norm, and marketers are crafting their campaigns accordingly. Here are the three most important things marketers need to know about this dedicated—and probably sleep-deprived—audience.

Who’s Binge-Watching?

If you’ve ever seen the message, “Are you still watching?” chances are, you’re a binge-watcher.

Deloitte defines binge-watching as viewing at least three episodes of a show in a single sitting. According to its annual Digital Democracy Survey, 70 percent of US consumers do just that, led by those between the ages of 14 and 25.

It turns out that settling in to binge is a pastime enjoyed across generations. While 36 percent of millennials confess to binge watching at least once a week, 35 percent of all other generations do the same, with the exception of mature audiences over the age of 69.

Marketers are still adapting to this viewing behavior, so additional data is required to understand a target audience. For example, an ad impression has traditionally been counted in the same way as TV and PC—that is, by the screen.

The problem with this method is that it doesn’t account for those who watch streaming TV together. Nielsen has expanded its Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) Content Ratings service to include more insights into how this content performs at the episode and season level.

Watch Now, Or Binge Later? Audiences Say “Both”

Nearly half of US consumers subscribe to a streaming media service, but not all binge-worthy shows are the same. For example, some shows are released all at once, while others are spread out like traditional TV programming.

After a healthy dose of marketing, Hulu released a new episode of The Handmaid’s Tale each Wednesday and observed that, on average, 66 percent of viewers watched each installment within the first three days of availability.

Those who started The Handmaid’s Tale after the release of the season finale worked hard to catch up—watching nearly three episodes on average per viewing session, according to Hulu. About 60 percent of these new viewers finished all 10 episodes in one week and 30 percent completed the season in just three days.

Hulu Insights, a research arm of the OTT service devoted to providing insights into the streaming and advertising space, found that 60 percent of Hulu viewers like to watch multiple episodes of a series in one sitting. Eight percent will frequently binge an entire season or series in a single day. However, 32 percent still prefer to watch week-to-week.

So, how do you market to an audience that may or may not have watched the entire season already? Social media analytics firm TalkWalker says to plan ahead.

“If your brand or company wants to jump on a trending television event, plan for the marketing campaign to roll out well in advance of the air date,” TalkWalker said in a statement. “Let’s face it—the social media conversation for a show like House of Cards or Stranger Things tapers pretty soon after it’s released, so if you want to be part of the conversation, get ahead of it.”

Netflix doesn’t offer advertising, but it had no shortage of brand sponsors for the second season of Stranger Things. Both Netflix and brand partners like Eggo began promoting the show before its release but steered clear of spoilers.

Marketing across social media began with teasers and overall themes, such as the return of season one characters and how Eggo waffles will fuel your travels. Subsequent messages discouraged spoilers and the team held off on anything even remotely spoiler-like until several weeks after the premiere.

Understanding Binge-watching Behavior

It’s not enough to realize that viewers enjoy a streaming marathon. OTT services are learning how audiences make viewing decisions, as well as how often they repeat this behavior.

“What we’ve discovered is that viewers who exhibit a particular viewer behavior tend to retain that habit in subsequent seasons,” Hulu Insights wrote on its website. “In other words, if you watch weekly in one season, you’re more likely to do that for the next. Similarly, if you binge a season, you’re apt to do that again.”

The company found that among those who watched the latest season of Empire as new episodes were released, three out of four had done that for the prior season.

Marketers may also benefit from knowing how audiences react to certain genres. For example, six out of the 10 shows watched after The Handmaid’s Tale were comedies. So, if a brand wants to reach a comedy audience, timing a campaign with a stressful horror or drama may prove beneficial.

Wild Turkey, Matthew McConaughey Take Up Fight Against Hunger

Wild Turkey and Matthew McConaughey teamed up to spread Thanksgiving cheer to the distillery’s hometown of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The cause marketing activation was to show appreciation to the town, help those in need and promote a fundraising campaign to fight hunger.

With a population of just over 10,500 residents, Lawrenceburg is usually a quiet town—the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbors. So when the doorbell rang on November 4, residents were more than a little surprised to see a movie star standing on their front porches holding a turkey.

McConaughey, master distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell and some 250 volunteers combed the town to hand-deliver fresh turkeys donated by Butterball. Together, they delivered 4,500 turkeys, including 580 to the town’s food pantry and nursing home. Wild Turkey wanted to thank the town for supporting it over the last 100 years, say a personal thank you to those who help out in the community, and aid those who need it most.

Distillery employees had no idea the actor was going to be there until he walked in on the morning of the big giveaway, which also happened to be his birthday. Their reactions, as well as the reactions of Lawrenceburg residents, were filmed to commemorate the event.

McConaughey’s appearance was no coincidence. Last year, he joined Wild Turkey as creative director and chief storyteller, working with the brand to write, direct and star in a series of ads. The veteran actor poured himself into the role as he would any other, and his passion shows what happens when a brand and an influencer become more than business partners.

“We have great relationships with a lot of influencers but I think that Matthew is, for us, the influencer that can give us that draw on a global scale,” Melanie Batchelor, vice president for Gruppo Campari, the parent company for Wild Turkey, told AListDaily.

When he’s not on the big screen, McConaughey is also an active philanthropist, aiding such organizations as Autism Speaks, the Red Cross and relief for those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Cause related marketing can be an effective way to showcase a brand’s values and put its money where it makes a difference. A recent survey from marketing research firm Toluna found that 46 percent of respondents think cause marketing is a great way to bring attention to national or global issues. Hunger was the top cause respondents thought brands should support.

In addition to its door-to-door poultry delivery, Wild Turkey made a donation of 50,000 Thanksgiving meals to Share Our Strength, a charity that helps feed families in need across the country. The brand has partnered with Share Our Strength and its No Kid Hungry program for a fundraising campaign called “Friendsgiving to End Hunger.”

Those who wish to help can sign up to host their own fundraisers, schedule ongoing contributions or make a one-time payment. Wild Turkey will match all gifts up to $5,000.

Now that’s some good, old-fashioned Southern hospitality.

Inside The Quirky Marketing Of Obscure Holidays

‘Tis the season for marketers to clamor for consumer attention and affection. Amidst the sea of noise, less-exposed holidays like National Cookie Day, National Lager Day and National Bacon Day are also offering brands a chance to potentially stand out for cheap.

For every product, service or organization under the sun, there are seemingly endless relevant quirky holidays and opportunities around it to build buzz. The database for all these obscure dates is National Today, which has so far scrounged up 698 of them and promises to add more every day. The company has turned whimsical, offshoot holidays into a business by partnering with brands to build marketing and PR campaigns around the obscure celebrations.

“The most viral holidays are the ones that are simple, surprising and significant,” Ben Kaplan, CEO of National Today, told AListDaily.

Several major brands have already incorporated quirky holidays into their marketing strategy to deliver interesting messaging to their fans, including National Geographic (Pi Day), Macy’s (National Believe Day) and McDonald’s (National Hamburger Day).

In return, the holidays are covered by mainstream media and picked up on social media, resulting in more exposure. But brands aren’t the only ones benefitting. The business model behind National Today, which is owned by digital agency PR Hacker, has yielded approximately $500,000 to $1 million from promoting these holidays.

An example of this sort of obscure holiday marketing came from a Budweiser partnership on National Drink Beer Day (not to be confused with National Beer Day, International Beer Day or National American Beer Day). The actual content Budweiser produced was cheap and straightforward. The domestic beer brand commissioned a 2,000-person survey to measure the popularity of beer as a social drink, according to state, playing both into regional rivalries and Budweiser’s “Made In America” appeal.

“We piggy-backed on a holiday that is mentioned sporadically in the media each year—and reached 320 million people via 230-plus mass media placements and 11,000-plus social media shares,” Kaplan said“It was more than a Super Bowl ad’s worth of media exposure simply by leveraging a lesser-known holiday.”

To avoid getting lost in the noise around the more popular quirky holidays, brands can push a more obscure day into the spotlight, Kaplan said, listing three requirements to “create” a new holiday: a batch of initial “seed” influencers, shareable social assets and a hook that news media outlets can pick up on.

Singles Day, according to Kaplan, is the platonic ideal of the viral potential for obscure holidays. It was, after all, invented by college students on a whim more than 20 years ago, but only broke into the popular consciousness when Alibaba co-opted it in 2009.

Beyond awareness, obscure holidays lend themselves to driving immediate action. By emphasizing scarcity, time pressure and locality for an emotional appeal, brands can push consumers to try something new—and to do it quickly.

“For instance, for the Postmates food delivery app, National Today drove 12,000 new customers on Father’s Day weekend, a time trigger, by saying that we were giving away 10,000 orders, a scarcity trigger, of dad’s favorite meal, an emotional trigger, to Houston families, a location trigger,” Kaplan said.

As social media usage becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the viral potential of obscure holidays increases.

“We used to think that Psy’s ‘Gangnam Style’ was the gold standard of viral videos, reaching two billion views nearly two years after its 2012 release,” said Kaplan. “But in 2017, Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’ video reached four billion views in only nine months.”

Even if brands aren’t planning on large-scale PR campaigns around quirky holidays, keeping a calendar handy can help with social media planning. Many lesser-known holidays, especially simple ones with broad appeal, often generate popular hashtags.

“These holidays provide a roadmap for what will go viral,” Kaplan said. “For instance, every year on September 29, National Coffee Day will generate 250,000-plus Google searches and 500,000-plus Instagram posts.”

If you can’t find an obscure holiday that quite fits your brand, don’t worry, you can even pitch to add new ones to National Today’s calendar.

Asus ‘ROG’ Advances Gaming Trends To Reach New Audiences In Time For Holidays

Even though the Asus Republic of Gamers (ROG) brand has been around for 11 years and has cultivated a strong following online, there are still many who aren’t fully aware of it yet. Although Asus manufactures everything from PCs to smartphones and projectors, with ROG being its high-end gaming brand that emphasizes hardware performance and customization, there are some who still primarily regard the company as a computer motherboard maker.

That’s why Asus has shifted its method of communication over the past year to rely more heavily on esports, livestreaming and social to engage with both current fans and new audiences. Now ROG is ready to reap the potential rewards from its year of marketing and engagement across several different sectors, just in time for the holiday season.

“It’s the method, not the message,” Randall Grilli, director of media relations for Asus America, told AListDaily, explaining how the brand has been reaching out to both new and current audiences.

This holiday season’s ROG highlighted products includes the ROG Strix SCAR Edition high-end gaming notebook, the ROG GR8 II mini-desktop computer that supports virtual reality and a premium slim-style ROG Zephyrus gaming notebook. Grilli said they’re marketing the products to appeal to a wide range of gamers, from beginners to hardcore players, and their differing budgets.

To grow its audience, Grilli said that ROG  has increasingly turned to livestreaming, given that gamers were among the first to take to the medium. ROG has been working heavily with streaming partners on Twitch to educate viewers about ROG products and the gaming and hardware industry in general.

Additionally, ROG is an endemic sponsor for prominent teams such as Echo Fox, NRG and Ninjas in Pajamas, in addition to hosting events such as the ROG Masters.

The brand has been stepping up its gaming presence this year with a greater emphasis on collegiate esports. In September, ROG announced a partnership with Tespa, a collegiate gaming network, as the official hardware sponsor for its events. Together, they hosted the “Entrance Exams” campaign, where college gaming clubs that joined the network and put their gaming knowledge to the test could win ROG products.

“We communicate with the teams that we sponsor and combine their fan bases with ours to get the word out [about our products],” said Grilli.

Although he admitted that esports still has a niche audience, having more celebrities from traditional sports and their organizations getting involved with pro gaming over the past year is almost bound to grow its mainstream appeal.

Asus Republic of Gamers was also one of the main sponsors of the H1Z1: Fight for the Crown tournament series, which was broadcast on CW in May, furthering its mainstream audience exposure. Grilli is confident that more video gaming events will make their way to broadcast TV, and as more people watch professional players compete, they’ll make the connection between their skills and the hardware that they’re using.

Another way the brand has engaged with its community, which is fitting for the holiday season, is through a philanthropic partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where it teamed with other companies to build a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed gaming PC valued at over $18,000. The high-end gaming rig, which was customized to look like Star-Lord’s iconic on-ship cassette deck system with Baby Groot in the background, was promoted at events such as PAX West before being raffled off in October.

The brand is also connecting with its fan base through its ROG Arena platform, which brings all its online and social media channels together along with a list of all the events it’s involved with. These events range from major esports tournaments and conventions like BlizzCon and PAX West, to local tournaments hosted at Microsoft Stores.

Grilli said that smaller-scale events provide additional touchpoints to attract new audiences as people sign up to compete online or in-person at stores. As more people become interested in gaming, Asus wants to be there to meet them with its technology.

That technology includes VR, which Grilli identified as one of this year’s biggest gaming trends. That likely explains why the company is emphasizing the technology with its GR8 II mini-desktop despite the growing interest in augmented reality—underscored by how Asus launched an AR/VR smartphone earlier this year and is currently partnered with Microsoft to make a mixed reality headset.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on innovation, so this was a logical path for us to go down,” said Grilli when discussing mixed reality.

Though Grilli doesn’t think AR is growing as quickly as VR has in the gaming space, the company is still interested in targeting early adopters of the technology.

Ultimately, Grilli said that ROG has established itself as a “gamers-first” brand, with the company’s offices filled with enthusiastic gamers who have their ears kept close to its community.

Solving The Discovery Problem On Amazon Echo And Other Voice Platforms

Mike Macadaan, Ground Control CEO

Amazon and Google are turning up the competition in the voice assistant and smart speaker race, with both tech giants launching new devices and accessories for their respective platforms this fall.

But while Google is hitting movie theaters to promote its home products and Apple is just getting started with the HomePod, Amazon controls the majority of the market share with its Echo devices—which range from the simple Echo Dot to the video-enabled Echo Show.

But like the early days of smartphones and the internet, there are some growing pains involved, specifically with skill (app) discovery and retention.

“The discovery around these voice skills is pretty depressing—people don’t know where to find them,” Mike Macadaan, CEO of Ground Control, a start-up focused on developing skills for the voice technology space, told AListDaily. “Once they do find them, the commitment level is really bad. Less than 3 percent of people come back into a skill or game once they’ve activated it on their Echo devices.”

Gartner predicts that 75 percent of all homes will have voice devices by 2020, and that estimate doesn’t account for how voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa may be integrated into third-party devices like smartphones, headphones and TVs.

It’s clear that voice platforms may become areas that marketers should consider for additional touchpoints. But despite having conglomerates behind them, voice platforms are still in their early stages, with Amazon still figuring out what users want from their Echo experiences.

Echo users are mainly sticking to passive experiences such as checking the news and weather in the morning and perhaps listening to music throughout the day—very few are enabling interactive skills.

As Amazon launches the new generation of Echo devices alongside accessories such as Echo Buttons to further interaction with games, Ground Control is developing content to take advantage of it all. To address the problem of discovery, Ground Control partnered with the Creative Arts Agency (CAA) to connect with celebrities and politicians who are interested in helping to pioneer experiences for voice platforms. The company is leveraging personalities including comedian Mike Epps, NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns and former US vice president Joe Biden to attract audiences and get them engaged with its skills.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6cwaeC3NFAQ

Macadaan says that, not surprisingly, the most popular types of experiences for voice-activated systems are trivia games or choose-your-own-adventure-type stories. On the first day of the MLB postseason in October, the company launched Full Count Baseball Trivia featuring San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey as the color commentator. That was preceded the month before by Biden’s Briefing, an interactive podcast that collects news stories curated by Biden. Later, Ground Control intends to release Buzzer Beater Basketball Trivia with Towns and Sounds Fun with Epps.

“A lot of people assume that we’re partnering with celebrities so that we can get customer acquisition and big marketing,” said Macadaan. “All of that is totally true, but the really interesting thing is that Echoes have the Alexa voice, which can be cold and robotic. When you [replace it with] a celebrity to personify their voice into one of these devices, they evoke different types of reactions and emotions.”

Macadaan believes that these engaging voices may open a new field of experiences, where users may feel like they’re conversing directly with their favorite stars or have them host family game night. Ground Control’s trivia skills will also take advantage of Echo Buttons for multiplayer, which Macadaan believes will be a major disruption for traditional board games.

But there might be a long road ahead. Macadaan said that the discovery problem isn’t limited to users figuring out what skills they want—it’s that many don’t even know what a skill is or realize the full potential of their Echo devices.

“Google and Amazon are getting these devices into people’s homes, but that doesn’t mean they’re using them in ways that you might imagine,” said Macadaan. “The problem with discovery also brings the problem with retention.”

Platforms need to figure out the audio marketplace, which Macadaan says is a fragmented combination of website, app and voice experiences right now. Until then, developers need to get creative. For example, since Biden’s Briefing features content from numerous sources, Ground Control is working with these publishers to cross-promote how Biden selected their stories. More radical ideas include having Towns say, “Alexa, enable Buzzer Beater Trivia,” at an arena while viewers and attendees have the voice function active on the Amazon app.

But ultimately, the promotion may simply come back to mobile apps. Ground Control is considering the development of a smartphone app to accompany its skills, as Amazon currently does not allow developers to promote their other skills from within the experiences. Instead, the Echo platform automatically recommends similar games.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVgFBcjBpMY

Although Macadaan admitted that the voice gaming space is still niche, he believes that the tech will eventually become ubiquitous, with Alexa integrated across devices like cars and mobile phones. And for better or worse, audiences are already learning the nuances of machine interaction through automated customer service lines.

In the meantime, Hollywood studios are already experimenting with the voice platform as an additional touchpoint for movies such as Dunkirk and Spider-Man: Homecoming, with experiences that provide more background on the movies and their stars.

It will take time before monetization of voice skills is figured out, Macadaan said, pointing out how most branded skills are being optimized for Amazon services such as music, TV shows, movies and purchasable goods.

Macadaan believes that brands should look to build narrative experiences for the platform that will grow or change throughout the year. It’s still too early for sophisticated experiences, so it’s also important for brands to keep things simple. For example, he’s working on a skill that recommends travel destinations, and what users need to pack for these adventures, to promote a luggage brand.

Interest In Holiday Shopping Spreads Beyond Black Friday, CMOs Push For Transparency, Brand Safety

New research on search trends by Adthena has offered some insight into what consumers are looking for—and what they’re not. Higher discounts mean higher interest, according to Adthena’s findings, with ads containing the keyword “70 percent off” driving 500 percent more impressions on desktop than ads containing “50 percent off.”

Going by the number of ad impressions, consumers searched most for “gift,” “iPad” and “TV” on desktop, and “gift”, “phone” and “appliance” on mobile. Noticeably absent among high-performing user search terms was the keyword “free delivery,” indicating that consumers are not taking shipping fees too much into consideration.

Though average consumers spending is set to remain constant this Black Friday, new research by Prosper Insights and Analytics indicates that almost half of millennials plan to spend more this year than they have in previous ones.

“As Gen Z and millennials get older, their purchasing power increases, and the rise in disposable income is sure to be seen by retailers,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “This group of consumers has spent time carefully researching gifts for friends, family and themselves, and are ready to begin knocking out their shopping lists.”

Overall, just 24 percent of consumers plan on spending more than previously, and 54 percent claimed that their spending will remain unchanged.

Though the specter of Black Friday still stands before Cyber Monday, businesses may want to consider shifting their email marketing tactics. A study by Yes Lifecycle Marketing indicates that despite slightly lower open rates, Cyber Monday–related email messages drove 53 percent higher conversions than Black Friday emails.

“Our data shows that conventional thinking around email marketing practices is not always on the mark,” said Michael Fisher, president of Yes Lifecycle Marketing. “Marketers and retailers must assess their goals for engagement and conversions, and deploy campaigns with the right timing, content and context in mind.”

Small Business Saturday, the day after Black Friday, likewise offers potential for marketers. According to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, 61 percent of US consumers are aware of the holiday and 82 percent of that group plan on seeking out independent businesses on that day.

Additionally, the survey found that 90 percent of consumers claimed it was important to support independently owned restaurants and bars, and 80 percent of consumers predicted doing at least some of their holiday shopping at small retailers.


Chief marketing officers have overwhelmingly reevaluated their digital strategies this year due to brand safety worries, new research by Teads suggests. Of the CMOs surveyed, three-out-of-four reported worrying more about brand safety and ad fraud (78 percent and 77 percent, respectively).

More than just biting their nails, CMOs are acting. In the last 12 months, 48 percent CMOs reported reviewing relationships with suppliers and 55 percent reported reviewing relationships with agencies. Additionally, 93 percent of CMOs claimed they have overhauled their digital strategies.

Looking to the future, 98 percent of CMOs predicted that they will only choose agencies and suppliers that can prove brand safety and transparency, and 30 percent have already cut spending on channels that can’t make those guarantees.


Facebook usage has suffered a sharp decline this year, according to research by Verto Analytics. Last year, users spent an average of 33 hours per month on Facebook, but that number has dropped to just 18 hours in 2017, a 54 percent reduction. Average session duration has remained constant at around six minutes and 20 seconds, meaning that users are checking Facebook significantly less frequently than they have before.


Programmatic trading will account for 67 percent of all digital display advertising by 2019, according to predictions by Zenith Media. Additionally, the total value of programmatic advertising will grow by 21 percent per year, rising to $84.9 billion in 2018.

“The most advanced display markets will be 90 percent programmatic by 2019. It won’t be many years after that until the global display market is fully programmatic,” said Jonathan Barnard, Zenith’s head of forecasting and director of global intelligence. “The question then is how rapidly programmatic techniques will spread to other media. We will be keeping a close eye on developments in the US as a guide to likely developments in the rest of the world.”


New research by Tapjoy has further solidified the supremacy of rewarded ads for driving engagement. Advertisers can take advantage of a spike in interest in the format, as 80 percent of mobile gamers reported expecting to spend more time playing games, and 57 percent claimed that they will be more likely to engage with rewarded ads during the holiday season.

“This study validates why the mobile gaming audience presents such a great opportunity for performance and brand advertisers alike–particularly during the holidays,” said Shannon Jessup, chief revenue officer of Tapjoy. “Mobile gamers are already a uniquely engaged audience, but holiday downtime means that they spend even more time in-app, are more curious to try new games, and are more likely to engage with in-app advertising, making it the perfect time for advertisers to drive value for their campaigns.”


Connected-technology adoption is expected to undergo significant growth, research by Parks Associates predicts. According to its findings, broadband-connected US households will purchase as many as 55 million smart home devices in 2020.

“Collectively US adoption of smart home products is nearing the threshold of the early majority, thanks to marketing efforts of large players, popularity of voice-based products, lower product costs and a focus on the consumer experience in the purchase process,” said Elizabeth Parks, senior vice president at Parks Associates. “And consumers are beginning to recognize the value propositions of platforms such as smart video doorbells and smart thermostats, which is boosting their adoption both for household use and as gifts.”


Crimson Hexagon released a comprehensive study on US consumer trends in 2016, revealing a broad set of insights about the American mindset on topics from health to technology to transportation.

The conversation about AI, VR and AR soared, increasing sevenfold in the last two years, while conversation about privacy has nearly tripled over the same period. While close to 60 percent of consumers are now dissatisfied with ride-sharing services on social media, the rapidly increasing talk about self-driving cars are dominated almost entirely by anger and fear.

On social media, Whole Foods dominated conversations, making up 52 percent of all national grocer discussions, beating out both its closest competitors Kroger and Sprouts Farmers Market by 42 points. Americans also have a significant preference for dining in, with three times as many using joyful language than about eating out, takeout or delivery.


(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated daily until Wednesday, November 22.)

Google Announces New Detroit Office; IAB Expands Data Department

Google has signed a lease for a new office in downtown Detroit, renting out more than 29,000 square feet of space. The office will open in spring 2018 with a starting team of around 100 members, joining the already 600-strong group of Google employees in Michigan.

“Our new space will not only provide room for future growth but will also give us the opportunity to contribute to the dynamic economic and community activity happening in Detroit,” reads a joint statement by Danielle Russell and Guy Schueller, co-site leads for Google Birmingham.


The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) announced the addition of Orchid Richardson as vice president and managing director for its online ad research arm, the IAV Data Center of Excellence. In the role, Richardson will work at developing industry benchmarks and best practices for online ad publishers, as well as expand education about “big data.”

“Orchid has expertise in managing complex data systems and audience exchanges, and has a deep appreciation for the complexities involved in today’s ‘big data’ landscape,” said Patrick Dolan, executive vice president and COO at IAB. “Her insights and guidance will help advance data operations and best practices, increasing the value of digital marketing for all parties involved.”

Before joining the IAB, Richardson served at 33Across as general manager of publisher and media solutions, and before that as head of digital sales operations for Hearst Magazines.


The Trade Desk, a digital ad-buying platform, has hired Susan Vobejda to the role of CMO.

“We are excited to add Susan’s perspective and experience to our executive team as we continue to build our brand globally,” said Jeff Green, CEO and co-founder at The Trade Desk. “Her digital and media expertise coupled with her perspective as an experienced CMO will help us better reach the brands and advertisers who can leverage our technology platform to achieve their marketing goals.”

Prior to her new position, Vobejda held the role of EVP and CMO for Tory Burch, and before that was a founding executive and GM at Bloomberg’s Media Distribution division.


Dana Walden has joined Hulu’s board of directors, becoming the third Fox executive to join the streaming service’s leadership team.


(Editor’s Note: This post will be updated until Wednesday, November 22. Have a new hire tip? Let us know at editorial@alistdaily.com.)

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