Smartphone Adoption Nears Peak; Mobile-Only Internet Is Next, Says GSMA

Emerging mobile markets are being driven by low-cost Android devices and falling data prices, according to the 2018 GSMA Mobile Trends Report. Alongside new technology like IoT and 5G, brands now face the challenge of a mobile-only consumer and those in non-English, low-income areas.

Lower Cost Fuels Mobile Adoption

Global smartphone adoption will reach 80 percent by the year 2025, GSMA predicts, with the highest concentrations in North America and Europe.

GSMA notes that a range of Chinese OEMs, mostly running Android, are driving lower data costs. In developing countries where fixed broadband is not an option, the high price of mobile access has prevented widespread adoption. Nigeria has experienced the most significant drop in monthly data bundle costs, from nearly four percent of a consumer’s monthly income in 2012 to just under one percent in 2017.

Mobile-Only Is The New Norm

As mobile usage reaches its peak worldwide, growth will shift away from adoption to internet access. By 2025, GSMA predicts that nearly three-quarters of the global internet base will be mobile-only, meaning that they do not access the internet from PC or any other device.

The GSMA predicts an increase in the attachment rate—mobile users also using the internet—from 65 percent in 2017 to 86 percent in 2025.

Half of that growth will originate from just five countries: China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan, with the rest clustered in Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.

“The more nuanced challenge,” GSMA says in the report, “will be how to engage and retain customers that are mostly young, lower income, non-English speaking, and lack access to services taken for granted in western countries (banking, health, education).”

Make Way For 5G

An estimated 1.36 billion 5G consumer mobile connections will exist by 2025, driven by a small number of countries. China will represent the largest 5G penetration, more than double that of the US, and has already been a test bed for applications in automotive, drones and high-tech manufacturing.

The key issue will not be whether 5G works, GSMA warns, but whether consumers and B2B clients understand how it solves a problem.

Faster speeds will certainly be a selling point, but the real opportunity lies in AR/VR immersion—the technology of which is “not there yet,” the report points out, with monetization also in question.

Despite the hype surrounding 5G, LTE will remain the foundation for operators for at least the next decade. In fact, GSMA predicts that LTE will increase to 57 percent of total connections in 2025.

MWC Americas: GSMA Explains The Challenges Of Rebranding And Marketing In LA

Written by H.B. Duran

Interested in checking out MWC Americas in Los Angeles Sept. 12-14? Email us ( and you might just get a ticket. First come, first served.

Mobile World Congress Americas has taken the place of the formerly named Super Mobility, but this year’s attendees can expect more than just a name change. In partnership with GSMA and CTIA, Mobile World Congress Americas comes to Los Angeles with its sights set on a new crowd. Unlike its Barcelona counterpart, Mobile World Congress Americas is more focused on B2B than the latest phone models. In addition, moving the event to L.A. has created a hub for entertainment giants to learn and share insights with one another.

Rebranding and renaming the event has been a challenge but GSMA has coordinated with the local Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles Mayor’s office and local institutions like UCLA to help spread the word about Mobile World Congress Americas.

“We’re lucky because we’re a global organization with a brand reputation of being non-profit,” said Reed Peterson, senior vice president of GSMA and head of Mobile World Congress Americas. “That helps in terms of marketing and promotion. For us, it’s all about being a force for good. That level of support and branding and recognition across the globe is a great foundation for building this event.”

Peterson said it was this attitude that has helped GSMA market the rebranded event and attracts participants. In fact, Mobile World Congress Americas was born out of this mission, as GSMA realized there was a need for a larger mobile-centric event in the region.

Last year, the event drew approximately 21,000 attendees to San Francisco, compared to over 100,000 in Barcelona. It may be a smaller event in terms of attendance, but GSMA sees tremendous potential for Mobile World Congress Americas—especially once they bring the event to Los Angeles.

“A lot of people recognize L.A. as a media capital of the world but may not understand it’s also a leader in technology and engineering,” explained Peterson. “The fusion of innovation and the entertainment industry makes for a perfect hotbed to build this event. Mobile World Congress Americas has an emphasis on content, media and entertainment driven out of L.A. and West Coast innovation.”

Despite its name, Mobile World Congress Americas is still very much a global event, Peterson explained, with over 1,000 exhibitors representing nearly 20 countries worldwide. Unlike its Shanghai and Barcelona counterparts, however, this event will focus on B2B innovation.

Mobile plays a significant role in advertising, which makes Mobile World Congress Americas a prime location for a meeting of the minds. The CMO and Digital Marketing Conference takes place on September 13 and will feature speakers from tech giants like Google, Facebook and Sprint as well as automotive, journalism and hospitality. Four panels covering topics such as ecommerce and personalization will take a hands-on look at how brands are integrating mobile into their advertising strategies. Some of the CMOs speaking at the conference include Boingo’s Dawn Callahan, iHeartMedia’s Gayle Troberman and the LA Rams’ Ronalee Zarate-Bayani.

“The media industry is converging with mobile—you see that with a lot of acquisitions and mergers,” said Peterson. “The biggest challenge that we have in this industry is working well in that convergence. Working well so that everyone benefits.”

Mobile World Congress Americas will take place September 12-14, 2018 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles. In addition to mobile service providers and hardware manufacturers, exhibitors at the event will represent a wide range of markets from entertainment to automotive. For more information on the Mobile World Congress Americas exhibition, click here.


About the GSMA
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organizations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress, Mobile World Congress Shanghai, Mobile World Congress Americas and the Mobile 360 Series of conferences.

For more information, please visit the GSMA corporate website. Follow the GSMA on Twitter: @GSMA.

About CTIA
CTIA represents the U.S. wireless communications industry and the companies throughout the mobile ecosystem that enable Americans to lead a 21st century connected life. The association’s members include wireless carriers, device manufacturers, suppliers as well as apps and content companies. CTIA vigorously advocates at all levels of government for policies that foster continued wireless innovation and investment. The association also coordinates the industry’s voluntary best practices, hosts educational events that promote the wireless industry and co-produces the industry’s leading wireless tradeshow. CTIA was founded in 1984 and is based in Washington, D.C.

Amazon’s Rumored Ad-Supported Streaming Service Would Be Competitive In India

Originally published at VideoInk.

Yesterday reports surfaced that Amazon is busy developing a new ad-supported streaming service that it will package in its Fire Stick streaming devices, according to a report from The Information. Rumors of an Amazon-branded AVOD service have been floating around since 2014, but the company has always denied the claims. While Amazon has yet to confirm or deny this most recent report, a free ad-supported service would strengthen the company’s push not only in the US but in India as well—a country that not even Netflix has been able to successfully infiltrate.

Amazon already has a presence in India, but it’s a small one. The company has only been able to attract around 11 million subscribers in the nation. While this number puts it ahead of Netflix, which has just five million subs, it places it far behind Hotstar, the leading service in the country with more than 75 million subs. Hotstar’s growth has been driven by a mix of two things: its library of locally grown content and its hybrid pricing model. The streamer offers consumers a free version of its service as well as a subscription plan if they choose to upgrade, though most don’t. Only two or three percent of Hotstar subscribers actually pay for the service, according to a report from the global industry analysis firm Counterpoint.

So far, Amazon and Netflix have been reluctant to ditch their current pricing models in the country, which has hindered their growth. In 2013, the median annual income in the country was $616, according to Gallup. To spend a chunk of that yearly income on entertainment that can be found elsewhere (and for free) is something that most aren’t willing to do. Take Netflix for example. According to Counterpoint, approximately six percent of subscribers in India pay for the service and the rest (94 percent) take advantage of the ‘free first-month’ trial through multiple credit and debit cards.

But now with Amazon reportedly in the process of launching an AVOD service, the company has an opportunity to more effectively convert the 1.3 billion people living in India to loyal customers—if it decides to take the service there.

However, according to sources that spoke to The Information, the free service, which is dubbed Free Dive, will only be available for free to owners of Amason’s line of streaming hardware (Fire TV, Rire Sticks, etc). This could be an issue in India where a majority of consumers stream content from their mobile phones. However, just as Roku has made its AVOD service available outside of its own streaming devices, Amazon could choose to do the same.

CMO Council Says GDPR Readiness Directly Related To CX Commitment

A brand’s attitude toward GDPR compliance is directly linked to a commitment to customer experience, the CMO Council found in a white paper released on Wednesday.

GDPR: Impact and Opportunity—How Marketing Leaders Addressed GDPR Readiness and Compliance” is based on an online survey of over 227 senior marketing executives during March, April and the beginning of May.

The survey discovered two schools of thought, which the CMO Council divided into “leaders” and “laggards.” While Leaders see the opportunity to secure trust, loyalty and experience, Laggards assume GDPR is someone else’s problem. In fact, 39 percent of this group did not feel GDPR applied to them.

Among those deemed Leaders, however, 55 percent had already initiated some form of data audit to fully understand how customer data was stored and collected.

“There was an overwhelming commitment that the organization needed to or had already conducted a data audit to understand where data was coming from, how they were aggregating and collecting that data and how they were securing and using that data in a responsible manner,” Liz Miller, senior vice president of marketing at the CMO Council told AList. “In a world where you have to know all those things in order to be GDPR compliant, the fact that there were marketers who had yet to engage in any of those audits was a bit startling.”

Some marketers assume GDPR doesn’t apply to their job, Miller speculated, but what other data the company has gathered would actually be beneficial.

“The reality of today’s business ecosystem is that far too often, marketing looks at data in its own silo,” said Miller. “Yet when it comes to customer experience, customer data is actually being aggregated, stored and utilized for the purposes of customer engagement in a multitude of different places [finance, marketing, etc.]. When marketing only looking at marketing data, not only is the richness of the customer experience sacrificed, that’s often where you are going to miss the mark if you try to comply with something as broad as GDPR.”

While it may come as a surprise that so many marketers avoided GDPR wherever possible, Miller doesn’t blame them. After all, she noted, the marketing stack is far more complicated than it was when she began her career.

“We are in this age where our jobs have gotten exponentially more complex,” she noted, “because the way our customer expects to engage with us in order to have a useful relationship demands that we are in charge—knowing how the tech stack relates to engagement and the rest of the organization.”

It may be understandable why so many respondents choose to avoid GDPR compliance and hope for the best, but Miller noticed a direct connection between this attitude and a commitment to customer experience.

“If you have an organization that [creates a task force around GDPR], you will also get an organization that firmly believes and is committed to the idea that customer experience isn’t just a marketing, sales and service deployment,” said Miller. “Customer experience is something that everyone in the organization has to be committed to—it’s not just a marketing scenario.”

Mobile, Content, Media And Entertainment Industries Set To Convene In LA For 2018 GSMA Mobile World Congress Americas, In Partnership With CTIA

With two weeks left until the 2018 Mobile World Congress Americas, the GSMA announced further details on the event, including recently confirmed speakers, exhibitors and sponsors, as well as updates on programs and activities at the show. Mobile World Congress Americas will take place September 12-14, 2018 at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles.

“In just a few weeks, global leaders from the mobile technology and content, media and entertainment industries will converge in Los Angeles,” said Michael O’Hara, Chief Marketing Officer, GSMA. “Over three days, the spotlight will be on the exciting new opportunities delivered through mobile technology, not just in media and entertainment, but in many other areas that touch citizens’ everyday lives. Attendees will truly have the opportunity to imagine a better future.”

“Los Angeles is a global capital for media, entertainment and innovation — and the perfect home for Mobile World Congress Americas,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “We are excited to partner with GSMA to give pathbreaking startups and established players an opportunity to exchange ideas, explore new inventions and showcase the future of mobile technology.”

Latest Additions To Keynote Program

The GSMA announced several additional keynote speakers for the Mobile World Congress Americas conference program, with leaders from a wide range of organizations across mobile, content, media and entertainment, including:

  • Bill Gross, Chairman, IdeaLab
  • Esther Wojcicki, Journalist and Educator
  • Roger Lynch, CEO, Pandora
  • Dominique Delport, President of International, Vice International
  • Darcy Antonellis, CEO, VUBIQUITY
  • Sean Doherty, CEO, WURL, Inc.

CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker will open CTIA’s policy sessions at Mobile World Congress Americas with a keynote address on Wednesday, September 12. The CTIA policy track will also include keynote remarks from David Redl, NTIA Assistant Secretary and Administrator and Brendan Carr, Mike O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioners.

Beyond the keynote program, the three-day Mobile World Congress Americas conference will offer focused track sessions on a range of subjects, such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) blockchain, connected cars, the Internet of Things (IoT) and media, content and entertainment, among others. Newly confirmed conference speakers include:

  • Reagan Feeney, Vice President, Content Partnerships, Hulu
  • Gayle Troberman, Chief Marketing Officer, iHeartMedia
  • Trina Van Pelt, Vice President of Intel Capital and Group Managing Director, Intel
  • Trevor Fellows, Executive Vice President of Digital Partnerships, NBC
  • Gary Brotman, Head of AI and Machine Learning Product Management, Qualcomm
  • Rob Wilmoth, Principal Solutions Architect, Red Hat

For more information on the conference, including the agenda and complete speaker list, click here.

GSMA Summits At Mobile World Congress Americas

Mobile World Congress Americas will also include a series of GSMA Summits that explore a wide range of topics across mobile technology, media, content, sports, healthcare and diversity, among others.

Future Digital Health Summit
On Wednesday, September 12, the Future Digital Health Summit will showcase emerging trends and the latest innovations in mobile healthcare, with speakers including:

  • Ronan Wisdom, Global Lead, Connected Health, Accenture
  • Haley Sulser, Director of Operations, Greater New Orleans Health Information Exchange (GNOHIE)
  • Ali Modaressi, Executive Director, Los Angeles Network for Enhanced Services (LANES)
  • Harrison Lung, Partner, McKinsey & Company

Women4Tech Summit
Taking place on Thursday, September 13, the Women4Tech Summit will highlight leading practices and creative solutions to increase diversity in the workplace. New speakers confirmed for the Women4Tech Summit include:

  • Andrea Rey, Partner, EY
  • Rachel Samrén, EVP Chief External Affairs Officer, Millicom
  • Glenn Lurie, CEO, Synchronoss

For complete information on the GSMA Summits, click here.

The GSMA Innovation City – Focus On Intelligent Connectivity

The GSMA Innovation City returns to Mobile World Congress Americas for a second year, showcasing how intelligent connectivity – leveraging 5G, the IoT, AI and big data – is impacting and improving the lives of citizens, enterprises and governments around the world. Visitors will experience the impact of intelligent connectivity across sectors including entertainment, transportation, public services and industry, among others. Located in the LACC’s South Hall, the City features cutting-edge demonstrations from leading industry brands as well as GSMA programmes including Identity, Internet of Things, Future Networks and #BetterFuture. For more information on the Innovation City, click here.

200 Companies To Participate At 4YFN Startup Event 

Featuring exhibits, inspirational presentations, incubator activities, networking events, the 4YFN Americas Startup Awards and more, the 4YFN Startup Event will gather over 200 companies from around the globe, including innovative tech startups, venture capital firms and companies in verticals such as legal and fintech, among others. The GSMA announced several new speakers for the 4YFN Summit, including:

  • Jason Lawrence Nazar, Co-Founder and CEO, Comparably
  • Robyn Ward, CEO, FounderForward
  • Howard G. Wright, Vice President, Intel Corporation
  • Neda Amidi, Partner, Plug & Play Ventures
  • Steven Sprague, CEO, RivetzCorp

For more information on 4YFN at Mobile World Congress Americas, click here.

Additional Exhibitors, Sponsors At Mobile World Congress Americas

Amazon, BMW, Tata Communications Transformation Services, T-Mobile USA and Vodafone America are among the latest companies confirmed to participate at Mobile World Congress Americas, joining previously announced brands including: Accenture, American Express OPEN, ARM, Cisco, Dell, Ericsson, G+D Mobile Security, Gemalto, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Infosys, Mastercard, McAfee, NBC Universal, Nokia Solutions, Samsung Networks, Sprint, Synchronoss, Syniverse, TELUS, Verizon Wireless, VMware and others. For more information on the Mobile World Congress Americas exhibition, click here.

IMPACT Growth, RobotUnion and Türk Telekom have signed on as 4YFN Supporting Sponsors, and the GSMA also announced several new sponsors for the Mobile World Congress Americas event themes. Oracle is the Headline Sponsor and VMware is the Associate Sponsor of the Network Industry Theme; Micron Technology is the Headline Sponsor and DMI is the Supporting Sponsor of the Connected Vehicles Theme; and Ericsson has signed on as the IoT Theme Supporting Sponsor. For a complete list of event sponsors and partners, click here.

New Partner Programs And Power Hours 

Leading organizations from across the mobile ecosystem including A+E Networks, Automotive Edge Computing Consortium, Conduent, the Global Certification Forum, IBM Security, James Brehm & Associates, The Mobile Growth House and Route Mobile will be presenting Partner Programs and Power Hour sessions at Mobile World Congress Americas. For complete details, click here.

Industry Experts To Lead Mobile World Congress Americas Tours 

The Mobile World Congress Americas Tours will lead attendees on a curated experience focusing on specific topics from 5G to smart cities, among others. Mobile World Congress Americas will offer the following topic tours, guided by industry experts:

  • 5G and NFV Tour with Dr. Nishith Tripath of Award Solutions
  • Business Transformation Tour with Russ Edwards of Award Solutions
  • Emerging Tech Tour with Manolo Almagro of Q Division
  • IoT Tour with Sylwia Kechiche of GSMA Intelligence
  • Sustainable Smart Cities Tour with Jonas Allen of Green Electronics Council

For more information, including how to register for a tour, click here.

Get Involved At Mobile World Congress Americas 2018 

More information on Mobile World Congress Americas 2018, including how to attend, exhibit or sponsor, is available at Follow developments and updates on Mobile World Congress Americas on Twitter @GSMA using #MWCA18, on our LinkedIn Mobile World Congress Americas page or on Facebook. For additional information on GSMA social channels, click here.


About the GSMA
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress, Mobile World Congress Shanghai, Mobile World Congress Americas and the Mobile 360 Series of conferences.

For more information, please visit the GSMA corporate website. Follow the GSMA on Twitter: @GSMA.

About CTIA
CTIA represents the U.S. wireless communications industry and the companies throughout the mobile ecosystem that enable Americans to lead a 21st century connected life. The association’s members include wireless carriers, device manufacturers, suppliers as well as apps and content companies. CTIA vigorously advocates at all levels of government for policies that foster continued wireless innovation and investment. The association also coordinates the industry’s voluntary best practices, hosts educational events that promote the wireless industry and co-produces the industry’s leading wireless tradeshow. CTIA was founded in 1984 and is based in Washington, D.C.

Google Is Using AI To Make Your Ads Better

Google is introducing a new tool called “ad strength” for responsive search ad campaigns. The new feature offers additional insights in real time, allowing marketers to make relevant adjustments quickly.

Beginning in early September, the “ad strength” tool will use AI to measure campaign effectiveness based on headlines, logos and descriptions.

Responsive search ads and columns in Google Ads will be ranked from “Poor” to “Excellent” based on the relevance, quantity, and diversity of the ad copy. Feedback will be given such as “Add a few more headlines” or “Make your headlines more unique,” allowing users to adjust their campaigns and get a feel for their effectiveness in real-time.

Ad strength will be available as a column starting in early September, Google said, and in the responsive search ad creation interface over the next several weeks. Support for responsive display ads will follow in the coming months.

Ahead of the new feature, Google offered suggestions to marketers that are creating relevant ads at scale. Google recommends creating a variety of distinct headlines, descriptions, and other assets as possible so that its machine learning can generate a larger number of relevant ad combinations.

To prove its point, Google cited a case study in which created responsive search ads based on key moments in the rental process. The brand saw a 10 percent lift in clicks., another brand in the network of sites, saw a 16 percent lift in clicks with a similar strategy.

Google also stressed the importance of relevance and personalization in today’s marketplace. The company cited a 2017 study in which 91 percent of mobile users bought or plan to buy something after seeing an ad they described as relevant.

Several studies have found that consumers demand a personalized digital content experience, as long as it doesn’t get creepy. One such study by Adobe found that 42 percent of respondents get annoyed when their digital content experience isn’t personalized.

XRDC: Find Out How Top Car Companies Are Using XR

As XRDC draws closer, organizers are proud to announce there will be a great talk at the AR/VR/MR innovation conference that will reveal how mixed-reality tech is being used in cutting-edge ways by top automotive companies.

Titled “Mastering XR for Automotive,” the Innovation track talk will feature ZeroLight technical director Chris O’Connor walking attendees through the various ways ZeroLight automotive clients have incorporated mixed-reality tech, including BMW, Porsche, Toyota, Nissan, Audi and Pagani.

Make time for it in your XRDC schedule, because attendees are going to gain a unique understanding of the challenges faced when developing on cutting-edge hardware—and how new graphics tech can be used to enhance XR experiences.

XRDC takes place this October 29th and 30th in San Francisco at the Westin St. Francis Hotel. Now that registration is open, you’ll want to look over XRDC passes and prices and register early to get the best deal.

Pandora Launches Personalized Audio Ad Formats Amid ‘Renaissance’

Between connected homes, smart speakers and the continued growth of podcasts along with other spoken word formats, audio is experiencing a kind of renaissance. Streaming platform Pandora is helping brands take advantage of this trend by announcing three new ad audio formats: dynamic audio that changes according to different variables; sequential audio for delivering multiple messages over a period of time; and short form audio that delivers the message across in four to ten seconds.

The music streaming platform currently has over 71 million active monthly users across the US, and dynamic audio takes into account a multitude of variables that can include location, time of day, weather and music preference to personalize different aspects of a given ad. For example, if a user is near a coffeehouse on a hot morning, they might be encouraged to get an iced coffee, while someone else could be served an ad for a less caffeinated drink if it’s late in the day.

“We like to say, ‘personalization at scale,’” Pandora vice president of innovation strategy, Claire Fanning, told AList. “Similar how you might target a specific population with a certain message, [dynamic audio] allows for a little more hypertargeting, to the point where you might get thousands of permutations within a single audio ad because of variance from not only within the target itself, but also external parameters.”

Advertisers determine what elements they want to pursue, changing everything from the ad’s background music to the narrator’s voice depending on the tastes that they’re targeting. They can also set the refresh rate to any time span for mobile listeners.

Pandora and Veritonic analytics tested the new ad formats with 20 brand partners. According to Veritonic co-founder and COO Andrew Eisner, two-thirds of test respondents were unaware that they were being served dynamic audio ads, suggesting that there’s room to target and personalize even further. But tests also revealed that dynamic ads created a 125 percent increase in purchase intent and grew brand recall by 13 percent.

The sequential audio format enables storytellers to reach consumers in an architected sequence—meaning brands can use sequential audio to tell different anecdotes around a campaign, describe a brand from different angles, or retailers could showcase multiple products instead of having the same ones presented repeatedly.

Both audio ad formats may complement each other and can be used in coordination with short form audio. One example includes starting with a 30-second ad to begin a story, then following up with multiple 10-second ads to reinforce the message and create awareness without causing fatigue.

“There’s a simplicity of messaging when you’re just trying to get someone into the store,” said Fanning. “Sometimes less is more, and more ends up adding to a diluted message.”

However, performance is brand specific. A 10-second ad where Lays introduced a new potato chip flavor outperformed its 30-second spot, driving a lift in foot traffic, sales and conversions. But the opposite was true for an insurance provider, which needed to be more upfront with its details using a longer ad format.

Pandora is still determining best practices for these ad formats and how they can be used in conjunction with each other. Optimal uses for formats such as sequential audio are also impacted by the kinds of stories brands look to tell. As the company continues to test, it will eventually expand the ad format to podcasts.

“There’s a lot of buzz around the audio space, and the attention is toward ‘what should my audio strategy be,’” said Fanning, emphasizing how personalized ads are new to digital audio. Brands must determine the story they want to tell, how much time they want to spend telling it and whether each component is relevant to individual audiences.

‘Terminator Salvation’ VR Sets Stage For Interactive Branded Experiences

Location-based VR start-up Spaces made its debut on Thursday with Terminator Salvation: Fight for the Future—a branded experience that immerses players into the blockbuster franchise. Designed for sharing on social media, the virtual adventure gives a high-end twist to VR marketing.

It’s no surprise that Spaces chose a branded VR experience for its first offering. The company got its start at Dreamworks Animation, where Spaces co-founders Shiraz Akmal and Brad Herman started DreamLab—a creative division that created VR marketing activations for films like How to Train Your Dragon 2.

“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with most of the studios,” Akmal, Spaces CEO told AList. “We’ve interfaced with all these IPs over the years so we have a good track record of delivering on the promise of whatever the IP in terms of staying on brand.”

Spaces chose Terminator as its first high-end VR experience for several reasons, but mostly because it is a brand recognized throughout the world. As fans themselves, Akmal and Herman leveraged their relationship with Skydance to offer Terminator Salvation at the grand opening of their Irvine, CA location. Not only is the Terminator franchise known and beloved by fans across multiple generations, it will remain in the public conscience for the foreseeable future—Skydance is in the process of rebooting the film franchise, with the first installment being released in 2019.

Terminator Salvation equips up to four guests in VR headsets, haptic weapons, foot and hand trackers and a backpack carrying an integrated HP computer. Players have their faces scanned into 3D, which are superimposed onto their bodies while in the simulation. The VR adventure takes place on a stage, where guests can interact with props and feel wind effects (with the help of nearby fans). Players must infiltrate the enemy by becoming terminators (deadly cyborgs), travel through time and achieve certain goals to save humankind.

Spaces created the VR experience to be shared with others not only in real life but later on social media. Players are given a free 15-second clip of themselves playing in the game. They can also purchase a longer cut for $10, suitable for sharing on longer platforms like Facebook or YouTube.

“We know we live in a very social media-driven world,” Herman, Spaces CTO said. “It’s not just about the experiences that you have, but it’s about the experiences that you share.”

“VR is an opportunity to put you in the experience so that video clip is really meaningful to people,” added Akmal. “They can see and hear themselves having a great time. We’re finding that it’s really connecting and resonating with our guests.”

Wearing a VR headset can be an isolating experience, but arcades like Spaces are making the experience a social affair. Spaces sees the trend continuing into the near future, with companies like Dave and Busters investing millions into the technology.

The implications of high-end location-based VR are promising for brands, Akmal explained. Although Spaces is open to hosting original VR experiences, the company is more interested in using established franchises with built-in audiences.

“We have a history of working with marketing teams and connecting with audiences,” said Akmal. “What I’m seeing here [at the Irvine grand opening] is that customers are able to engage with the experience in a way that they can’t any other way. This leaves a mark in peoples’ mind where they never forget. It’s super unique compared to watching TV or seeing an advertisement. It’s definitely a fantastic way to connect to audiences in a way that’s meaningful and long-lasting.”

Spaces will soon launch a metrics-driven marketing campaign to promote the Terminator Salvation experience that includes social media, print and local billboards.

Forever 21 Launches AI-Driven Visual Search To Enhance Shopping

Forever 21 is making online shopping more experiential with its new visual search and navigation tool. With it, users can skip typing terms into the search bar and get straight to browsing apparel that best suits their tastes.

The visual search function is available through the “Discover Your Style” module on the Forever 21 app and its homepage when accessed from a mobile browser. Users narrow down the selection of clothing by tapping icons representing styles, colors, length and more to narrow down their search parameters.

“Discover Your Style” originally debuted in May on the Forever 21 iOS app, but it was limited only to dresses and tops. In that test period, the company saw increased sale conversations, with purchase averages for both categories growing by 20 percent. It is now available for use across a broad variety of clothing styles, using artificial intelligence, natural language processing and computer vision to quickly serve relevant search results to users.

According to the announcement, shoppers tend to abandon ecommerce sites if they can’t find what they’re looking for within three clicks. One study shows that millennials prefer to have a blend of technology and curation when shopping and having fast, personalized and intuitive search tools are critical to engaging with young consumers.

Forever 21 president Alex Ok said in a statement, “Visual search technology bridges the gap between the convenience of online shopping and the rich discovery experience of traditional retail by enabling our customers to search for clothing in the same way they think about it—using visuals, not words. Early data shows that this is one of the most important innovations in the ecommerce space in recent years.”

The company will work to further develop the visual search technology as part of its omnichannel shopping experience, leveraging it for merchandising, recommendations and lifecycle marketing efforts.