Marek Wrobel vigilantly tracks emerging media tech for Havas Media Group. In his new monthly column in The Drum, the Media Innovation Round-Up, Wrobel will talk you through the “new and shiny“ things, and their role in the ever-evolving marketing mix.
As head of media futures at Havas, I explore the potential of media innovations, as well as their limitations. In my video newsletter, I dig into the most exciting media news stories and put them in context for brands.
It’s all a game
Lego launched a new app called Vidiyo, ‘a unique mash-up’ of Lego elements, music, and augmented reality. It’s yet another building block for a bigger trend, one that Lego has part of for some time now – the gamification of everything.
Back in 2019, Lego launched Hidden SIDE set, which used AR to add storylines to Lego sets. Last year it worked with Nintendo to create an interactive Super Mario set – turning it into an interactive game. And now Videyo is taking this approach to a whole new level. But why should marketers care?
Well, it’s been happening in content, too. In January alone we heard about Aardman launching its first AR-powered Wallace and Gromit experience, Rival Peak – a Facebook experiment that allows people to collectively decide how digital avatars will behave in a reality show-type setting – reaching 22m views in January. We also heard an announcement about Disney’s partnership with Nvidia to create an interactive animated short which premiered at the all-virtual Sundance Film Festival.
While these are very exciting, we need to remember that it’s not about interactivity for interactivity’s sake, but rather the goal is to create a sense of agency for your audiences.
The whole concept of having agency and being part of something underlines many of the trends dominating conversations in the marketing world today, and I believe gamified and interactive content will push this even further.
It’s definitely something that brands should start exploring.
Alexa, tell me where to go
TripAdvisor has launched a ’world-first’ virtual voice tour in partnership with Abu Dhabi.
With all of us staying at home, for now, are virtual tours a lifeline for experience-based sectors?
It’s not the only voice that powers this shift, as many other technologies are enabling virtual experiences – from video tours and 360 experiences through to live streaming, VR, AR, and even digital OOH. This trend is also being embraced by sectors outside of travel too, such as theatres, museums, and art galleries. In some cases – somewhat ironically – they have even made these places more accessible.
But what about the other side of the coin? Why aren’t more cultural institutions harnessing these technologies? It all boils down to value exchange.
These institutions are suffering right now, and creating virtual experiences costs money. While some of the big venues do charge for virtual visits, this is not an option for everyone.
Brands and tech partners are helping cultural institutions with this shift online. AppsFlyer is helping to create a VR tour for Memorial Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum and in January Verizon announced that it’s building AR experience for the MET. Hopefully, we will see more brands partnering with culture institutions, both big and small.
Stream and shop
TikTok has partnered with Walmart to test a new, shoppable live-stream experience. How does it fit into the story of the rise of live streamed commerce?
Lockdown pushed live streaming into the spotlight and it has been popular in China for a long time, European marketers are starting to take notice.
Data from WARC shows that 22% of them believe live streaming will be the most important emerging technology in 2021. I see live streaming as the next step in the evolution of how brands interact with their customers.
In the beginning, brands broadcasted messages to their audiences – it was all about one-way, passive communication. Social media blew all of this up, enabling a two-way, digital-first form of interaction.
With tech platforms and customers seemingly on board, a ‘wait and see’ approach to live streaming is no longer an option for brands.
Playing the ball
Epic Games brought the NFL to Fortnite. There are two trends to unpack.
First of all, this is yet another sign of the rise of avatar marketing. This term was coined in 2006, around the time that Second Life was popular, but it’s just now that it’s really taking off. Avatars and their skins have become an important part of the gaming experience.
They often don’t provide bonuses to one’s gameplay – they are usually status symbols. And with gaming becoming THE new social space, it’s not surprising that players are willing to spend big bucks on them, driving eye-watering revenues for games such as Fortnite, League of Legends and PUBG. Skins are another way for brands to get involved with some of the world’s most popular games.
Secondly, the addition of football marks another stage of Fortnite’s evolution.
It started as a Battle Royale game but it is quickly evolving beyond that – offering music experiences, cinema, a place to spend time and now to play and show your love for football.
A virtual 5G stadium built in Fortnite was the crown jewel of Verizon’s Super Bowl campaign. What does it tell us about future of virtual events?
Verizon’s 5G stadium is in no way the first event to take place in Fortnite or in a gaming environment in general. One would need to live under a rock to miss the news of Travis Scott’s concert in Fortnite, Lil Nas X’s virtual performance in Roblox or the upcoming Post Malone’s virtual gig set in Pokemon Go.
Verizon organised virtual meet and greets, created mini-games and put live streams on Twitch and Twitter to broaden appeal. Advertisers can start creating these experiences to showcase what they are all about – translating their products, product features or principles into fun, interactive experiences.
While I doubt it will replace social altogether, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more brands (especially those geared towards younger audiences) building their presences in games such as Fortnite, Animal Crossing and Roblox, in the same way they built their social pages on Facebook and Twitter.
(Pod)casting a wide net
Spotify has reported that a quarter of its users now listen to podcasts, and podcasting was one of the main drivers of Spotify’s recent advertising revenue increase.
What does this tell us about the health of podcasts? The medium has had an interesting year, with some voices claiming that the lack of a commute and our shift to screens will put a stop to the growth they have been experiencing over the last few years. However, looking at the latest Rajar MIDAS survey, podcasts enjoyed 33% year on year growth in the number of weekly listeners.
So, Covid-19 hasn’t stopped us from listening to podcasts. Instead, we’ve adjusted our behaviour, with fewer people listening during traditional commuting time and more people listening to podcasts during the day – something I like to call “flattening the curve of podcast listenership”.
While it’s hard to dispute our screen-time has gone through the roof, I see podcasts and audio – digital or otherwise – as a screen antidote that we all need in order to keep sane.
I’m bullish about audio’s importance for brands and their media activities. Let’s not forget that while Spotify has been grabbing headlines recently with exclusive content deals, and more and more acquisitions, the whole of the podcasting ecosystem is constantly maturing.
TV ads go interactive
Cheetos embedded stealth Snapchat codes into its Super Bowl ad spot. Did it mark an era of interactive TV ads?
Cheetos’ partnership with Snap is yet another example of the budding romance between TV and all kinds of emerging technology – whether it’s visual search, QR codes, AR or voice.
Over the last few months, we’ve seen many cool examples of TV ads and TV content becoming more interactive with help of these technologies. Camden Town Brewery ran what it called drinkable ads, giving viewers the chance to win free beers, Burger King’s ads during last year’s VMAs launched an AR gig, and Google has been working with The Voice in the US to integrate… well, voice, into the experience (#voiceinception).
It’s not that every TV ad will or even should offer an interactive element. Even with something as simple as adding QR codes we need to remember that this sort of interaction with TV ads is not standard behaviour and it’s a bit trickier to do compared to print and OOH. There are a few things to keep in mind, such as offering a value exchange, including a very clear call-to-action, and seeing these interactions as a way to deepen engagement rather than as a measure of an ad’s success.
do connect physical and digital experiences!
Nike launched a cool in-store activation that looks to recreate the feeling of visiting an outdoor expedition. It merged mobile web, QR codes and augmented reality.
Could this type of experience be the answer to the challenges that retail will face post-Covid?
The Nike example made me think about how retailers have to offer a reason for people to visit their stores, something that will set apart the brick-and-mortar experience from its digital counterpart.
While I do believe the changes we’re currently seeing in the way we shop will lead to lasting transformation, a lot of us do miss shopping and everything that comes with the retail experience. Therefore, when we think about the future of retail – and many other areas of our lives – rather than looking at them in black and white terms, pitting online against offline, we need to embrace a concept some people call ’phygital retail’.
However, since I loathe this word as a prime example of marketing’s new-speak, let’s call it ’hybrid retail’ instead.
This trend will be about using technology to make shopping more integrated, with the lines between online and offline blurring. The smartphone will most likely sit at the centre of hybrid retail, making shopping safer by providing more contactless experiences, from payments through to try-ons and so on, as well as making the whole thing a lot more fun.
You can watch my last two video round-ups, here and here. Get on my mailing list here. And if that's not enough, sign up for The Drum's weekly Future of Media briefing here, you'll see me in there from time-to-time.