In the House! Outdoor Brands Go Indoors

Does rise of the stay-at-home economy during the pandemic mean the demise of outside fun? Industries ranging from music concerts to sports, which depend on people gathering in large groups, have adapted to the times. Let’s take a look at a few examples of how some big-time businesses are finding ways to engage with their fans at a time of social distancing.

Niantic Brings Pokémon GO to Global Living Rooms

When Niantic unleashed Pokémon GO in 2016, streets, parks, and buildings around the world became augmented reality playgrounds as millions of gamesters chased after the beloved Pokémon characters with their mobile phones. Even after the initial buzz about Pokémon GO subsided, the game remained as popular as ever going into 2020, and Niantic was raking in hundreds of millions of dollars from in-app purchases and premium experiences. When the pandemic hit, the world’s outdoor playing field became a risky place to catch Pokémon. 

Pre-pandemic, one way players can compete on Pokémon GO is to meet in small groups and battle each other in designated physical locations known as gyms. So Niantic reconfigured the user experience to make it possible for players to battle each other remotely rather than in a shared physical space. Another example: on specially designated Community Days, Niantic had encouraged players to meet in public and chase after different Pokémon. During the pandemic, Pokémon configured Community Days to feature a 24-hour livestream on the Pokémon Go YouTube channel, where players could watch for special Pokémon characters to appear in various virtual scenes.  The indoor versions of Pokémon GO became so popular that Niantic ended up publishing a Play at Home guide. 

The key takeaway: by monitoring its own global user base and quickly adapting to changing conditions, Pokémon GO never lost a step. It was the third-highest grossing gaming app of 2020, pulling down $757 million globally.

The National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and Women’s National Basketball Association Embrace a Wider World of Sports

Sports fans have been following their favorite teams from the comfort of their homes for decades, whether on radio, TV, or via digital. But what changed in 2020 is that fans had no choice but to watch sports at home. Going to a stadium was a nonstarter for the vast majority of fans. So sports teams and leagues around the world found more novel ways to bring the in-person experience into the living room.

For example, the NBA partnered with Microsoft to make it possible for fans to transport their faces virtually courtside while NBA games were played in limited-access courts. The NBA, WNBA, and Major League Baseball also rolled out “cheering technology.” Yes, fans could cheer (and boo) virtually by using their laptops and apps to tap react to on-field action with the click of a keyboard. The WNBA even added an element of play and community to the technology: the league monitored which teams were getting the most cheers virtually via the WNBA app. At the end of the season, fans from teams with the top three total cheers were invited to participate in a virtual roundtable with that team’s players, the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream. 

The key takeaway: with gamification and community, the WNBA injected surprise and delight into a common in-person fan experience, cheering. 

Travis Scott and Fortnite Create a New Blueprint for Concerts

When Travis Scott’s avatar appeared on Fortnite to perform a concert in April 2020, the moment symbolized a new direction for the music concert business. The entire industry had ground to a halt (and pretty much remains that way) when the pandemic hit. But the popular hip-hop star showed a way forward – maybe not for every musician, but for the digitally savvy stars with massive brand appeal. 

Strictly speaking, his appearance was not a live concert. His avatar roamed Fortnite’s virtual world during a 10-minute fantasy especially designed for the popular gaming platform. The performance drew 12.3 million concurrent players (i.e., watching at the same moment) and 27.7 million unique players (i.e., the number of different people who have signed on) globally across five airings over three days. The concert, “Astronomical,” also generated millions of dollars in revenue for both Scott and Fortnite from the sale of in-game virtual merchandise such as a replica of Scott’s performance avatar. 

Scott inspired more artists to partner with brands to perform in global living rooms. For example, The Weeknd partnered with TikTok to perform a concert in augmented reality and virtual reality; Billie Eilish and Oculus Quest collaborated on a virtual reality concert. Many other artists embraced digital, whether with AR or VR, to connect with fans in their living rooms as well. In fact, virtual reality concert startups such as Wave are now gaining serious funding – not just because in-person concerts are on hold, but because they capitalize on the unique attributes of digital to deliver an experience that people cannot get in person. That’s the lesson to be learned from Travis Scott and those who have followed him. 

The key takeaway: by capitalizing on an already established and popular video platform, Travis Scott connected with a built-in audience. He and Fortnite, like Niantic, tapped into an existing revenue stream to monetize the appearance.

Key Considerations for Brands Moving into Living Rooms

  • How might you capitalize on digital to offer an experience that might even surpass what your customers might normally get in person?
  • How might you apply a monetization model, perhaps leveraging an existing model as Niantic has done?
  • What platforms and brand partners might help you do the heavy lifting to make an experience succeed?

Many other businesses beyond these are adapting to the stay-at-home economy. We have blogged about them recently in posts such as “CES Loves Stay-at-Home Customer Experiences” and  “The Quarantine Families that Play Together Stay Together.” Regardless of the type of business they are, they have in common a strategic approach to adapting to the times. You may or may not choose to create a permanent experience, but it will be a strategic one. To learn more about how to create a memorable experience with live commerce and many other digital experiences, contact Asher Wren

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