We can reach 1 out of 5 Millennials, but we can’t get them off your lawn. Last week was Digital Content NewFronts week here in New York City, where the veterans and rising stars of interactive media showcased the power of digital content, in the hopes of converting TV advertising dollars into digital ones. Among a lineup of sales pitches by the likes of AOL, Hulu, Microsoft and Disney Interactive Studios, a company like Zynga appeared like the odd one out: what exactly was the world’s largest developer of social media game services doing at the annual showcase of digital video content?
Let’s take a step back before we answer that question – but you can skip the next 3 paragraphs if you know all about NewFronts already.
Just like the world of TV media buying needs a moment to assess the upcoming landscape of small-screen broadcasting, ad buyers realized that the same is the case for digital advertising. Banner-based online advertising is just so 2001: there might be infinite digital space to fill with banners; but in today’s content-driven society, all the pixels in the world will not help you if the message you deliver is not compelling or engaging enough.
Enter NewFronts 2012, an opportunity to revise digital advertising strategies by marrying them to premium online video content. However, digital advertising has also become the victim of technology, which propelled our attention from large PC displays to the tip of our smartphone-savvy fingers. Ever clicked an ad banner on your mobile because you wanted to, and not by mistake? I sure haven’t.
With engagement power and relevance being once again the most sought-after commodities in digital advertising, the Interactive Advertising Bureau decided that NewFronts 2013 should be about more than just video alone.
Which brings us back to Zynga: when they decided to close the event schedule with a party on Friday evening, they took everyone by surprise. But as Adam Sussman, Zynga’s VP of sales, puts it: “Mobile video we believe is going to be the fastest growing ad format, and we’re focused on delivering that in the most engaging digital content, which is gaming”. And I can tell you one thing – Zynga did not just take the agency crowd by surprise by making an unexpected appearance on the event schedule. It blew their socks off by giving them an incredibly interactive and playful party experience.
From 6 to 9 pm, invite-only attendees flocked to the Openhouse Gallery in NYC where they could mingle, dance and explore the world of Zynga in an environment that took the concept of stimulation to the next level. As a Gen-Y stimulation junkie, I was ready to break my freshly-signed 2-BR/rooftop lease to move into the Openhouse Gallery for the rest of my days. Picture a traveling circus setting up shop in Coachella’s Sahara tent, directed by Terry Gilliam; or an offline version of everything lovable the online gaming and social worlds have to offer.
I find the lack of words to describe this experience fairly disturbing; but I will try to summarize its highlights in a couple of bullet points.
- Hands-on décor: the entrance area was flanked by a plywood wall full of hands. Yes, hands: Technicolor fake ones and real flesh and blood ones sticking out from behind the plywood, eager to welcome guests with fresh beers, high fives and prizes.
- Play brought to life: what better way to explain what business you are in than making people walk through it in real life? The FarmVille Petting Zoo was crowded with furry costume performers, ready to be hugged. A Drawsomething portrait artist made you forget about the pains of sitting in some touristy neighborhood for hours, waiting for your sketch souvenir, by swiping and tapping your smile on a tablet in under 10 minutes. Words With Friends came to life in both XXL and XXS formats: a photo booth prone to witty word combinations and Words With Friends trays carrying the food item spelled out with word tiles on the tray.
- Play becomes win: guests could earn a chip for each game they interacted with, and exchange it for a surprise reward, handed to them through the plywood wall.
- How to share data and not be annoying: instead of boring guests with endless slide decks or video loops about the company’s numbers, witty tweet-sized data points were hung all over the walls: “54% more time spent per user than Yahoo! (Call us, Marissa)” / “reach 1 out of 4 women. Yeah, thassright, ladies. You loooove Zynga. And Zynga looooves you”
The attention to detail, combined with a seamless transition experience between interactive, musical and visual elements, succeeded in energizing a crowd worn out by a week of digital content presentations. Suited up guests were blasting soap bubbles at the dancing crowd; ladies rocking 9-inch heels and psychedelic plastic glasses were high-fiving adults in chicken costumes; everyone was taking pictures. When the 3 hours were over, the bouncers had to put quite some work into making sure everyone was ready to leave the premises.
Whether this party will turn Zynga into a contender of advertising dollars in the digital playground or not is yet to be defined, but I know for a fact that I had a memorable night. And judging by the social media buzz around the party, so did everyone else.