Guitar (Hero) Marketing

aerosmithgh_lgMarketingProfsAnn Handley writes great stuff on her personal blog, Annarchy.  In a recent post, she talks about the transformational magic of Wii Tennis.

“Tennis is a ridiculously hard game, and there are a relative few who can, in the real world, reach pro status. Few of us can do much of anything well enough to attract real acclaim. But it’s a blast to try. And it’s even more fun to feel some pleasure of success from your efforts. To forget–even for a few foolish minutes–that you aren’t an uncoordinated undesirable left standing on the sidelines. That, instead, you are gifted. Talented. A winner on the court. The kind of person the captain picks first for the team.”

If you’ve played Wii Sports, you understand this and it got me thinking about why some experiences can trigger very passionate responses in people.  Videogame designers have has evolved the medium from relatively simple (albeit fun) arcade style formats to realistic 3D-like environments with genres that appeal to sports enthusiasts,  pilot wannabes and fantasy/role players.  The Wii’s interactive controller design takes that to a new level allowing the player to use physical movements to control the game.  This immersive experience puts the player on the court, field, fairway or in the case of the wildly successful Guitar Hero series, on the stage.

The question is whether or not these simulated experiences can motivate some players to try the real thing.

Beyond the numerous debates regarding the level of exercise a person gets playing Wii Sports, I haven’t seen any reports suggesting a game-inspired sporting goods sales surge, but Guitar Hero appears to be an altogether different tune.

Since its introduction on Playstation 2 in November 2005, Guitar Hero has spawned its own culture of fans and fanatics.  Just check out the number of Guitar Hero videos on YouTube.  The Guitar Hero series has been financially lucrative for Activision, the company behind the games. In April, 2008, Wired magazine reported that the franchise had sold 14 million units which equates to about  US$1 billion in sales.  Sensing an opportunity to tap into the passions of music enthusiasts following the initial launch of the game, music instrument retailer Guitar Center partnered with Activision to be the in-game virtual music store starting with Guitar Hero II.  It appears their instincts were right as the musical instrument retailing industry has seen record year over year competitive store increases since the game was first introduced.

Guitar Center recently conducted a survey which “confirmed that the majority of those who play the games are more interested in picking up real instruments, it also revealed that most musicians who play the games use their real instruments more frequently as a result.”

Guitar Center’s move encouraged others in the music business to get their products into the game (literally).  The latest versions of Guitar Hero are music marketing masterpieces with product placements by everything from bands to music publications and beyond.  On a basic level, there is embedded advertising for products from leading manufacturers like Gibson, Mackie and JBL.   These product and logo placements are both passive (a logo on the stage monitor) or active (play a Les Paul guitar).  Beyond the direct music tie-ins are lifestyle placements from brands like Axe and Pontiac, and music publications like Guitar Player and Kerrang.  From a content perspective, record labels have replaced the cover versions found on the original game with the real artist recordings.  Players are exposed to new and “new to you” music.  The more you play, the more new stuff you hear and you are more likely to listen to a song that you might otherwise turn off because you are interacting with it.  The results are impressive:

  • Sales of gear for first-timers at Guitar Center has surged.  In the holiday selling season in the last quarter of 2007, Guitar Center saw a +20.7% jump in comparable store sales for beginner-level electric guitar & amplifiers. This surge grew even stronger through the first nine months of 2008, when Guitar Center’s cumulative comparable store sales for the category increased +26.9%.”
  • Gibson said that it had seen sales on the rise, particularly those that are featured in the video games such as the iconic Les Paul guitar.
  • Digital downloads of older and more obscure music featured in the game have increase dramatically.

So at its core, what is it about Guitar Hero that allows it to not only be a great piece of entertainment but also an effective marketing vehicle and an inspiration for some to take up real guitars?

It’s all about appealing to a lifestyle.  Like the way Harley Davidson has figured out how to be a lifestyle company, Guitar Hero resonates with rock music Passionistas because it taps into that inner rockstar that so many have wanted to be at some point in their lives.  It works because it gives players a taste of an experience that they want in a way that lets them forget–even for a few foolish minutes–that they can be more than just a fan in the audience.  That, instead, you are gifted. Talented.  A rocker on the stage.  The kind of person who gets their face on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Do you have Passionistas as customers?  Are you helping them to tap into their inner rockstar?

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The Future Really Is Now!

The exterior of the Spaceship Earth ride at Disney World’s Epcot park is perhaps one of the most recognized landmarks on Earth.  Housed in the giant geodesic sphere that serves as the gateway into the Future World section of the park, the ride is one of Disney’s finest examples of audio-animatronic magic.  Created in 1982, this ride takes the traveler on a journey through the history of communications technology starting with cave drawings and ending with Disney’s vision of 21st century communications.  After 25 years, the ride was updated this past February but its amazing to to consider how accurate the original vision of the future was.

The final scene of the old ride depicts two teenagers talking to each other; not on the telephone, but over an audio/video link using a computer and flat panel display.  The kids are neighbors of sorts, although in this future view, they are part of the same “global neighborhood”.  One is apparently in the US; the other in Asia.  They can see each other and the computer is translating their words into each other’s language.

In 1982 when the ride first opened, this idea must have seemed fantastic, but in the last few years, the technology and bandwidth have become generally available to enable this type of interaction.  The realization of the future really being now hit home this afternoon as my family was sitting outside enjoying a warm October afternoon.  As teens like to do, mine was pretty much ignoring her mom and I, and was instead, having a conversation with three friends.  Of course, teens no longer tie up the landline phone for this activity like they did back in 1982.  Mine prefers to use her computer and social sites like BlogTV which enables video streaming.  The friends she was talking to were neighborhood kids.  Global neighborhood kids to be more accurate; from Norway, Sweden and Austria.

Consider the implications of that for a minute. What was considered part of a fantastic future just a few years ago is now an everyday activity for teenagers. Soon, they will be starting their careers, building families of their own and generally running the place.   How fast will their ideas and trends travel as the distance and barriers between different cultures becomes smaller and smaller?  How much will they begin to see and respect one another for what they have in common instead being fearful of differences?

Spaceship Earth image courtesy of Jeff B

Teenagers as “Teamagers”

teenagers2web.jpgWill Richardson over at the education-oriented blog Weblogg-ed had an interesting post today about a recent FastCompany interview with Gartner researcher, Tom Austin. In the interview, Austin makes a pretty compelling argument for implementing and using social tools in the workplace and suggests that the real value from IT departments of the future will come not so much from their technology knowhow, but rather from an ability to facilitate relationships (the fundamental element of business) through social tools.

The interview gets into a number of topics regarding the changing structures in some corporations (and not in others) and Austin suggests that Facebook and MySpace will become models for business interaction.

Look at teenagers today. They’re teamagers. They work on projects as a group and think nothing of doing it that way. I expect to see that kind of thing percolate through the enterprise as an unstoppable force over the next two decades.

Will Richardson asked his readers if they thought today’s teenagers have group collaboration down as a part of the way they do their business. Speaking for my on teenager, I would say yes, absolutely.  What do you think?

Marketing to Youth in Social/Virtual Worlds

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As I sit here in my kitchen looking for a job, my daughter Tyler and her friend have the big HP notebook fired up and pointed at Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom. Tyler, who just entered her teen years, has been playing around in virtual worlds for a few years now. She has as many friends in these communities as she does in real life and she is not alone. Millions of younger kids are spending significant time in virtual worlds like Disney’s Toontown, VMK, Club Penguin, Webkinz and Whyville. The market for “safe” teen social sites and virtual worlds continues to grow as well with MTVs virtual worlds, There.com, Doppelganger and others.

According to a recent study, 71 percent of tweens and teens between the ages of 9 and 17 visit social/virtual world sites weekly. There isn’t a clear tally of the virtual world population, but the number of registered users for kids and teen worlds is growing. From the study:

Urban teen environment Doppelganger has nearly 150,000 registered members, while PG-13 site There.com has 1 million members, 70 percent of whom are between the ages of 13 and 26. Self-described “edutainment” site for tweens, Whyville, has 2.3 million users.

As has been pointed out in numerous studies, many kids are watching less television, preferring instead to spend time on the internet. In the last week alone, my daugher has watched maybe 6 hours of TV, but has spent three times that much time on YouTube, VMK and other social sites. I’m beginning to think the computer is somehow physically attached to her as she takes it everwhere.

Enter the Marketers

Over at ClickZ, Matthew Nelson published a good article last month which discusses the the marketing landscape in youth oriented virtual worlds. He points out that in the PG-13 worlds, marketers are quite active in promoting specific items that appeal to todays teens (clothing, music, electronics). The challenge here is to find ways to engage them. As Nelson points out, this audience has been the target of sophisticated campaigns since they were babies. They recognize when they are being marketed to and will simply ingnore the message if it doesn’t add value to them.

To appeal to teens, advertisers and virtual worlds often team-up around themes that are clear fits, such as music, entertainment, clothing and electronics, but marketers need to engage their audience to keep them coming back. Recently, There.com signed an agreement with Capitol Music Group to bring music artists into its world, and created a series of virtual nightclubs for them to play in. More than that, users will be able to watch videos and interact with band members.

“The artists are realizing they need to be more involved with their market,” said Michael Wilson, CEO of There. “And this is a more efficient way to meet a fan, to change the engagement with them from a few moments to minutes.”

Nelson points out that there has been conscious decision among the young kid oriented sites to disallow all in-world advertising, but that’s not to say that the sites themselves aren’t powerful marketing vehicles for the brands that own them. The point of sites like Nicktropolis, Toontown & VMK is to get kids to interact and engage with the brand. Spend any time in VMK and you will see all kinds of in-world ad for Disney properties.

Youth Are Receptive to Marketers IF….

A recent study conducted by Grunwald Associates found that kids (9 to 17-year olds) are not only spending significant time in social sites, but are willing to engage with advertisers in those spaces is they are approached in the right way (i.e. must be relevant and perceived as adding value).

Disney obviously understands the attraction of social/virtual worlds to their target consumer (kids) and are aggressively moving to expand their presence. They are planning new virtual worlds around specific properties like Pirates of the Carribean and just this week bought Club Penguin. By simply renaming it “Disney’s Club Penguin” club penguin fans become Disney fans. Others brands, such as Capital Music Group, are partnering with virtual worlds to build persistent experiences for their consumers to interact with. If you market products to youth, social/virtual worlds are clearly channels that you need be exploring. These are two examples of what I think are successful approaches to marketing in social/virtual worlds.

Do you have some examples to share (good or bad)? What are the big pitfalls of marketing to youth through these channels.

Discuss……

Brand Engagement – LOST

I love ABC’s LOST.  The characters are full of flaws (human) and maybe that’s why its easy to get attached to them.  The show’s production is excellent and the storyline carefully allows the mysteries to age before revealing the truth (which often comes with another mystery).  I’ve written before about the many channels used by the producers to extend the Lost experience and the amazing amount of user-generated content related to the series.  OK, hold that thought.

My daughter will be 13 next week.  As someone who loves to observe marketing and consumers, it’s been fascinating to watch her develop as a consumer.  Like most young girls, Disney princesses were a big part of her young life.  She had the costumes and pretended to be them (Snow White was her favorite).  As she grew up, she moved through other branded entertainment properties, many of which got the same high level of engagement.  She practiced singing Britney Spears and Michelle Branch songs, learned all the lines and songs from Wicked, and with each brand that she became engaged with, her friends usually got engaged too. 

Last year, I got her to watch the LOST series premier on DVD.  After ten minutes, she was hooked and we proceeded to watch the first 2 seasons at a clip of 3-4 shows a night.  This season, LOST is her obsession.  She reads the blogs and Wikis, buys magazines with LOST stories, and has uncovered connections in the plot that I was not aware of.  As with everything in her life, she has shared her obsession with her friends and many of them are now hooked.

A few months ago, she made a movie about the Apple store and I wrote about it here.   Yesterday, she made another movie.  This time its short montage about a character from LOST named Charlie Pace who died in the season finale.  I’m sure that there is a fair amount of parental pride influencing my assessment of her work, but I think it’s really good.  She has mixed music, images, words, and footage from the series together to tell a story about Charlie as if he were a real person.  After she loaded it up to YouTube, I did a search to find it and was astonished to see that there were over 6400 user generated videos tagged with “Charlie Pace”! 

To me this is real brand engagement.  It’s one thing to have original user generated content, but for entertainment brands to have their consumers turning out content about their content, something special is going on.

Is this just me or do you see examples of this too?  If it’s a real phenomenon, what should the entertainment brands be doing with that content and it’s creators?  Can they drive the engagement even higher by interacting with these mavens?  How much could the brand grow if these people were encouraged to be advocates for the brand? 

Kids, the Internet, and the End of Privacy

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“As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited,” reads the first paragraph of the article Say Everything by Emily Nussbaum for New York Magazine. The article was published in February, 2007, but I just found it this weekend and it blew me away.

Nussbaum profiles several Gen Y’ers; early adopters of social media, many of whom have been using the tools to record every detail of their adolescent years. It’s a fascinating look at the new generation gap where young people willingly and openly share the details of their lives in a way that is unimaginable, even shocking for older adults.

As a 21st century parent, I had been feeling good about how well I have kept up with the next generation. The things that defined the generation gap of the sixties (specifically music and cultural attitudes) are not big differentiators between me and my 13-year-old. What I have noticed over the last few years as she has adopted various social tools and creative outlets on the internet, I have noted her willingness to create and connect with people outside of her local sphere. This is way beyond anything I would have imagined at 13 because the capability simply did not exist. For this generation, it’s seems perfectly natural. Describing a 26-year-old named Kitty, Nussbaum writes:

She left her teens several years before the revolution began in earnest: the forest of arms waving cell-phone cameras at concerts, the MySpace pages blinking pink neon revelations, Xanga and Sconex and YouTube and Lastnightsparty.com and Flickr and Facebook and del.icio.us and Wikipedia and especially, the ordinary, endless stream of daily documentation that is built into the life of anyone growing up today. You can see the evidence everywhere, from the rural 15-year-old who records videos for thousands of subscribers to the NYU students texting come-ons from beneath the bar. Even 9-year-olds have their own site, Club Penguin, to play games and plan parties. The change has rippled through pretty much every act of growing up. Go through your first big breakup and you may need to change your status on Facebook from “In a relationship” to “Single.” Everyone will see it on your “feed,” including your ex, and that’s part of the point.

Parents of this generation have lots of opinions on this new level of transparency. Most worry about risks of sharing private information on the net. There are also the concerns that today’s youth can’t develop real friendships through the computer, that they have no attention span, and that they are only interested in getting attention. Nussbaum counters this argument with a theory put forth by NYU professor Clay Shirky:

“Whenever young people are allowed to indulge in something old people are not allowed to, it makes us bitter. What did we have? The mall and the parking lot of the 7-Eleven? It sucked to grow up when we did! And we’re mad about it now.” People are always eager to believe that their behavior is a matter of morality, not chronology, Shirky argues. “You didn’t behave like that because nobody gave you the option.”

It could be jealousy, or it might be that it’s just not natural for those over 30 since they did not grown up with in a hyper-connected, always-on, reality-based entertainment world.

I don’t share most of the concerns of my parent-peers. I find the honesty of this generation is refreshing; I believe great friendships can and will continue to be made without physical interaction; and what looks like zero attention span might just be an conditioned ability to multi-task which exceeds that of the previous generation.

More young people are putting more personal information out in public than any older person ever would. One 2006 government study showed that 61 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds have a profile online, half with photos and these numbers are rising rapidly. So what’s different between us and them? They have a completely different definition of privacy. They think that the overly cautious nature of “their elders” is strange. Nussbaum suggests that there is a reason for this shift:

Younger people, one could point out, are the only ones for whom it seems to have sunk in that the idea of a truly private life is already an illusion. Every street in New York has a surveillance camera. Each time you swipe your debit card at Duane Reade or use your MetroCard, that transaction is tracked. Your employer owns your e-mails. The NSA owns your phone calls. Your life is being lived in public whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

A different perception of privacy isn’t the only difference evident here. Professor Shirky suggests that there may be real neurological changes at work here:

They think of themselves as having an audience. They create content and once others begin to consume it, they feel motivated to continue providing and improving it.

They have archived their adolescence. I can barely remember mine. Today’s youth will not have that problem. They take the time to capture the details of their life and make them available for the world to see.

Their skin is thicker than ours. Nussbaum writes, “We live in a time in which humiliation and fame are not such easily distinguished quantities. And this generation seems to have a high tolerance for what used to be personal information splashed in the public square.”

There are a couple of powerful concepts being discussed these days in some of my favorite blogs. Developing your personal brand is one. Conversation Marketing is another. The thinking is that these are important concepts for marketers and businesses to understand and leverage as the consumer has fundamentally changed. Business leaders are having difficulties understanding the importance of embracing social media. The don’t see the point of much of it because they are from that other generation. Instead of trying to figure out the value of the tools, they should focus on understanding the Gen Y consumer. Understand how they are fundamentally different from you in the way they communicate & collaborate, how they create and maintain relationships, and what it is that they value. Reading this excellent article would be a good place to start.

The iPhone Challenge

No sooner had I hit the publish key on my Brand Engagement – Apple Store post, did I see this challenge from Seth Godin:

Steve Ballmer says, “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” Predicting the future of the iPhone is perfect bait for marketing pundits everywhere. How about a pool and we’ll see who’s as smart as they pretend to be? So, I invite you to make a prediction, trackback it here and a year from now, we’ll take a look.

I agree with Seth; the iPhone will be big this year and even bigger next year.  Here’s why:

  1. People, especially young teens, are totally engaged with the Apple brand.
  2. The cell phone and the iPod are probably the most important possessions a young teenager has.
  3. It will be the ultimate aspirational gadget for young teens.  Having the coolest iPod and phone are status symbols for them; they get you attention.  If someone else has a RAZR, you will drive your parents crazy begging for one, even if you have a perfectly good phone (voice of experience talking)

What do you think?