Updated: Dec 12, 2020
As exciting as esports is, it is quite difficult to hang out in the space if you’re a non endemic brand. Even as a charity or a non profit, there are still challenges navigating the fit. A brand’s mission, vision and values has to make sense and align with the story. Regardless, there are still ways to even knock on the door to say hello without committing a ton of money into the activation.
First and foremost, it doesn’t have to be esports to get your brand out there into the space. You don’t need competitive tournaments, a season long partnership with an organization or a big title with top international teams. Just get your foot in the idea of gaming - understand the audience (maybe some of the streamers), the game’s mechanics, and the nuances.
And by nuances, I only mean one certain nuance.
There has to be a strong sense of community in the activation.
There’s no other way around it. With the gaming community, it has always been community before commerce. Gamers love hanging out with each other! If there is some sort of ‘mini game’ or mission especially if there is an element involved that is for the greater good, there’s certainly much more intrigue. Let’s dive right in to one of our favourite examples.
Hellmann’s and Animal Crossing
Yes, Animal Crossing is a fairly big title, but there is no esport around the game. It’s casual and light hearted. Activities are so human-like that and there’s no hyperactive missions or objectives to eliminate the opposite team.
So, is that what makes Animal Crossing an interesting platform?
Yes, it’s the in-game mechanics in addition to the family friendliness aspects of the game, cooperation, the cute little meetups people have (so basically like Zoom right?) and themes aligning with the real world calendar.
What did the activation entail?
Raising awareness for food waste and money to donate meals to help solve food scarcity. Wondering how they did it in-game and how did it succeed? The brands understood the in-game mechanics of food waste and customizable, branding of islands that the authenticity flowed incredibly well.
Right on Hellmann’s website are the highlighted tabs of Real Food Movement and What We Stand For. This is basically their reason for existence: Food Rescue and Sustainable Practices.
What is Second Harvest’s reason for existence? To grow an efficient food network to fuel people and reduce the environmental impacts of avoidable food waste.
More on the activation from a previous piece here.
What if you don’t exactly know the game mechanics? Well, there’s ways around that too because there are easier to pick up/mobile accessible games like Among Us.
Canadian & American Politics Meet on Among Us
The Democrats’ AOC does it again.
First with famous streamer Pokimane during the Elections and now with Canadian NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh alongside other notable streamers as well.
The stream recently raised approximately $200,000 US in an effort to help fight food and housing insecurity in New York. The money was then split between six organizations to assist in feeding families and delivering legal guidance for small businesses.
Just like Animal Crossing, Among Us is no esport. With savageness and fun, Among Us has become this group connector of sorts during the pandemic.
Now, you may ask – what is it about Among Us that makes it intriguing as a platform? There really isn't much of a brand play with this example.
You're right. There's no branding like Hellmann's, but there is certainly an element of personal branding in association with political parties. Though, most importantly, there is an element of community initiatives which proves effectiveness beyond the game mechanics.
Politics this year in particular had plenty of storylines because of the US elections. This instance just happened to be a matter of right timing and right audience as the younger generation is one of the most engaging groups online in respect to the gaming community. It helps that Ocasio-Cortez and Singh (in particular on TikTok) certainly have their branding on point online which helped drive interest.
Gamers who followed along the stream clearly were committed to providing support for the cause AOC and Singh were vouching for. But, most importantly, people wanted to understand and commit to the stream discussion on politics both sides of the border. It was and will continue to be, for the greater good of learning and understanding ideologies.
Now you may be thinking: “How about something more on traditional game play in an esports perspective that closely resembles traditional sports for example?”
Good question – you still don’t need to be affiliated with a Call of Duty League or Overwatch League. Heck, you don’t even need to know what the Gulag is. Instead, you can play in a traditional sports video game environment. What comes to mind? NHL, NBA 2K or the NFL/Madden franchise!
Campbell’s Soup traditionally has not really been part of the gaming ecosystem. But, it has with the NFL. There is a fit here architecturally in the context of how Campbell’s Soup has played in the football world and given the nature of the online experience, it’s a good attempt to try esports with the Million Meals Challenge.
One of, if not, the best part about the activation is the community touch on tackling food hunger in schools – a common theme with the pandemic. Having the Collegiate StarLeague as part of the partnership helps with the bridge in getting to the students alongside the charity, GENYOUth. In addition, joining the circuit are NFL players like Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants adds a great touch to an already warm feeling in your stomach.
Unlike sponsoring an entire season, Campbell’s Soup is sponsoring a tournament which won’t entirely be breaking the bank with a cash investment. This just proves that you don’t need to be investing a whole lot to get into esports.
But maybe a tournament may still be out of range for a brand especially one that is too non-endemic to the ecosystem or too risky.
*TD enters the chat* with the Toronto Defiant/OverActive Media this past summer.
You just don’t see a financial institution, let alone a bank invest in esports very often. Banks traditionally shy away from risk taking executions. So, how did they make it work?
Again, it’s back to community initiatives. What can they do in the community to just say hello and express interest in the space without being too overtly inauthentic as a non-endemic brand.
Similar to how TD activates with Appreciation Weekend for the Toronto Blue Jays, they looked to repeat that same success with the Defiant. In socially distant fashion with the use of cannon guns, the Toronto Defiant visited their fans at home and fired off merchandise – a nod to Blue Jay games for t-shirt toss giveaways.
Architecturally, TD takes pride in the community and aligns with comfort in gaming as with banking. Even though experiential marketing has shut down, TD has found a way to use social distancing to its advantage while displaying flashes of who they are as a brand to their banking customers and how they’ve done things in traditional sport.
But, what if brands don’t want to do a weekend or a ‘Royale’ genre? What’s left?
Branded mini games.
Snacking is definitely endemic to the gaming ecosystem and the awareness front through engagement is prevalent in how brands like Butterfinger are activating in (the) space.
One recent example of this is a viewer engagement mini game where viewers can blow up Butterfinger like asteroids in a new mini game on Twitch while their favourite affiliated brand streamers play - what an ode to the Halo game title! The ‘Butterfinger Halo Havoc’ mini game is a unique way for fans to engage with the brand as they await the release of the new video game.
For non endemic brands, they can look to branded mini games similar to one that Schick did earlier this year.
Introducing Shave The Day, Schick turned players in-game points into a real donation to help fund childhood cancer research. The razor brand partnered with St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the definitive head-shaving charity to revolutionize the fight against childhood cancers. In short, players take on the role of a bald superhero, dodging obstacles to shave heads and rack up ‘Bald Bucks’ which equate to real donation dollars, funded by Schick.
People can download the game/app on mobile for free through the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.