The bone-chilling cold of the polar vortex didn’t stop legions of football fans from descending into the far reaches of Manhattan to celebrate this year’s Super Bowl festivities. EM editors threw on their warmest thermal underwear and joined the masses to bring you coverage of the best activations on the island during the run up to Super Bowl Sunday. From the NFL-sponsored “Super Bowl Boulevard” that ran 13 blocks through the heart of midtown to Pepsi’s “PepCity” in Bryant Park to the small but powerful 50 Yard Lounge (and all the parties in between) we bring you photos and highlights from the year’s biggest fan experience—freezing your ass off not required.
How do you make a backend technology interesting and relevant to loyal football fans? First, you offer them a respite from the freezing temperatures. SAP’s glass and truss “NFL.com Stats Zone” was the only permanent-looking activation on Broadway, giving the brand points not only for making an effort with its architecture (and relative warmth), but for creating a dazzling exterior LED display that rivaled even the billboards nearby. Next, you offer fans fun ways to engage in their favorite sport, through voting at one of six interactive kiosks for the NFL Fantasy Player of the Year, to getting their photo snapped and imbedded into a virtual helmet and jersey from their favorite team, to testing their “rookie” or “all-star” status at a football trivia game. Finally, you make the message—that SAP is the brains behind the analytics that help you play Fantasy Football, and enjoy all kinds of football-related activities—fun and easy to grasp. And then you use your real estate on the outside of the structure to show off yet more of your technology chops by tracking social media to analyze sentiment around fun facts consumers will love, like, which player is getting the most positive chatter online, or, does Texas want the Seahawks or Broncos to win? “Since everyone is so active on social media, it was the best way for us to use our technology to reach people walking by,” said Alicia De Avila, director- sponsorships at SAP. We couldn’t agree more.
You know that moment when you get close to the front of the line at a theme park ride and you can hear people screaming as they hit the first drop? This wasn’t quite that dramatic, but the “I can hear it but I can’t see it” strategy was still the same. The occasional hoots and hollers of attendees, combined with upbeat music and dancing brand ambassadors, kept fans engaged as they made their way slowly (this line was so slow) to the entrance of Pepsi’s activation—a windowless tent with one way in and one way out. As consumers reached the front of the line, they were given the thumbs up and then told to run into a pitch black (except for some flashing lights) “stadium tunnel,” essentially reenacting the moment when NFL players enter the field on game day. Once inside, attendees could don fun props and film an “Are You Fan Enough?” half-time commercial. We think the build-up was more impressive than the experience itself, but overall, folks we quizzed said it was a good time and worth the wait.
We could smell the chocolate, but we never actually saw the chocolate. But that’s the only bad thing we have to say about this activation. Inside a simple two-toned tent branded yellow on one side for M&M’s and brown on the other for Snickers, the MARS brands generated long but happy lines of consumers willing to step inside one of two upbeat engagements. On the M&M’s side, to celebrate 2014 as the year of the peanut, consumers could have a digital interaction using augmented reality with that sassy M&M character “Yellow,” and then pose for a photo op. The adjacent Snickers zone was all about “Super Bowl Satisfaction” and featured a living room set where fans could reenact their reaction when their team scores as a staffer recorded the moment on a mobile device. The “mini Super Bowl ad” was put in slow motion and packaged with graphics and an audio file before being sent to participants. Agency: Team Epic, Norwalk, CT.
The title sponsor’s more traditional footprint took place a few blocks up from the Toboggan, between 42nd and 43rd Streets. Attendees lined up to step inside a black tent and complete a two-minute registration (GMC collected data on vehicle preferences), before walking away with a white wristband that granted them access to the rest of the experience. Fans that visited each of the three vehicles on-site and completed a short trivia quiz on the vehicle’s features got their wristband scanned. Three scans meant three chances to score at a nearby prizing kiosk that offered signed footballs, helmets, photos, Toboggan tickets and more. Attendees could also visit a green-screen display to create their own EA SPORTS Madden cover, which was printed on-site and delivered in a nice jewel case, or, step inside the trailer that served as the footprint’s backdrop to pose for a photo with the Super Bowl MVP Trophy. Two tablets outside the trailer granted access to social networks for sharing the snapshots. We heard some attendees grousing about the added registration layer (it was the only sponsor activation to do so), but the prize giveaways and free takeaways seemed frequent and high-value enough to keep folks interested and coming back for more.
Toboggan Run by GMC
Although it wasn’t a branded footprint in the traditional sense, this six-story, 180-foot-long slide gave the automaker a little credit for the fun being had by fans. You could hear the screams from blocks away as consumers lined up to sit on a sack and race down one of eight lanes on an undulating slide. The structure’s sheer height was impressive, especially set amid the billboards and high-rises of Broadway’s corridor. The snow machine at the bottom was a nice added effect. And the $5 ticket fee that sent all proceeds back to charity MillionTreesNYC gave it a feel-good afterglow that lasted after the adrenaline wore off. Folks will long remember this experience—it’s not every day you get to fly down Broadway, after all.
This activation left a lot to be desired from a street appeal perspective. A dingy white tent with a freestanding logo was all there was to “entice” folks in. But dang it if they didn’t have fun once they got inside. The brand offered a “create your own performance moment” where attendees lined up to grab a football and leap into a pit of foam blocks as their photo was taken in front of a football field backdrop. This activity appealed to fans of all ages and attracted huge crowds of bystanders who seemed to have just as much fun watching people leap (and attempt to crawl out) as they did doing the photo op themselves. Adding to the fun—the guys taking the photos never seemed to snap it at the right time, so there were several do-overs. There were a few other static displays and a video confessional booth nearby, but no one seemed to care. The action was all “on the field.”
Two murdered out GMC SUVs anchored Xbox One’s otherwise signature green “Tailgaming Zone,” which was filled to capacity with about 15 gaming stations, two racing simulators, a wide variety of games and a small set of bleachers set in front of a large screen (where more than a few fans stopped by to warm up, sit down and take down a free slice from the nearby Papa John’s sampling activation). Fans could enter a sweepstakes for prizes that included an Xbox game or a $50 gift card to the NFL.com shop and could pose for a selfie with a tricked out Xbox console. We didn’t see this in action ourselves, but we heard that Uber users in Manhattan on Friday and Saturday had the chance to win a free ride and a prize giveaway if their car request landed them one of several branded Xbox One SUVs roaming around town.
Verizon Power House
Dominating the west side of Bryant Park, and facing away from the Bank of America skating rink (which was very popular and always full when we went by), was the Verizon Wireless Power House, and it was powerful indeed. The 25-foot-wide LED screen helped the bundled-up brand ambassadors lure people inside, and once there, getting folks out became a real challenge. The first sensation was the heat: blessed, searing heat that had everyone pulling off gloves, hats and ridiculously large coats with a sigh of relief.
Though the lines sometimes got a bit long for the eight check-in stations, it went so quickly that nobody was complaining, or skipping the line. The process was simple, and unlike anything we’d seen before. As is commonplace, guests punched in an email and took a photo at a kiosk, but instead of getting some RFID card or bracelet, the brand ambassador helped each one put a thumb into the built-in print reader and the info was tied to their thumbprints. Yup, you read that right. Now, for the sake of privacy and security concerns, the software didn’t in truth record everyone’s thumbprint. Instead, the print was translated into a simple, random binary identifier and then deleted, so it was the code that traveled around with each person, but the scanner was a real hit to interact with—especially because it worked every time we used it, even on separate visits.
At each activation inside, guests scanned their thumbs and the experiences were tailored using their names and photos, emailing premium custom content to them as they went. The central activation of the tented space (design and build by Czarnowski, New Jersey) was the personalized timeline photo mosaic creator. Attendees stepped up to one of the eight touch screens, scanned their thumbs and received a custom timeline of pop culture, sports and world history from the NFL Football Championship in 1922 (the Canton Bulldogs won) to the present, with the current user’s birth year highlighted. Fans spun info cubes from each year and sent their three favorites up to a huge screen above them to create a photo mosaic of themselves from their saved headshot, which was then emailed to them to keep. Score.
There was a video activation with football greats, a “Suit Up” augmented reality game, a short multimedia video viewing room and a skybox dedicated to Verizon’s tasty new NFL app. All of the activations were designed to showcase the brand’s ubiquitous interactivity and usefulness, thanks in large part to its new cloud storage offerings. We got it, and we liked what we saw (Agency: Wasserman Media Group, New York City).
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Although Pepsi had a modest activation on Broadway, the real action was in Bryant Park at #PepCity, where the brand pulled out all the stops to show off its New York heritage, food and beverage bona fides and audience-pleasing savvy. The visual and emotional centerpiece was the 46-foot-tall and 80-foot-wide dome that dominated the east side of the park and loomed over the ice skaters (in a friendly way, of course).
Inside, the brand showcased local musicians and performers all week—both in informal, intimate settings and in more classic concert series style, culminating with Ziggy Marley Saturday night. Our favorite small performance was a sweet rap battle between two local gents who tore into each other for a shot at two tickets to the big game. The brand used the inner surface of the dome as a screen, projecting gigantic images to set the mood for the events inside.
When no one was performing on the main stage, the brand put up a slick row of silhouette windows with mysterious and intriguing occupants moving around. An artist-created replica of the Hudson River Pepsi-Co sign dominated one side of the space, but the real stars of the action were the high-end New York City chefs, who took up the brand’s challenge to create top-shelf tidbits with PepsiCo foods and beverages, like a Mountain Dew-infused bacon treat or a Frito taco. The whole space evoked a sense of a bustling Italian piazza, with conversation punctuated by performance art, music and striking visuals everywhere. But the interpersonal interactions were clearly the raison d’être.
The brand was trying to keep a soft hand on the throttle in terms of branding, instead choosing to focus on creating experiences for the attendees that they would be able to take home and remember. The food created by the chefs was intended to spark conversations about recipes that folks could make at home, and they did. The lines to not only grab a snack, but chat with the chef (or more likely, the sous chef), were always long and full of chatter. The chatter was not to stay in the physical, either. The space wasn’t named with a hashtag for nothing. The #pepcity conversation on Twitter was even more spirited than the live one, focusing mostly on the musical lineup. All told, PepsiCo created a spot where folks hung out and talked about the things they were interested in, thanks to the brand. And that won’t be quickly forgotten. Also, Mountain Dew-infused bacon… gurgle (Agency: inVNT, New York City).
Who needs the NFL official activation zone when you’re already a sports icon in your own right? Well, Under Armour proved it doesn’t with the high-energy House of Innovation activation in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. Taking over both sides of the iconic hall, the brand had product displays everywhere showcasing shoes, spandex (oh-so-much spandex) and brand ambassadors showing off how much fitter than us they were. On one side was the brand’s kid-centric challenge zone, where they ran football drills to grab some swag, and over everything was a bumping EDM soundtrack and constantly shifting brand graphics. We were desperately in need of a cheeseburger as soon as we headed out. It felt way too healthy in there, which, for the brand, was a very good thing (Agencies: George P. Johnson, Boston; Helios Interactive, San Francisco).
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The Fifty Yard Lounge
In The Fifty Yard Lounge, located right next door to Madison Square Garden, a group of brands banded together to show they could take on the big-ticket sponsors by hosting one of the most vibrant and varied event lounges on the Super Bowl circuit. Anchored by USA Today Sports, Nespresso, ESPN New York and Fiji Water, more than 16 brands including Rums of Puerto Rico, 888 Poker and California Almonds got a chance to shine. Some hosted mini lounges inside and others offered sampling (thanks Nespresso!) or a photo activation (Celebrity Cruises made us promise to stop making fish faces next to its ice sculpture), but all got a shot at the spotlight in a space that crackled with the energy of a Nairobi marketplace. The people were having fun, talking culture and sports and we had a very spirited argument about which was the more important drug to humanity, historically: alcohol or caffeine. Feel free to let us know which side you’d have been on, if you’d been there. And you should have been there (Agency: Engine Shop, New York City).
Bud Light Hotel
Now in its sixth year, Anheuser-Busch took the long-running Bud Light Hotel concept from land to sea—using the Intrepid Air and Sea Museum compound on the Hudson River as the hub for a multi-venue, 300,000-square-foot activation (Agency: Fusion Marketing). Yes, there was the very cool and private Bud Light Lounge created at the Intrepid. Yes, there was the tented event venue directly across the street, used for partner concerts with EA Sports, Pandora and Pepsi. (Three concerts were live-streamed.) But yessss, you know the crown jewel of the program was that freakin’ Norwegian Cruise Lines ship A-B rented out and turned into an actual hotel. “We’re very excited,” cooed a cool but pumped Bud Light vp Rob McCarthy at a press conference EM attended the day the ship docked.
The ship itself housed consumer “superfan” contest winners, VIP partners, retailers and other b-to-b guests. All 45 bars and restaurants and all 1,900 staterooms (including the pillows and the bottles of shampoos in the bathrooms) on board were rebranded Bud Light. The overall program was hyper-integrated online (Agency: AKQA), linked to the umbrella #UpForWhatever campaign featuring those Ian Rappoport spots (Agency: BBDO) during the big game amplified by three “viral events” (Agency: Mosaic) in which celebs such as Warren Sap crashed actual consumer Super Bowl parties while the content was captured, edited and posted to YouTube instantly. There were also on-premise events leading up to Super Sunday and a “Stay in the Game, Get Home Safe” Uber tie-in that distributed codes from Bud Light good for $25 discounts off rides home and granted special experiences for sweepstakes winners.
More than 250 avid Seattle Seahawks fans filled the bar of New York City’s Royalton Hotel with shouts of joy as they watched their favorite team take the title of Super Bowl XLVIII champions. The game day party and a flight to the Big Apple was the prize won by 56 randomly selected winners and their guests who had entered The 12th Fan Airlift sweepstakes, which was sponsored by Alaska Airlines and NFL quarterback Russell Wilson.
Winners received an inflight tailgate party onboard a tricked out “Go Russell”-themed Alaska Airlines Boeing 747, admission to the game day party, two nights of hotel accommodations and transportation to and from Newark Liberty International Airport. The four-day sweepstakes, which took place Jan. 23 to 26 and was open to residents in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, brought in more than 63,000 entries through the Alaska Airlines Facebook page.
The game day party featured multiple large screen TVs for viewing the big game, hors d’oeuvres and drinks, including a themed “Blue Thunder” cocktail. Attendees also could have their photo taken to share on social networks. Fans could follow the action and other Wilson announcements at Facebook.com/ AlaskaAirlines and on Twitter @AlaskaAir.
“Our Russell Wilson partnership is about bringing Seattle fans together, and there was no better way to do that than flying a plane- load of fans to the Big Apple to share in the excitement of this historic win,” said Elliott Pesut, manager- integrated marketing at Alaska Airlines (Agency: Moderne Communications, Long Island, NY).
Madden XX Party by EA and Bud Light
We know the Madden Bowl is a tradition. But this was one of the tamest ones we’ve been to—perhaps our expectations were too high. It all started very well, too. Check in was seamless and solid (handled by SoHo Experiential, New York City) and the coat check system by CoatChex was cool. But then we got inside. The cavernous space was way too empty. The “cheerleaders” were … shall we say, stereotypical. The food was “meh,” the drink selection was limited and the crowd was quiet. The worst part? The Madden Bowl. Few people want to watch someone else play video games on a stage. No matter who is playing. Or how good the commentary is (it wasn’t). For many, a wonderful night. For us, we were hoping for more.
Art of Alabama, Alabama Tourism
Well, this was unexpected. Foodies will tell you all about it and southern fried foodies will demand you acknowledge it. It seems the pinnacle of southern food comes from Alabama. And although a certain Who Dat nation might disagree, the Heart of Dixie came up to New York City’s Chelsea Market to give us Damn Yankees a spoonful of education on the way it should be done down south. The space featured an art exhibit of 36 food photographs designed to represent the array of cuisines readily grubbable in the state. The photos and dishes were chosen from the tourism department’s 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die publication and everyone who snagged a ticket to the kick-off reception did their best to eat them all. The state’s best chefs came up north, braved the polargeddon and warmed our cold New York hearts with dozens of delicious dishes. It turns out fat does equal happy (Agency: Awestruck Marketing Group, New York City).
RFID Badges A Touchdown for Fans
Fans attending this year’s pre-game Super Bowl Boulevard festivities were encouraged to register online in advance and then take their RFID code (on paper or on a mobile device) to a brand ambassador for a badge that would grant access and social media sharing abilities at all of the activations along the 13-block celebration. We loved the streamlined registration system that—for once—took the burden off the attendee to sign up and register multiple times, and instead, let the event organization handle the backend (FISH Technologies designed and dropped the massive singular tech web over the entire Boulevard… kudos to its team for managing one of the largest event technology activations of the year). Fans proudly wore their badges around their necks and used them diligently. We may have stalked one “test family” from one activation to the next to see if they really used them at all opportunities, and we can confirm that they did. And they weren’t alone.
Sure, there were some hiccups along the way. When we hopped out of the subway and got in line with our RFID code in hand to get a badge, we got volleyed back and forth between two lines, neither of which ultimately gave us a badge. And in one case, there was only one guy with a tablet able to activate badges for about 50 people lined up to get theirs (the other guy’s tablet wasn’t working). We ended up going without a badge because we were freezing and sick of waiting, and it didn’t impede our experience as observers. But had we been fans wanting the full experience, we would have enjoyed having one. Not just for the easy scan and share abilities (we imagine coming home to an inbox full of photos and videos was pretty great), but because the badge itself was a nice keepsake. Case in point: there are more than 20 of them selling on eBay right now.
All in all, we are ready to join the “one and done” consumer event registration movement. Who’s with us?
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