Jack Morton Worldwide, New York, 609-223-4880, www.jackmorton.com
Genuine Interactive LLC, New York, 212-401-7283, www.wearegenuine.com
New York Comic Con, 2016
$400,000 – $499,000
➤ Demonstrate the immersive qualities of the company's audiobooks.
➤ Drive 15 percent more visitors to the exhibit.
➤ Increase the number of free audiobook downloads by 15 percent.
➤ Promote photo sharing on social media.
➤ Generated a 90-percent spike in the number of booth visitors.
➤ Resulted in a nearly 600-percent boost in the number of audiobook downloads.
➤ Netted a 385-percent increase in the number of photos shared and a total of 8 million social-media impressions.
Ever since our ancient ancestors first scrawled images on the walls of their caves, mankind has been compelled to tell stories. From legendary battles recounted around a campfire to the will-they-or-won't-they courtship of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, narratives both fictional and factual have enthralled audiences for generations. And now that it's possible to engage with stories in a range of mediums – including film stock, the printed page, and digital audiobooks – modern story-lovers have multiple avenues through which to lose themselves in their favorite fables.
Demonstrating the immersive qualities of aural stories was a key objective for Audible Inc., the world's largest producer of spoken-word content (i.e., audiobooks), when it planned its debut exhibit at New York Comic Con in 2015. A four-day extravaganza of all things pop culture – but with a decided bent toward the worlds of fantasy and science fiction – NYCC draws more than 185,000 attendees, many of whom dress up as their favorite characters from graphic novels, video games, and more. The costumed crowds descend on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and "geek out" over screenings of upcoming films and TV series, panels and autograph sessions, and an exhibit hall filled with the accouterments of ferocious fandom. The result is sensory overload to the extreme, with a cacophony of sights and sounds competing for showgoers' attention.
Making an audio product stand out amid all that multisensory stimulation was the challenge Audible faced during its first showing at NYCC. To surround attendees in the story of Locke & Key, a fantasy-based comic-book series, Audible opted for an exhibit that used binaural soundscapes, 360-degree 3-D video, and virtual reality. The activation generated an appreciable return but had two major flaws: It targeted a narrow market and had a shelf life tied to Locke & Key's popularity. "The 2015 NYCC experience was specifically created to highlight a single high-profile title and was not extensible to additional events," says Barbara Ward Thall, Audible's senior vice president of global brand marketing. "So while it was very successful, we needed to maximize our return on investment at the 2016 show with a reusable experience that could be easily customized based on the event and audience."
Audible Inc. used gamification to showcase the immersive qualities of its audiobooks at New York Comic Con. Its Audible Recall activation pitted seven players against each other to see who could identify a popular science fiction or fantasy title the fastest after listening to a 15-second clip.
The seven aisle-facing gaming stations were positioned in front of backlit letters spelling the Audible brand name on the exhibit's back wall. When a player identified the correct title the fastest using a 14-inch touchscreen, the letter behind his or her station would illuminate, alerting the crowd of bystanders that he or she won that round of the competition.
Back at the drawing board for NYCC 2016, Thall and the rest of Audible's exhibiting team took another look at its strategy and the show's audience. Since Comic Con attendees run the gamut in terms of both age and fandom – and generally are ravenous consumers of media – the team decided it needed an exhibit that highlighted the breadth of the company's sci-fi and fantasy offerings to attract the biggest crowd. And knowing that fans of these genres tend to be very competitive regarding their in-depth knowledge of their preferred franchises, Audible suspected a gamified activation in which participants could show off their smarts for prizes and bragging rights would resonate with attendees. Equally important, however, was that this exhibit's design feel just as appropriate at NYCC as it would at any consumer-facing event.
With a loose concept set, the Audible team took its ideas to Jack Morton Worldwide and asked the exhibit house to fill in the details. The ensuing collaboration resulted in
Audible Recall, a game-based showcase of Audible's sci-fi and fantasy offerings. "We wanted attendees to sample multiple audio clips so that they could appreciate the quality and the variety of content Audible has to offer," says Jessica Diamond, senior production coordinator at Jack Morton. "With the vast amount of visual stimulation and intense crowds at NYCC, we wanted to provide fans with a space where they could shut out all the noise and connect with the Audible brand to experience their favorite content in a new way." The idea was to have attendees compete against each other to see who could identify a popular sci-fi or fantasy title the fastest by listening to a short excerpt from an Audible audiobook. And just like the previous year's show, all booth visitors would receive a VIP card for a 30-day free trial of Audible and an audiobook download.
To address Audible's desire for versatility, Jack Morton's sister agency, Genuine Interactive LLC, got to work designing the Audible Recall game in a way that would allow it to be programmed to promote any genre. Meanwhile, Diamond's team turned its focus to the exhibit. "It was important for people to walk by and instantly know this was the Audible booth, which we achieved through color and the larger-than-life header," Diamond says. "Creating a reusable space was also a priority, so we integrated large monitors capable of showing a range of content and made sure the header was customizable for different events."
Hopes were high for Audible Recall's ability to attract – and retain – attention on NYCC's carnivalesque show floor. The company set a goal of increasing both its number of booth visitors and free audiobook downloads by 15 percent compared to the previous year. And since NYCC is so rife with colorful characters, Audible had a more indefinite aim of boosting the social-media reach of photos taken in its exhibit. So with its metrics set, Audible and Jack Morton headed to Javits to see if they'd hear crickets or the heady buzz of a packed exhibit.
You Gotta Hear This
It was a hectic scene as thousands of attendees in costumes and plainclothes made their way into Javits' North Corridor, but Audible's 20-by-20-foot stand was difficult to miss, thanks to exhibit elements clad in golden yellow and black corporate colors. Black aluminum beams supported a 3-foot-tall, internally lit header comprising an extruded frame and pillowcase graphics that branded the space. The exhibit's back wall, which was covered in black pyramids that mimicked the noise-dampening materials used in sound booths, featured the company's name in backlit letters. Three 55-inch flatscreen monitors – two positioned inside the exhibit and one facing the aisle – functioned as the game's leaderboard and also displayed various marketing content.
The attendee with the highest score in each game was given a T-shirt featuring cover art from some of Audible Inc.'s sci-fi and fantasy titles.
A professional photographer was on hand to capture shots of the Audible Recall players in action. These photos were automatically sent to two kiosks in the booth where attendees could easily share them via email, text message, or social media.
After a successful showing at New York Comic Con, Audible brought its gamified Audible Recall activation to A Celebration of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. The company swapped the exhibit's generic header for a themed version, and players tried their hands at identifying the correct title after listening to excerpts from J.K. Rowling's bestselling novels.
Audible employees, dressed in black T-shirts with text reading "You Gotta Hear This" on the fronts and images promoting the company's sci-fi and fantasy titles on the backs, acted as brand ambassadors, welcoming attendees to the exhibit, answering questions, and explaining the parameters of the Audible Recall competition. Interested attendees lined up on one side of the exhibit to wait for their turn to test their literary knowledge, while "looky-loos" found their ideal vantage point from which to observe the proceedings from the aisle.
At the start of each game, seven attendees were ushered into the exhibit and took their places behind one of the crowd-facing gaming stations topped with a 14-inch touchscreen. After an emcee explained the rules of the game, players donned branded headphones, used the touchscreens to "Register for Battle" (i.e., enter their email addresses, as well as their names or a tongue-in-cheek "handle"), and waited for their competitors to do the same. When the game began, players listened to 15-second clips from popular sci-fi or fantasy audiobooks and then had five seconds to guess the title from four possible choices. Each station was positioned in front of one of the letters spelling "Audible" on the exhibit's back wall, and that letter would light up when a player won one of the six rounds by identifying the correct title the fastest. The flatscreen monitors tracked players' progress in real time and highlighted the winner, and the participant with the highest score in each game was awarded the same branded T-shirt booth staffers were wearing. As an added bonus, at the end of each day the player with the highest overall score was notified via email that he or she also won a pair of Master & Dynamic headphones.
The gamified product demo attracted 3,799 participants,
a whopping 90-percent increase over the previous year.
While players were concentrating on proving their prowess, a professional photographer gathered shots of the action. These photos were automatically sent to two touchscreen kiosks positioned in a corner of the exhibit. After finishing their game, players could view the photos and share them via email, text message, or social media. Before departing, everyone was presented with a VIP card that would allow them to further explore Audible's offerings via a free download and 30-day trial.
Sounds Like a Winner
As NYCC came to a close, it was clear that Audible had achieved its goal of not only demonstrating the enveloping qualities of its audiobooks, but also offering an experience that would appeal to a range of attendees. Many showgoers returned to the exhibit for multiple rounds of competition, and groups of friends often waited in line together to see who would come out on top in the bookish battle. This level of engagement didn't go unnoticed by Sizzle Awards judges, who lauded Audible for "expertly competing with all the noise on the show floor."
Enthusiastic attendees don't necessarily equate to a successful exhibit, but Audible has some impressive metrics from its appearance. Its gamified product demo attracted 3,799 participants, a whopping 90-percent increase over 2015. And while the company hoped to boost the number of free audiobook downloads offered via its VIP cards by 15 percent, it ultimately widened that increase to almost 600 percent compared to the previous year. Finally, more than 1,300 photos were shared through the exhibit's kiosks, resulting in a 385-percent bump and 8 million social-media impressions.
Results like these speak volumes to Audible's ability to offer an experience that resonates with its customers and prospects while proving that, regardless of the medium, everyone loves a good story. E