How to use live events to capture the attention of Gen Z
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Gen Z is the world’s first digital natives. Unlike their Millennial parents, these young adults grew up on social media with devices glued to their hands.
For Gen Z, social media and mobile devices aren’t simply tools for communicating. They use these tools in nearly every aspect of their everyday lives. This includes:
- Connecting socially
- Playing games
- Entertaining an audience
- Seeking entertainment
- Investing in crypto
- Creating art
- Learning new skills
- Participating in social causes
- Getting advice
- Shopping online
- And more!
In fact, 97% of Gen Z report they use social media as their top source for shopping inspiration, 65% say they use it for entertainment, and 61% report they want more video content.
In short—members of Gen Z are technophiles that consume content in ways that defy the norm. For example:
- A staggering percentage of Gen Z fans (and Millennials too) watch the jumbotron and their phones, even when they are physically in the stadium and able to watch the field
- Live concerts are more likely to include people live streaming as opposed to jumping around in a mosh pit (hello, my generation)
- Watching The Bachelor is an interactive online experience that includes regularly stalking Instagram contestants, tweeting opinions, participating in online communities, and making predictions
If brands want to connect with Gen Z—especially during live events—they must rethink traditional advertising and meet them where they live—on their phones.
To learn more about how to capture the attention of Gen Z during live events, I spoke to Matthew Pierce from Versus Systems.
Here’s the interview.
Tell me about yourself and Versus Systems.
I'm the founder and CEO of Versus Systems. The idea behind Versus Systems is simple—we want to make more entertaining and engaging content for today’s tech-savvy audiences.
We build interactive content for brands with an element of rewarding action. This includes making content users can play on secondary screens (e.g., phones or HP gaming hubs) while playing video games, watching television, participating in live streams, and during live events like football games, basketball games, rodeos, etc.
For example, if you’re playing League of Legends on an HP, you could use the HP OMEN Gaming Hub to launch League and play for branded challenges, winning real-world rewards. In other words, players could play League of Legends games or complete a challenge within the OMEN Gaming Hub and win rewards from your brand.
Another way to engage audiences would be via a second screen experience during a live event. In other words, you’re connecting with a participating community and giving them a choice to play. This method can also offer a known outcome. If a user completes a certain action, then they get a prize from your brand.
This way of engaging users is far different from a traditional ad you might see in a video game, at a live game, or on TV. But, it’s a great way to use contextually-relevant content to engage audiences with your brand and products.
How do you know what will engage a younger audience at a live event? And how do brands participate?
We interview the people that play the games. Stats show that only 3% of people watch ads all the way through, which isn’t good for anybody. It’s not good for the audience, the content partner, or the ad creators.
Through our research, we’ve learned that people perceived old-school ads as an interruption to the content they were already watching. In 2021, it’s difficult to conceive of an entertainment model where someone gives you seven minutes of great content and then stops the content and sells them for 3 minutes on trucks, chips, and beer. But, it’s the legacy we have from broadcast media and radio.
However, there’s a better way to engage Gen Z. The way to do this is to offer contextual and interactive content and give fans a choice to opt-in. Once fans have opted-in and played the games, reward them for participating.
This approach is much more interesting to members of Gen Z. They can interact with branded games and win a prize. And they can play on a secondary screen while at another event.
The way this plays out in an NFL game, for example, is to offer interactive games between plays. We suggest encouraging engagement during timeouts and whenever audiences tune out of the game and into their phones.
We also reach fans before the match and nurture them with fun and contextual elements. This could include a game like Bingo, or shuffling a football around in a hat and guessing where it is, or predicting what play will be called next.
This is an excellent way to connect with Gen Z on their phones. Plus, it brings their personal preferences into the equation. It considers their sentiment regarding what is happening on the field, and Gen Z likes to be involved.
As audiences engage with the games, you can connect them with sponsors via the reward they earn. For example, as the audience completes a behavior or when their team scores, they can get something free from a participating sponsor.
What’s a specific example of how you fuse the experience of a live event and in-app games?
There are several different ways, but here’s a specific example. Say a fan goes to an NFL game. There are giant video screens over the field and various other screens throughout the stadium.
Research shows that people spend more time watching those jumbo screens than looking at the actual field. This means teams and brands have an opportunity to broadcast an invitation for fans to play a game or participate in a predictive challenge.
This could be a QR code on the jumbo screen, which sends the audience to a unique URL or team’s app. That’s an easy way to engage fans on a secondary screen during a game.
We did this with the Peach Bowl Kickoff, specifically the Alabama vs. Miami game. During the game, fans had the opportunity to win Delta Airlines tickets, Home Depot merchandise, tailgate gear—and other relevant items that college football fans want.
It worked well because the sponsorships and prizes were highly relevant to football.
What results do you see in terms of engagement? Why do you think this method is resonating so well with Gen Z?
This method provides an opportunity to have the content during a basketball or football game be more personalized and valuable to the individual watcher.
If you look at the data, you see the NFL isn’t exactly hurting. But, data also shows that Gen Z is less likely to think of themselves as avid sports fans. They are less likely to attend games than previous generations—even college football games.
We’re seeing lower attendance across all sports. And the people in charge of bowl games, the NFL, and the MBA are talking about this problem with Gen Z attendance. They are trying to figure out how to attract and engage this class of fans.
The answer is to remember the fans at home are also critical fans, and you have to engage them too. There is a tendency to think that the true fans are the ones in the fans and that the ones in the stands are bringing more revenue.
There’s no question that a fan attending a live event is paying for a ticket, parking, apparel, and concessions and that those fans are valuable. But, the fans watching games at home are valuable too.
As such, teams and sponsors have to provide the fan at home with the best possible comprehensive experience—and that doesn’t mean only the televised experience. It also means providing a comprehensive digital experience across relevant platforms—phones, fantasy, apps, etc.
There’s a reason why FanDuel and DraftKings are so popular. People like to have a stake in the game. It’s exciting when they are participating on an individual level.
Teams, sponsors, and content providers that find ways to engage younger audiences with individual experiences and interactive content during a live event—in the stadium or at home on TV—are winning out.
Research explains another reason why this method is working. Stats show that people are 77% more likely to watch something live if they can win something. That includes prizes, fantasy rankings, and bets. Providing interactive content that lets fans win something from a team or brand drives additional viewership and leads to a more active, involved, and loyal content consumer.
It’s important to note that fans aren’t forced to watch the game, ads, or participate in associated activities. Instead, they are given a choice and choose to opt-in.
Getting consumers to opt-in will be especially important as cookies disappear and as advertising changes. We’re seeing more fans opt into sponsored content because they have a choice and because they can play an interactive game that they find entertaining and rewarding.
The advertising and live sports industries are going through a profound change, and it’s related to all of the things that Gen Z wants to see in its content.
We have to ask, “How do we make content more personal? Engaging? Contextual? Rewarding?”
What is an example of how a brand could engage Gen Z during a live game? What are some best practices?
We’ve found that the best thing to do is to put your brand messages in front of extremely engaged fans in personalized ways. We know fans aren’t exclusively watching the game. They are also spending time on second-screen experiences.
For example, a fan may be at the Canelo Alvarez fight, but they aren’t exclusively watching the fight. They are also tweeting about the fight, looking at bets, and interacting elsewhere.
Leveraging these second-screen experiences is a great way to get your brand in front of the Gen Z audience.
To quantify this, we’ve had hockey games where we averaged over 30 minutes during the game of in-app engagement, which is unheard of.
Putting your content, image, and messages in front of people who are both engaged in the game and simultaneously using their devices is a winning strategy for brands and teams.
Brands should also get the audience to opt-in as opposed to inundating them with unwanted messages. You can do this by offering interactivity.
There’s the idea that other platforms (e.g., Twitch) get more live viewers during popular sporting events and that brands can advertise during these big live sporting events on their platform at a fraction of the cost. What are your thoughts?
Platforms like Twitch and Twitter are working with the NFL to try and find ways around traditional broadcast ad spend.
And, hundreds and millions of dollars still get put into television advertising, so we shouldn’t pretend like it’s going to disappear tomorrow. The global advertising industry is somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 billion annually, and television takes a massive share.
However, the question is, “How can we include elements that encourage a more engaged consumer and repeat behavior down the line? And, how can we track more effectively?”
This year, we will see more QR codes in advertising that direct fans to other websites and ask them to learn more or complete a specific behavior.
I think we will see more interactivity baked into advertisements. That could be a QR code or having ads live in other places.
In terms of the Super Bowl, it’s a stand-alone advertising mecca. How brands and agencies will piggyback off the popularity of the Super Bowl will be interesting.
You’re not going to see brands only release 30 second TV ads during the Super Bowl this year. You’ll see the ads online later on YouTube, Twitch, and Twitter. The key is for brands to interact with consumers during the Super Bowl and online afterward. Brands will want to find unique ways to encourage longer view times, brand affinity, and brand recall?
Brands won’t only want to show an ad during a live event. They’ll ultimately want to increase affinity and do anything that drives interactivity and recall. The key is to look at the process as a storybook and ask, “What can we do to get Gen Z to the next chapter?”
How can brands get a jump start on interactive gamification to engage Gen Z? What do they need to do to prepare to be successful?
The first thing is to reevaluate your framework. Don’t think of advertising as broadcasting to your audience. Think of it as a conversation.
In other words, think of creative ways you can offer agency to the fan. Find ways where the fan’s views, opinions, choices, and actions impact the outcome of the experience.
You’ll also want to think about KPIs. Track how many people saw something and then completed a specific action. For example, look how many people interacted with the game and then came into your store to redeem a prize.
We’ve had multiple campaigns where people engaged with the digital experience and then walked into a store and redeemed a prize. The KPIs tell us that the audience is highly engaged—they like to play and win.
Frame your campaigns with the idea of giving fans a reason to act, and then make your content stand out. Make the ads more interactive, contextual, and personal.
How does it play out when someone plays a game and then walks into a brick-and-mortar location to redeem a prize?
When a fan plays a game, there is a one-to-one interaction with the team or brand. They aren’t only seeing a brand’s logo. They are playing to win something with the intent to redeem it later.
Within this framework, there are several opportunities for brands to reward fans. They can have the fan play a game and send them a reward redemption code they can redeem in the store. Another option is a sweepstake.
The most important thing is creating a contextual and fun experience for a player where they can opt-in, interact with the game, have a good time, and win something that will get them to further engage with your store—whether that’s online or at a brick-and-mortar location.
This method isn’t only for fans at a stadium. Brands can also engage audiences that are watching popular live-streamed or reality-based events like the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Grammys, the Bachelor, etc., at home.
As long as there is an opportunity to display a QR code, you can send your audience to a website where they can participate in contextual trivia or games. For example, you could create a poll where you ask who will win the final rose. If the user gets it right, you can send them a code to redeem a prize online or in a brick-and-mortar store.
This is especially effective because as soon as you include a reward, the engagement isn’t perceived as an ad. It’s perceived as an earned reward.
This framework garners a different response than traditional advertising like newspaper ads, analog content distribution, or even an online strategy that might be filtered as spam.
How can this framework engage audience members that don’t care about the live event?
Not every person attending a sporting event is interested in the game. Gamifying an in-person event is the perfect way to keep people who are there at the game—but not necessarily fans—entertained.
You could go to a game, but you think some content on your smartphone is much more interesting than the actual game.
So, you can go to Twitter or TikTok or whatever and find all the people that want to talk about what you’re interested in. It could be related to the game, but it could be completely unrelated.
The point is, there is a whole other personal storyline that is happening for you—and it’s separate from the play on the field.
Twitter is great for allowing people to consume different kinds of content with different intents—even if they are in the same location.
This idea doesn’t only apply to football. It can apply to something like watching Netflix. The viewing experience isn’t the same for every person across the board. For example, Squid Games could resonate with me because of a certain characteristic, and you may be enjoying the show for a completely different reason.
Here’s the thing. We can now find second-screen elements that augment what individuals like about the live event or show. It’s standard to watch a game or television with a phone in hand. In fact, Nielsen says around 88% of people are on their phones while they watch TV. Facebook says the number is closer to 90% of people.
Either way, it’s standard for consumers to watch TV and find personalized, contextual, and interactive second-screen experiences that supplement whatever primary activity they are engaging in. And, this is a massive opportunity for sports teams, sponsors, and brands that want to engage and advertise to this crowd in personalized ways.
People are always looking to find ways to augment their experience and make it more personal. If your team or brand can create relevant and interesting second-screen experiences, it gives your audience reasons to get excited, even the uninterested football attendee.
What role do Creators play in capturing the attention of Gen Z?
Creators are going to play the most significant role in 2022.
Right now, we’re researching the role of Creators in advertising. We are working with UCLA to learn about audience sentiment and interactivity. We’re learning what you can do to make your content more likable and well-remembered. And, this is where Creators enter the picture.
Here’s what I mean. There’s a staggering difference between the fandoms on YouTube or Twitch Creators than the fandoms of TV or movie celebrities.
A whole generation of people has no idea who Angelina Jolie is but would walk through a wall to meet a YouTube Creator.
It’s because they feel a connection to these Creators. This is one reason why blogging has been so effective for as long as it has—audiences can interact in the comments and connect with the blogger or the bloggers’ audience members.
Creators and bloggers offer interactivity, context, and—most importantly—community. There’s a sense of community among these Creators I get as a fan that I couldn’t possibly get with a movie star.
For example, I love The Rock, but I don’t feel like I’m friends with The Rock (sadly). It’s because movie content doesn’t have the same conversational quality that online Creators have.
So, I start to think about where content is headed in 2022, especially since Creators have loyal fandoms.
Popular Creators have the ability and influence to say, “let’s go solve this problem. You and I—together—can solve this problem.” Think of Mr. Beast and the "Save the Oceans" initiative and how powerful his influence is on his community.
This type of influence is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and its scale is enormous. Leveraging the connection fans feel with Creators is where content is headed for 2022. It’s powerful and exciting.
So, how do brands connect effectively with Gen Z during live events?
After talking with Matthew, the answer seems clear. Gen Z consumes content differently than any previous generation.
If brands want the attention of younger audiences during popular live events like the Super Bowl and The Bachelor, they must serve up supporting content experiences in unique and engaging ways.
And, it can’t be any content. Supporting content must be contextual, relevant, personal, and rewarding.