New Year's Eve celebrations last week had a distinctly virtual feel as marketers helped people celebrate the occasion with digital entertainment that included augmented reality (AR) experiences, video games and livestreamed concerts.
Amid the cancellations of big public events because of the pandemic, marketers found ways to engage homebound consumers with reformatted events tailored to smartphones and other connected devices. Those online activities didn't completely replace attending a traditional live event, but they did extend beyond the physical confines of a single geographic — and show how virtual activations are maturing into multifaceted entertainment experiences through our phones.
For last week's occasion, Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light Seltzer hosted a livestreamed concert that made its branding central to the programming, while real estate company Jamestown built a specialized app to augment the feeling of being in New York City on New Year's Eve.
Owning the experience
Much of the marketing activity around Dec. 31 is typically pretty traditional, from running ads during TV programs like "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" to handing out branded merchandise at public gatherings. Bud Light Seltzer took greater ownership of this year's unusual circumstances by hosting a livestreamed concert that gave the brand control over distribution and more direct insights about its viewers at home.
The "Bud Light Seltzer Sessions Presents New Year's Eve 2021" was the brand's first exclusive event for the occasion, and featured a live concert by singer Post Malone, DJ and producer Steve Aoki and rapper Jack Harlow, among other artists.
"A brand that doesn't want to attach itself to a show like 'Dick Clark's New Year's Eve' program, but actually wants to own it outright is really a big difference," said Andrew Beranbom, co-founder and CEO of First Tube Media, which creates livestreamed events for sponsors including Bud Light Seltzer. "Owning the event means owning all the data, engagement and messaging out to the audiences."
While he declined to provide specific metrics about viewership for the New Year's show due to confidentiality, he said it numbered in the millions. The show continues to rack up views on Bud Light Seltzer's YouTube channel days after the live event.
Among its other programming, First Tube Media also has a weekly culinary show sponsored by Traeger Grills that features cooking advice from barbecue pitmasters.
"Brands now see the power of digital live experience to combine the authenticity of in real life, or 'IRL,' with virtual life."
CEO and co-founder, First Tube Media
"Brands now see the power of digital live experience to combine the authenticity of in real life, or 'IRL,' with virtual life," he said. "Every smart brand in the world now understands that being in front of people is really valuable. You can provide an amazing experience for 500 people, and then 5 million people get to watch it."
Livestream the main event
New York City's Times Square has been the centerpiece of New Year's Eve celebrations for generations, providing iconic moments like the annual dropping of the ball in the final countdown toward midnight. The pandemic this year limited attendance to a handful of selected frontline and healthcare workers, while TV networks tailored their programming to appeal to at-home audiences.
Jamestown, the real estate investor and property manager of the building where the Times Square Ball is located, created a custom app called "VNYE" to provide a virtual New Year's Eve experience to mobile users at home.
The VYNE app let people create an avatar to virtually explore Times Square, starting with a 2020 Remembrance Hall to reflect on the year before counting down to 2021. By entering a digital One Times Square, app users could take an elevator to reach game rooms and an observation deck to see a digital art rendition of the lighted billboards in Times Square.
VNYE also featured AR lenses with digital imagery from the area, and the ability to take selfies for sharing on social media. The lenses let people wear virtual hats from Planet Fitness, the gym chain that handed out branded merchandise in Times Square during the occasion last week, pointing to how marketers can bridge in-person activations with popular mobile platforms.
The "Samsung Odyssey Speed Gate" part of the app let users jump to the other side of Times Square Plaza to watch performances by several emerging musicians appearing as their own avatars. A virtual dance floor, a computer-generated gallery of artwork and ball drop livestream rounded out the range of activities.
"We were inspired to create a place for everyone, everywhere to gather safely to celebrate as we welcome in the New Year," Michael Phillips, president of Jamestown, said in a statement shared with Marketing Dive.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect new information supplied by First Tube Media after the article's publication regarding details the company previously provided. The New Year's show's audience numbered in the millions. Plans for future Bud Light Seltzer events have not been finalized.