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How Essence Global put Gen Z in the Olympic fanZone for Tokyo 2020

The IOC launched the Tokyo 2020 FanZone - an interactive gamification experience to engage younger viewers.

Essence Global won ‘Best Integrated Campaign’ at The Drum Awards for Social Media in 2021, with its ‘For the fans’ campaign to boost GenZ engagement at the Tokyo 2020 FanZone for the International Olympic Committee. Here, the team behind the winning entry outlines how they reversed a global decline in Olympic viewing figures.

The Olympics account for seven of the eight most-watched broadcast events of all time (the 2018 FIFA World Cup being the exception). Viewing figures were rising steadily until Rio 2016 when the trend sharply reversed: viewership fell 15.5% from 2012.

According to a report by Morning Consult, GenZ are half as likely as Millennials to watch live sports regularly, and twice as likely to never watch. This generational shift served to drive the Rio viewing decline, with the 18-34 audience down 30%. Changing media consumption habits have seen younger audiences move away from linear TV, preferring to snack on content through streaming and social platforms.

To add to the decline in live sports viewership, younger sports fans were preferring to follow individual athletes rather than clubs and events. To top it off, the IOC faced probably its toughest challenge in modern times with the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Despite the challenges, they looked towards the revised date for Tokyo 2020 determined to reconnect with younger audiences.

In response, the IOC launched the Tokyo 2020 FanZone - an interactive gamification experience. Available on desktop and - crucially - mobile, the ambition was to engage and unite young fans around the world leading up to and throughout the Olympic Games. With it the IOC aimed to appear more contemporary, interesting and appealing.

As a brand-new feature of the Olympic Games content stack, FanZone needed a rapid boost in awareness to bring fans to the new destination, driving sign-ups and engagement in the run up to and throughout Tokyo 2020. The FanZone website and app contained four great games, with four ways to play, allowing users to win prizes through creating Fantasy teams, taking part in Trivia competitions, predicting podium places via Bracket challenges, and voting for their favorite Magic Moments. Trivia and Magic Moments were to build the excitement headed into the games while Brackets and Fantasy kept fans engaged through the Olympic action.

The Solution

We built a campaign that would showcase the fantastic experience on offer in the FanZone and really sell the USPs to younger audiences. The campaign focused on ‘lean forward’ environments where young people go to consume content that brings them close to the action.

We had one shot to make the FanZone for Tokyo 2020 a success and to achieve this we applied two strategic pillars: Authenticity and Customization. To ensure both elements were achieved with precision Essence was responsible for both the media and creative, working in close partnership with the IOC and FanHub (Games Builders).

Authenticity

Appealing to a varied global audience, we wanted to ensure the FanZone lived and breathed its global nature. The Tokyo 2020 games were focused on diversity and inclusion and our campaign needed to honor the values of bringing the world together through sport and gaming. With 78% of GenZ saying diverse and inclusive values are important to them we also knew this would provide a critical point of connection between the Olympics and our target audience.

The idea for the video centerpiece of the campaign focused on groups of friends playing on the FanZone together, discovering past Olympic moments and what was to come for Tokyo 2020. Essence recruited a diverse group of actors to star in the film, including individuals with a range of disabilities. We ensured that whatever market the creative was watched in, all members of the population could feel they were represented.

The campaign also needed to reach beyond GenZ to ensure we galvanized sports fans of all ages around the world to play FanZone. So, in addition to the hero films, a wide library of assets was created which featured athletes and past Olympic moments. Having two creative strands tailored to audiences allowed us to be authentically relevant in the serving of our creative and copy by platform and group.

Customization

Essence delivered a full through-the-line integrated campaign from Strategy and Planning, Creative conception, Production and Media activation. The campaign was set up in two phases to drive mass reach and engagement. Phase One encouraged ‘Web Play’ and Phase Two focused on ‘App Play’.

A ‘one creative fits all channels’ approach could not be taken here. We needed a customized approach with creative for each platform, as our audience would disengage if we had not thought about their user experience.

Social channels were key to targeting our younger audience and we rolled out a video-led approach with cut-downs to deliver snackable content while still telling the story of FanZone. The impactful video used both sound and loud graphics to capture attention, and was optimized for the full screen format of TikTok. In addition, the campaign ran across Facebook/Instagram using first party data to target lookalike audiences, while secondarily targeting broader demographics to drive reach.

Outside social, the campaign ran across broadcast digital channels to gain incremental reach of audiences within GenZ and beyond. YouTube was the centerpiece to this broad reach element, where we could use the video in full screen moments and encourage gameplay. Videos were delivered within a complex sequential messaging framework, enabling us to demonstrate the different games.

For the App phase of the campaign our goal was to encourage downloads. For this we used customized variations of the hero film, serving them to audiences who were already familiar with FanZone from the first wave of activity. The app download activity ran across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok as well as Gaming apps and Search channels.

For the paid digital activity, the campaign was integrated across owned and organic channels. This was in addition to paid campaign channels targeting our core markets (US, Japan, Mexico, France, and India) the campaign featured across the Olympics social channels in all language variations. Using in-game data, daily social posts were created to highlight the most chosen athletes of the previous day for Instagram story polls. This ensured that the Olympics tapped into the aforementioned GenZ interest in individual athletes.

Results

The FanZone smashed all expectations that we had for it and was ‘awarded gold’ for campaign effectiveness. Overall, a hugely successful campaign and with Beijing 2022 just around the corner we will see FanZone go from strength to strength.

The business goal was to reach a younger audience and encourage them to sign up to Olympics.com/FanZone to bring in the next generation of sports fans, and the campaign smashed this goal achieving 45% more signups than the target.

The results were only achievable by the dedication of an integrated team between essence and the IOC with 24 hours a day optimization, in campaign creative amends, and authenticity with the audience.

This campaign was a winner at The Drum Awards for Social Media. To find out more, including which competitions are currently open for entry, visit The Drum Awards website.

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