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Cannes Lions 2018: Uber and COPA90 reveal why experience beats mobile

Erika Decker, Uber’s global head of brand relevance, planning and integration, warns marketers to stop asking their teams to start with scale

Uber and COPA90 told Cannes Lions why they believe experience is everything and revealed how that belief inspired them to bring Old Trafford to India to make a Man United fan’s dreams come true.

In their session on the Terrace stage at the Palais entitled “How do you teleport a football stadium 5000 miles?” James Kirkham, head of COPA90, and Erika Decker, Uber’s global head of brand relevance, planning and integration, explained how they created a 360-degree immersive virtual experience for a devoted Man United fan in Bengalaru, who had never visited Old Trafford so that he and his local community could experience the atmosphere at the Theatre of Dreams for the first time.

Decker told the audience that, as a brand, Uber is about experience, building brand love and fandom. She said “scale sucks” and that “experience is everything”. “It isn’t good enough just to be mobile first, because if you want to change perception you need to be experience first instead,” she explained.

She also warned marketers to stop asking their teams to start with scale. “Please ask your teams to go deep. Allow your teams to become ethnographers. Please go into the culture and the fandom and make that what you truly build the creative and the marketing strategy around,” she said.

Kirkham noted that many brands who try to tie in associations with football tend to fall flat because they think they can impose their brand on fans. By contrast, Uber’s ‘Destination United’ campaign, which is part of its sponsorship of Manchester United and was created in partnership with COPA90, was successful because it was entirely fan-centric. 

He explained that the modern football fan responds to “acts not ads” and that brands can only engage with them in a way that is legitimate and on the fans’ terms. “Fans are empowered by technology, they do it on their terms,” he said. “Everything about this was a campaign built for now. Not an advert, but an act.” He urged other brands, agencies and media partners not to dilute bold ideas with pragmatism. “I’d sum up [the Uber campaign] with sheer audacity. It is about the notion of pursuing this audacity.”

Decker told the audience why, in her view, experience beats mobile and should always come first. “This is how you’ll get the scale because you’re going to create deep immersive experiences people are going to advocate and that will make you strategically famous as a brand for the right reasons.”

They revealed that the campaign and three-day virtual pop up stadium experience inspired an outpouring of love from football fans, resulting in a staggering 100% positive sentiment. Decker said, “This proves the model works for us.” A total of 8,000 Indian football fans experienced the virtual Theatre of Dreams.

With zero spent on media, the global campaign is still running but has already achieved over 31m video views, over 1 million engagements, reached 89m fans globally, as well as 55m fans in (the real) Old Trafford.

“We invested $10 in content production for every $1 in paid media and generated 100x earned media This campaign was all guts and glory with little media. This formula breaks traditional thinking and media mix models,” said Decker.

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