The credit/financial/global services space is ferocious when it comes to sport, with each massive brand trying to find the right activation that will not just bring more usage and awareness of its products to casual and passionate followers, but will also bring massive added value to those who have multiple cards from which to choose. Some brands pick college sports, others spread themselves across local and national activations, some tie to one massive event. American Express does many of those, but really focuses on cutting through the clutter in and around the US Open, and this year is no exception as they have found multiple ways pre and during the tournament to cut through the clutter with noteworthy, unique and engaging activations both simple and useful, and high tech and engaging not just on site bit anywhere one would think of the Open around New York.
On Wednesday night, August 26, American Express welcomed the tournament in by hosting American Express “Rally on the River”, a hydro-interactive tennis experience, featuring professional new multi-year spokesperson tennis Maria Sharapova, along with John Isner and Monic Puig, comedian/actor Kevin James and electro-funk duo Chromeo. At the event, a packed crowd of VIPs and American Express Card Members witnessed the first-ever hydro-interactive tennis experience celebrating the past, present and future of tennis. Projected onto a massive 40X60’ wall of water with Chromeo providing the beats, fans watched as Sharapova, James, Puig, Isner and a few lucky fans in the crowd stepped onto the court to use the interactive, responsive tennis rackets designed to translate in real-time every swing, lob and smash into stunning 3D graphics, animations, sounds and video projections.
Then there was the most hyped and most engaging piece of on site activation, a first-of-its-kind virtual reality “You Vs. Sharapova” activation inside the American Express Fan Experience. Fans are able to visit the American Express Fan Experience and take a shot at the simulated experience. This is the first ever virtual reality experience to feature a live action and CGI version of an athlete simultaneously to create one user experience.
The VR experience has already been the “must try” engagement point for the tournament, and gives fans a chance to engage with the WTA star despite the fact that she had to withdraw due to injury the night before the event. Now does the withdrawal hurt the Amex investment? In other years when am injury or an early round loss…as happened with Andy Roddick one year…could be devastating to an activation platform, as all the equity goes up in smoke without the player being around. However having a VR experience keeps fans engaged, and although the buzz can’t translate over to on court play, the fact that the deal with the engaging star is a rare multi-year one, Amex has insulated itself and invested more than usual, giving fans and the brand a better chance of cutting through and gaining value despite wins and losses.
As with any spokesperson there is always risk, and with athletes in a win or go home situation the risk is noticeably higher, but Amex catering to a wide audience, especially one that looks to engage in fun technology, has again scored on creative and unique, messages that should sit well not with just current customers but casual consumers as well who may use the experience to make better decisions on who and which cards to use for the long term.
Game on Amex.