Virtual Superstar

The Rise of the Virtual Superstar

Sponsorship deals with up-and-coming athletes are nothing new.

Forward-thinking brands have always been on the look-out for the next big thing, hoping that a minimal investment to support their early development will pay dividends when they hit the big time.

At the very least though, those athletes were human, consisting of flesh and bone, whereas the emerging trend is the identification and sponsorship of virtual stars.

Last month Coca-Cola, one of the world’s biggest investors in sports sponsorship, announced that it was effectively sponsoring Alex Hunter, the up-and-coming star of the narrative element of EA SPORTS’ FIFA ’18 game.

Alex is no stranger to brands with adidas having featured him in its First Never Follows campaign last year but the new Coca-Cola campaign takes brand interaction in the virtual world of gaming to another level.

Not only does Coca-Cola sign Alex up to become its ambassador to launch the new Coca-Cola Zero Sugar as part of the FIFA ‘18 narrative story but a multi-channel advertising campaign to promote the sponsorship will be unleashed on gamers outside of the confines of the game itself. The ad spot will be shared on social channels as well as being displayed on Coca-Cola’s marquee outdoor advertising sites including the recently-installed Coca-Cola Times Square sign, the world’s first 3D robotic sign.

The collaboration will also extend beyond the game through specialised packaging and retail partnerships across the world demonstrating that, although Alex may not be able to sign autographs or snip the ribbon on store openings, he will have as a global reach as substantial as any real-world athlete.

This is a logical progression towards what Coca-Cola themselves term the “intersection of gaming and brand marketing” which, until now has been limited to advertising hoardings in the Football Manager franchise titles and offline brand executions around e-Sports events.

In fact, for brands attempting to navigate what is often described as the Wild West world of eSports sponsorship this is a relatively straightforward way of reaching what is without doubt an incredibly large and highly-engaged audience.

It appears, a relatively risk-free territory for brands with virtual stars unlikely to be arrested for drink driving, appearing on the front page of tabloid newspapers or inadvertently tweeting criticism of their opponents, teammates or even sponsors.

For now, at least. The emergence of AI is another trend altogether and the potential for such virtual creations to take on ever more authentic and lifelike attributes is clear.

Until then, expect to see more announcements from cutting-edge sponsors using virtual player deals to zero in on the valuable gaming audience.

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