Two years ago when consumers and media thought of “Xbox,” they thought of gaming. But at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 2009, Microsoft announced a revolutionary new product that would change the way people interact with entertainment, forever changing the way people think about the brand. The arrival of Kinect for Xbox 360 (formerly codenamed “Project Natal”) allowed Microsoft to re-define Xbox, reach new audiences (e.g., Family Timers and Hyper Socials), and as a result, increase sales for the company exponentially.
The experience of controller free games and entertainment had to appeal to the masses and ultimately reach the company’s sales goal of five million Kinect units by holiday 2010. To meet such an aggressive sales goal, PR led the charge by driving excitement and desire for Kinect among consumers around the world, starting in June 2009 and leading into the U.S. launch on November 4, 2010.
Following the introduction of then-codenamed “Project Natal” at E3 2009, PR was faced with several challenges. Firstly, PR needed to prevent media saturation in order to maintain excitement and purchase intent for the product which was slated to hit store shelves more than a year after its introduction. To overcome this challenge, the strategic decision was made to “go dark” and establish the product as an object of desire. A second challenge was getting media and consumers to understand the magic of Kinect’s controller free experiences. With “motion controllers” as the only frame of reference, audiences would need to “see-to-believe” Kinect’s revolutionary new offering. And finally, with all the efforts made to win over new audiences, PR could not lose sight of the brand’s most loyal following, gaming enthusiasts (more than 40 million Xbox 360 owners).
Once the name and additional details were revealed at E3 2010, PR was tasked with orchestrating Microsoft’s biggest global consumer product launch of the year as well as drive a third major round of coverage in less than two years. The launch date itself was a media obstacle as November 4, 2010 immediately followed the mid-term elections, causing political news to dominate headlines, leaving little room for anything else.
To transform perceptions and help achieve firmly established business goals, PR developed a strategic multi-layered program for the launch of Kinect for Xbox 360. Through a series of press and celebrity events, direct engagement with core gamers and new consumers, a philanthropic tie and a comprehensive reviews program, the launch of Kinect was an overwhelming success, both from a PR and business perspective. The PR campaign secured 105 feature stories in Microsoft’s defined top-tier media outlets including The Oprah Show, CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, The Today Show, The New York Times, Details Magazine, InStyle, and Parents, for a combined U.S. media reach of more than 524 million. PR efforts contributed to exceeding Microsoft’s five million unit holiday sales expectations for Kinect with more than eight million Kinect sensors sold in the first 60 days after launch, along with a substantial increase in Xbox 360 console sales and Xbox LIVE subscription memberships.
PR conducted primary and secondary research to garner insights into the consumer technology space and form its integrated communication approach:
• Reviewed Microsoft’s marketing case studies, reports and results from research and focus groups to glean details on consumer media consumption habits, buying habits and the interests, activities and culture of the new target audiences.
• Secured industry trade and financial analyst reports from leading firms to predict insights into current consumer technology and competitors in the space.
• Conducted media audits to determine current perception amongst key broadcast, print and online media. This led to the development of a comprehensive “coverage scorecard,” which focused the team’s efforts on quality, not quantity, of coverage, optimizing for “high value targets.”
• Performed coverage analysis to determine and understand perceptions of the gaming industry, competitors including Nintendo and Sony, digital entertainment experiences, the Xbox 360 brand and overall trends in consumer technology.
• Hosted enthusiast listening tours to provide key enthusiast media an opportunity to voice their concerns, opinions and questions well in advance of the Kinect launch, informing our strategies for engaging the core gaming audience.
• Gaming still carries a stigma, but is no longer just for boys – nearly half of all U.S. gamers are female, but Xbox 360 is still perceived as a hardcore gaming console for 17-24 year-old males.
• New technology should be intuitive and precise, not complex – people want simplicity, form and function, not to read manuals.
• Shift the perception of Xbox 360 from a hardcore gaming console to an entertainment device that offers something for everyone.
• Drive coverage in national, local, business, consumer, enthusiast, broadcast media and the blogosphere methodically and thoughtfully.
• Capture the world’s attention and imagination, creating buzz and driving demand for Kinect sensors and the Xbox 360 console.
• Based on proprietary audience segmentation research, marketing determined Kinect target audiences: Family Timers (55% female; ages 25 – 40+; I prioritize my family, its health and fun), Hyper Socials (75% female; ages 14 – 40+; I am a social butterfly that craves acceptance), Hanging Out (59% female; ages 13 -40; I go with the flow and do what my friends do) and Independent Core (15% female; ages 13-40; I work and play hard but love to relax with some games).
• Based on primary media research, PR optimized its media outreach to focus on a carefully defined list of the top 135 broadcast, online and print targets. Media were then tiered based on circulation, audience and outlet type.
• Create desire and drive brand affinity with younger, connected and family-oriented demographics by providing opportunities for consumers and media to experience Kinect first hand.
• Drive programs that are participatory, both on- and offline, to show, not tell and get consumers engaged in the experience.
• Reach consumers through content outside of, yet related to, the news of the day. Talk with them, not at them.
• Drive the perception that this is the dawn of a new era in entertainment.
Tied to our key campaign tenet that “seeing is believing,” the below tactics provided hands-on experience with Kinect in advance of launch.
Destination Imagination: To introduce Kinect to broader consumer and parenting outlets, parent bloggers and celebrities, PR hosted a sneak peek event in New York nine months before launch with attendance by more than 160 consumer media, consumer influencers and celebrities.
Action Consumers: Identified and cultivated relationships with highly active/vocal influencers within target audience demographics to organically create Xbox brand ambassadors in key markets (Los Angeles/New York) and drive Kinect purchase intent across these audiences.
Kinect Showcase: To win over the hardcore gaming community, PR hosted a showcase event giving these media an opportunity to play Kinect and to interview and engage with top executives and key developers they trust.
Reviews Tour: To positively influence top-tier consumer, technology and gaming enthusiast media in advance of reviewing Kinect, PR conducted a pre-launch media reviews tour in 11 cities across the U.S. where Kinect spokespeople met with more than 110 media outlets.
Holiday Outreach: To ensure press and consumers viewed Kinect as the hottest toy this holiday season, PR executed an aggressive holiday outreach campaign which included multiple touchpoints for media to experience the technology.
As part of an all day celebration leading into Kinect’s retail availability, the below tactics were executed November 3-4, 2010, in New York
Boys & Girls Clubs of America Partnership: Building on an existing partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs, PR worked with the organization and Mark Wahlberg to announce the donation of Kinect units to 4,000 clubs across the country, adding a philanthropic element to launch day.
Line at Toys “R” Us: Thirty-six hours before Kinect became available, excited fans began to line up at the flagship Toys “R” Us in Times Square. By midnight, hundreds of soon-to-be Kinect owners stood in line, counting down to launch and celebrating the first sale of Kinect.
Kinect Dance Party: To usher in the excitement of Kinect and feature one of the most anticipated launch titles, “Dance Central,” pop stars Ne-Yo and Lady Sovereign held a surprise performance for media and consumers in Times Square with 600 dancers clad in purple.
Budget: The Kinect launch PR campaign, all of its components and its activities were executed within budget.
Summary of Results
Shift the perception of Xbox 360 from a hardcore gaming console to an entertainment device that offers something for everyone.
• Secured 50% of total review targets in broadening consumer outlets with 77% of resulting reviews positive to positive-neutral in tone, including front cover reviews in The New York Times and USA Today.
• Garnered nearly 60% of coverage hits in outlets that would not traditionally cover gaming, including consumer and entertainment outlets.
• Built advocates among 177 engaged consumer influencers – including fashionistas and lifestyle gurus – through targeted events across the country. Generated a wealth of positive online conversation from key consumer audiences that would typically not engage with Xbox.
• Secured 77 awards for Kinect in technology and business outlets as well as consumer outlets, parenting and toy organizations. Top awards include: Popular Science Best of What's New Grand Award, NAPPA, Time to Play and The National Parenting Center.
• 1,498 tweets and 1.9 million impressions secured from the Family Timer audience as part of a Twitter Party held on launch day.
Drive coverage in national, local, business, consumer, enthusiast, broadcast media and the blogosphere methodically and thoughtfully.
• Media reach/circulation of more than 524 million in 105 top-tier U.S. media outlets during Kinect launch window (Nov. and Dec. 2010).
• Secured 96 hardware reviews with 86% positive-neutral in tone, exceeding all metrics among top targeted outlets. Received an unprecedented two reviews on the front page of different sections of the New York Times on launch day.
• Secured Kinect launch coverage on three national morning shows and three national daytime shows, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, The View and Oprah.
• Far exceeded holiday coverage goals, securing coverage in more than 65 outlets that had never before covered Xbox 360.
• Engaged directly with consumers through social media, increasing Facebook followers to more than 4 million Facebook fans by launch.
Capture the world’s attention and imagination, creating buzz and driving demand for Kinect sensors and the Xbox 360 console.
• Over 1,000 Xbox fans and consumers descended upon Times Square to attend the Dance Party, capturing pictures and video with phones and cameras and sharing out the experience through social networks.
• Over 500 consumers of all ages flocked to Times Square to try Kinect in Mobile Experience Units in Times Square on launch day. All three units had lines of excited consumers throughout the day.
• Helped to achieve the impressive sales figure of selling one million units within 10 days of launch.
• Exceeded projected sales goal of five million Kinect units, with sales reaching more than eight million units in the first 60 days.