Sony Music & Metaverse at 2017 CMA Fest
Country music and augmented reality: a case study
For the 2017 CMA Fest in Nashville, Sony Music wanted to create a unique experience for fans that allowed them to connect with Sony Music artists in a way that had never been done before. Metaverse is a platform that makes it easy for anyone, from kids to big brands, to create interactive experiences in Augmented Reality.
Using Metaverse, Sony Music created 73 interactive experiences. The result was a game like Pokemon Go, but for country music.
In addition to the overarching goal of creating a guerilla activation that would take over CMA Fest and keep Sony Music, and Sony Music artists, at the tip of attendees’ minds throughout the weekend, the activation had several other objectives.
Sony Music wanted to incentivize fans to save songs to playlists on streaming apps, rather than simply listening to those songs once and forgetting them. They have found that in a music world where consumption is dominated by singles and evergreen discovery streams, saving songs to playlists on services like Amazon Prime Music is the only way to guarantee repeat plays and continued mindshare.
Sony Music also wanted to use this activation as a way to promote some of the newer artists on their roster, whose undercard shows and smaller fan experiences might be eclipsed by headline acts. Specifically, they wanted to effectively promote these shows and events to the targeted group of superfans and tastemakers who would most enjoy and appreciate discovering these new artists.
Personalized fan experiences
This personalized and targeted promotion falls within a larger goal, one that exists throughout Sony Music’s marketing initiatives, to create and foster meaningful connection between an artist and the individual fan. Where stadium tours and radio interviews connect the artist with his or her fans in a way that relies on the untouchability, and the awe, of celebrity, trends in the consumption of media that expose the artist as an ordinary person and let the fan feel as if they are part of a privileged relationship (e.g., Snapchat stories, Facebook Live broadcasts, VIP Meet & Greet experiences, etc.) signal that fans are searching for dimensionality and authenticity within celebrity; they want the untouchable queen of the Billboard charts to feel like a best friend.
To do this, Sony Music used Metaverse Studio to create a hidden layer of augmented reality experiences around downtown Nashville. Fans downloaded the Metaverse app to their iPhone or Android Phone, and walked around the festival to locations marked on an in-app map. When they were near an experience, they tapped it to launch the phone’s camera. They then held their phone out and spun around to find the experience, similar to finding a Pokemon in Pokemon Go. These experiences, often stylized cutouts of country music artists’ heads, spoke to users and allowed them to select responses on screen in order to continue the adventure.
This model of dialogue and responses allowed some of the experiences to ask the user trivia questions about subjects ranging from country music history (e.g., a Dolly Parton experience that floated above her star on the Country Music Walk Of Fame asked about whom “I Will Always Love You” was written), to brand awareness and recall (“What concept was Brad Paisley’s latest album based around?”). On answering correctly, the experience used a probability table to select from a set of relevant prizes, and awarded either a generic coin that could be used to spin a virtual slot machine at the Sony Music merch booth, or, if the user was lucky, a larger prize like passes to a Meet & Greet or tickets to a VIP show.
By themselves, these trivia experiences provide incredible value in terms of entertainment and engagement, as well as in terms of teaching and testing recall of brand messages. However, by using the trivia experiences as a template, Sony Music was able to extend this model to create more complex and truly innovative experiences.
By using the native video player available inside of Metaverse, experiences were able to embed music videos in physical space, floating above the crowd, while fans were waiting for artists to perform. Some of these videos were made exclusive by limiting access to the first 50 users to watch them, after which the experience no longer allowed users to see the video.
Other experiences used third-party API integrations to seamlessly save songs to users’ playlists on popular streaming apps immediately after they listened to the artist perform the song live on stage, and then used push notifications to re-engage those users and remind them to listen to the song after a specified period of time had passed.
One experience was part of a mixed-reality adventure where members of the band Old Dominion (floating in AR at an Old Dominion concert, and only accessible during the band’s performance) told users a secret code and directed them to find a Sasquatch, the band’s mascot, after the show. There was no Sasquatch experience in Metaverse. There was, however, a person dressed in a Sasquatch costume running around the streets of Nashville. The first user to tell Sasquatch the secret code (“No Such Thing as a Broken Heart”) won tickets to a VIP performance and Meet & Greet by Old Dominion the next day.
Some experiences used a Metaverse construct called a “Camera Scene” to prompt users to take selfies at iconic locations (e.g., The Country Hall of Fame), or record videos of themselves and their friends singing song lyrics or shouting phrases. This user-submitted content was branded with Sony Music & CMA Fest Geofilters and made available to Sony Music for promotional purposes.
Games of Chance
Another experience, a slot machine style game that allowed users to redeem “CMA Coins” collected from other experiences, directed people to make repeat visits to the Sony Music merch booth in order to try their luck and potentially win vouchers for prizes. Those vouchers could then be redeemed at the merch booth for real prizes.
Many of these experiences were placed inside of venues, and only appeared around the times at which the corresponding artist was playing. This drove crowds of people to shows by Sony Music artists (some free and some ticketed), and also affected viral, word of mouth downloads due to the inevitable “What is that?” questions asked of players as they stood in a crowd and rotated in place, arm extended and phone in hand, to find an experience.
In addition to driving foot traffic to specific shows, these experiences helped people to discover new artists, and took both locals and tourists to new and interesting places around Nashville. Analytics and targeting within these experiences allowed Sony Music to later identify their most dedicated and discovery-oriented fans, segmented by taste and preferred artists, and re-engage them after the festival.
Using Metaverse Studio, Sony Music was able to create all of this, from ideation to execution, in under one month.
This included creating each of the 73 experiences using the drag and drop interface in Metaverse Studio, and organizing these experiences into a structure called a “Quest,” which allows creators to understand and manipulate position, density, scheduling in aggregate, and allows users to understand their progress as they make their way through experiences.
Some Metaverse Studio features used to create the more complex experiences in the Sony Music CMA Fest activation include:
- The ability to carry intents to other apps, used in an experience that opened the App Store or Play Store and directed users to download the Kane Brown Emoji Pack,
- User properties, which are key-value pairs that function similar to cookies in a browser, and allow experiences to set and recall information about a user in order to personalize later experiences or collect data for retargeting purposes,
- The ability to schedule the execution of arbitrary commands, used to configure experiences to appear on and disappear from the map at specific times,
- Scheduling tools to send push notifications in order to re-engage users throughout the weekend,
- Targeting tools to deliver content, such as experiences, messages, and prizes, to specific users based on multivariate data,
- The “Camera Scene,” that asked users to take pictures or video and overlaid Sony Music borders and graphics,
- A leaderboard that incremented a user’s score for each experience that they completed, allowing for a “grand prize” to be awarded to the person who completed the most experiences,
- The “Give Item Scene,” which awarded real prizes that could be redeemed at the Sony Music booth, as well as digital prizes, like coins, that other experiences could then request from a user,
- The ability to create a “slot machine” type experience that users could use to redeem coins for a chance at a prize, based on set probabilities,
- The ability to position experiences in fixed locations or position them algorithmically within a geofenced area,
- The ability to move experiences around the map in real time,
- The “Video Scene” that embeds native video from platforms like YouTube and Vevo inside of experiences,
- The ability to control the flow of an experience using user properties, allowing for the creation of experiences that only allow one interaction every 24 hours and thus direct users to come back to a location (in this case, the Sony Music merch booth), every day,
- The ability to limit the number of users allowed to view a specific piece of exclusive content within an experience,
- The ability to use Google’s Vision APIs to require that users take a photo of a specific object (in this case, an experience for the artist Cam required that the user snap a photo of something yellow in order to have a chance at the prize),
- Bulk import tools to create vouchers for each of the real world prizes being awarded in the app, which ranged from VIP tickets to the Tim McGraw & Faith Hill SOUL2SOUL tour, to smaller prizes like signed CDs and Sony Music T-shirts,
- “Item sets” for prizes that were associated with relevant experiences (e.g., a signed Brad Paisley poster was awarded as a prize for finding Brad’s guitar in a bar) and distributed based on probabilities, with a two prize per person limit.
Using the Metaverse platform, Sony Music was able to ideate and execute a massive and truly innovative activation in under one month. The game touched demographics of all ages and brought together all combinations of teams. Teens played with friends, families with their children. Country music fans from all over the country (and even internationally; one of the top players was a woman who flew from her home in London to attend the festival), found the activation enjoyable and compelling.
The young woman who won the overall competition completed 64 experiences over three days. It was her fourth year attending CMA Fest. Even though she spent a significant amount of time and energy running around trying to find and interact with each experience before it disappeared, she said with enthusiasm, in an interview after the festival, that playing the game enhanced her experience and that Sony Music had turned the festival into something more interesting, personal, and powerful than it had been in previous years.