Five Questions with StubHub's CMO

As It Looks to Reach Mass Market, Brand Embraces Ticket Oak

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Money may not grow on trees, but in StubHub's marketing, tickets do. Continuing its campaign from earlier this spring, the ticket marketplace has once again called on the Ticket Oak, a large talking tree, to tout the brand's selection and convenience.

Ray Elias
Ray Elias

It isn't the first time the company has relied on a character to sell its brand. Two years ago, StubHub did something similar with a giant-binoculars character. "It was more of a function ad. The idea was that you were sitting in the nosebleeds with these giant binoculars," said Ray Elias, StubHub's CMO. "It just didn't have the reach because we didn't buy enough TV around it."

But the brand has found success with the Ticket Oak, especially in social media. "We trended in the first week that we launched the campaign several times in the top 10 on Twitter," said Mr. Elias. "People just repeating the commercial 'I love you, Ticket Oak,' 'I want a Ticket Oak in my backyard,' 'Look at that wonky eye,' 'What a creepy tree,' just on and on."

To take advantage of that , the brand is releasing a series of viral videos starring the Ticket Oak. The first will be released this month and another will air in December.

Mr. Elias talked with Ad Age about the Ticket Oak, StubHub's new loyalty program and how StubHub plans to better serve its audience.

Ad Age : Why did you decide to use the Ticket Oak as your central character? What was the strategy behind that ?

Mr. Elias: Contrary to the way it's been written about, we don't view it as a mascot, per se. It's more of a character that embodies tickets growing on trees, obviously, and StubHub being the next best thing. We took a risk with that creative. And we thought it was either going to be really funny and catchy or ... [not]. So we took the risk and we have seen tremendous growth as a result.

TV advertising is something we've played around with over the last couple years, but this is the year that we've gone really big. And because, as a brand, we're getting to that place now, we're trying to do the very best. Historically, we've been very measurement focused, direct response focused. There's been a lot of pent-up demand out there, and it was easy to grow the business in that way. And now that we're the size that we are it's really about reaching the mass market.

We wanted a single iconic creative that delivered our core message at this point, which has gone from functional -- what is StubHub and where you want to sit -- to the emotional aspects: access, choice, convenience, lots of selection and tickets growing on trees.

Ad Age : How has the Ticket Oak affected the business?

Mr. Elias: Tremendous success. The traffic growth has been 40% year over year. We're a company that 's seeing 15 million uniques a month. Brand awareness has gone up something like 20% as a result of these campaigns.

Marketing at StubHub is the revenue driving function, so we really manage marketing based on revenue and top-line growth. So as the business has continued to grow and flourish over the years so has our marketing investment. We make adjustments throughout the year. Our first two spots were so successful that we created a third specifically aimed at the high season that we're in at the moment. ... So really this was really to refresh and extend the shelf life. We're buying more media that we did in the spring around this.

Ad Age : The Ticket Oak has a robust Facebook profile -- he started out as an acorn. That's pretty creative.

Mr. Elias: I've always admired some of these great campaigns that have taken advantage of social media. Things like the Most Interesting Man in the World, where you see people riffing off of him and then they build that back into the spots. A lot of the same stuff is happening with the Ticket Oak now.

Ad Age :The Ticket Oak was live at The Grove in Los Angeles to launch StubHub Fan Rewards. What was the inspiration for that program?

Mr. Elias: We have brought the first affinity rewards-type program into ticketing. So it's new for StubHub and it's new for ticketing. Historically this is a space that is not consumer-friendly. If you think about where most people got tickets, it was kind of a monopolistic thing. I'm not just referring to our biggest competitor, but even teams in a market have a monopoly. They haven't had to really speak to the fan. The fan is going to come anyway, right?

What we've done is create a choice. The space has become incredibly competitive. People have lots of options now for where to get tickets. I think we can take a lot of credit for helping create that . But we believe very strongly in competition. We think that as a result of the way we're competing and others are following suit now, that it's great for consumers. We're passionate about being an e-commerce business and a best-in-class customer service business. We happen to manage a ticket marketplace.

The loyalty program is a nudge. It in and of itself doesn't drive the loyalty that our brand sees -- I think our experience does. But it's easy to go to Google and shop; we know that . People are price-sensitive. What this really does is make us a No. 1 destination now and gives people a reason to consider us first. And we want to reward people for doing business with us. We know people have those options.

Ad Age : Can you talk about what new technology you are working on and how that might change the way you market?

Mr. Elias: Most people don't go to something because they don't know about it. So people have started to use StubHub beyond just buying tickets. They're really using it to discover events now as well. And I would say that our experience is being tuned to support that to be very, very useful to fans as a discovery tool.

We're in a great position because we care about all live events all the time. You look at some of our partners, some of our competitors, and they have a focus, whether it's a team being focused on its own tickets sales or a ticketing company being focused on an act that they promote and sell tickets for. We're kind of everything.

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