Apple's Beats by Dr. Dre turns to esports, with NBA sidelined
About this time last year, Apple’s Beats by Dr. Dre brand turned to National Basketball Association superstars such as James Harden and Anthony Davis to promote its Powerbeats Pro wireless headphones. The spot shows players grinding on the practice court while Travis Scott’s “Highest in the Room” plays in the background. (It clocked up more than 2.6 million views on the Beats YouTube channel, with the top comment reading, “The only YouTube ad I will never skip.”)
But with the NBA sidelined due to the pandemic, the brand is turning its attention to esports to promote a fresh set of colors for its $249 best-selling headphones. It’s the first time Beats has done anything in the esports arena, the company says, and its latest campaign features one of the most well-known teams in the space: FaZe Clan.
The campaign kicked off today with a stunt, in which a drone delivered the new headphones to FaZe Clan’s home in Los Angeles. (Like other teams, members of FaZe Clan live and train in the same house.) The drone dropped the package from 10-feet above while a second drone filmed the stunt (see video below). It was a clever move, given social-distancing guidelines, and because video games such as Call of Duty and Fortnite make use of drones to deliver ammo or other items to players, the company says.
“When we were thinking of ways to announce the new Powerbeats Pro color collection, we realized a lot of traditional sports are on hiatus, but the audience for eSports is thriving and looking for more content,” Chris Thorne, global CMO of Beats by Dr. Dre, told Ad Age.
“With more than 2.4 billion gamers worldwide, gaming is one of the top interests of Gen Z and millennials—two of our key demographics,” Thorne adds.
The pandemic has been a boon to gaming. Twitch, for instance, has seen a surge in viewership, with fans watching more than 3 billion hours of streaming content during the first quarter of this year—a first for the company, according to data compiled by Streamlabs, a software provider for streaming services. Nintendo, meanwhile, said earlier this month that Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold more than 13 million copies in its first six weeks of launch. And Fortnite, with its 350 million users, saw 3.2 billion hours of playtime in April alone.
The timing of Beats’ campaign today also coincides with the 10th anniversary of the FaZe Clan. The group's birthday, historically, has been a highly viewed spectacle among its fans, which played a role in the company’s decision not to run any other paid media for today’s campaign, it says. Instead, Beats is having members of FaZe Clan promote the new colors through social channels.
Teams such as FaZe are also prolific content creators. The clan’s official Instagram account, for instance, has nearly 9 million followers, while individual player accounts range from 1 million to nearly 5 million followers. Gamers themselves are also regarded as being difficult to reach, as many are tech savvy and deploy tactics to skirt traditional advertisements or avoid traditional channels such as linear TV.
The company declined to share sales for its Powerbeats Pro headphones, but says they are its best selling product. Meanwhile, data released from IDC, a well-known marketing intelligence company, revealed yesterday that Apple saw strong sales with its ear wear products during the first quarter.
“While Apple Watch shipments declined due to difficulties in the supply chain, the strength of the Beats and Airpods lineup was more than enough to offset the negative growth,” IDC said, adding that the company sold 21 million wearable products in the first quarter and holds a 29 percent market share.
Thorne, a former advertising executive at gaming juggernaut EA, says the current climate has made it “necessary to experiment in marketing right now.”
“My experience in gaming has taught me that gamers are a very discerning audience; you can’t trick them,” he says. “One of the reasons we wanted to work with FaZe is that they are huge fans of Beats and their endorsement of our product portfolio is genuine. Beyond that, Faze Clan also lets us reach a new, highly engaged, Gen Z audience who expect advertising and marketing that is nontraditional and speaks to their interests—which is why we chose this content play … it feels authentic to FaZe Clan and their fan base.”