Domino’s ‘Stranger Things’ App Reveals the Dizzying Bets of the Attention Arms Race

In late 2020, Domino’s senior VP of brand and product innovation Kate Trumbull received a call from Netflix asking if the pizza giant would be interested in a brand partnership around the fourth season of the hit show Stranger Things. For Trumbull it was a no-brainer. She saw the symmetry between Domino’s popularity in the 80s and the show’s setting, as well as a way to link the show’s supernatural atmosphere to her company’s technology and innovation. She had also seen the hype surrounding some of the branding associated with the show’s third season, such as Nike’s Hawkins capsule collection and Burger King’s Stranger Things meal.

She wanted to push it further.

“Where my mind went was, you can do little things, you can do gimmick things, you can’t take any risks, or you can go all in,” Trumbull told me. “When we believe in an idea or concept, we want to go all out.”

That desire to go all-in is directly tied to the audience it’s trying to attract. Domino’s target audience is a generation of consumers devoid of branding that goes far beyond a 30-second ad or merch gimmick. Burger King’s Subservient Chicken site was in 2004. Nike Plus launched in 2006. “Their expectations are higher, they don’t want to be advertised in obvious ways,” Trumbull says. “They want to do things that are unique and experiential, and that adds to our desire to do something more.” That more was eventually spent a year developing an app extension that allowed people to order pizza with their minds. Yeah, yeah, it’s really just facial recognition and eye-tracking technology, but still, this is a cool, fun way to use Elf’s telekinetic abilities and sell pizza at the same time.

It’ll be fascinating to see how many fans use the Mind Ordering app, but what stands out is that not only is it a funny Stranger Things themed gimmick, but it’s also a tool that the brand will no doubt find other uses for. will find for. † It adds to the already long list of ways — emoji, Slack, Messenger, zero-click — that Domino’s has turned on to make ordering pizza both easier and more fun.

It’s also just the latest example – in the last week alone! — of how pop culture fragmentation and an accelerating news cycle has forced brands into bigger gimmicks, stunts and more, in what is now seemingly an endless arms race for our attention.

Two big brands decided the best way to cut through the clutter was to age sports superstars to star in ads as their younger selves. Mastercard cast both 2022 Lionel Messi and 2000 Lionel Messi in its latest ad, harking back to the time when a 13-year-old from Argentina first boarded a plane to Barcelona en route to become one of the greatest football stars of all. times to be. VFX store The Mill used AI-based neural rendering, which creates images from thousands of photos, videos and audio data of Messi’s likeness and movements.

Meanwhile, Michelob Ultra went into long form with McEnroe vs. McEnroe, an hour-long special on ESPN2 and ESPN Plus, pitting tennis legend John McEnroe on the court against five different variations of his former self. The special was created with interactive production studio Unit9, the same wizards who worked on Domino’s app. It used AI to study every match of McEnroe’s career, while Unreal technology scanned McEnroe’s expressions and body movements, which were then synchronized with robotic arms to bring the digital into the physical world. (Luckily, the beer brand hasn’t expanded its use of AI to revive its 2004 talk show.)

These are clearly pushing the boundaries of both brand marketing budgets and our tolerance for what it produces, but then Cheez-It crackers dropped the proverbial hold-my beer. A 2019 study from the Bern University of the Arts in Switzerland found that exposure to music during the aging process can affect the taste of cheese: that a cheese matured to the songs of A Tribe Called Quest, for example, may have a “stronger smell.” and stronger, fruitier flavor” than cheese aged on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. So the cracker brand teamed up with Pandora to launch “Aged by Audio,” an edition of the crackers made with cheese matured to the sounds of A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, Arrested Development, the Roots, Beastie Boys, Drake , Queen Latifah , Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Saweetie and others. Whether a Beastie cracker tastes different from a Snoop cracker, or just the same cheap cardboard as the original, is hard to say. But the brand found a way to use culture and (somewhat questionable) science to differentiate itself from the competition on the shelf.

The challenge here for all these brands and their embrace of techno wizardry is whether the lifespan of any of these brands will last even longer than these few days. They’re already competing with Doja Cat and Dolly Parton who hype an upcoming musical on TikTok for Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza, Nike’s 50th anniversary campaign, Marvel’s She-Hulk trailer, and everything else pop culture has to offer. The goalposts are in constant motion, and now it seems that while advertising has won the streaming wars, the way it fights its battles is as fraught as ever. Going all in, as Trumball said, is now table game to attract some meaningful attention beyond a fleeting grin. And to be “all in” is to create something cool that contains its product with something else we love to infiltrate our attention. The Mind Flayer approach to marketing, perhaps?

As the real Mind Flayer said so beautifully to Eleven in Stranger Things: “You let us in. And now you’re going to have to let us stay. Can’t you see? All this time. we’ve built it. We’re building it . . . for you.”

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