September 05, 2010
Case Study

Personalized Audio/Video Flash App Grows List 10%: How an NHL Team Capitalized on Playoff Excitement

SUMMARY: Many marketers have scored with interactive Flash applications that allow users to upload pictures and insert themselves into an animated scene. But what happens when you personalize the experience further by letting users add their own voices to the video?

See how the Washington Capitals increased its newsletter list size nearly 10% with an audio Flash app designed to engage fans during the NHL playoffs. Includes an important note about patents that apply to this popular Flash animation process.
by Sean Donahue, Editor


Last season, the Washington Capitals were on a roll. The team was skating its way into the NHL playoffs and Joe Dupriest, Senior Director, Marketing, wanted to take advantage of the momentum to solidify relationships with the fan base.

"Database building was becoming more of an issue for us," says Dupriest. "Our games were sold out, so we didn't need to sell more tickets -- but we wondered how to get fans into the database for times when things aren't going so well."

Dupriest and his team wanted a unique, interactive campaign that engaged fans with the Capitals brand while also adding email addresses to their house database.


The team was inspired by the success of recent viral Flash applications such as OfficeMax's "Elf Yourself" to create a similar program for Capitals fans -- with an audio twist.

The Washington Capitals' "Slapstick" application let fans superimpose their own photos over the heads of a Capitals player or coach. Then, they could add audio to the Flash video and create an animated "rant" to inspire the Caps' fans, or answer questions in a mock press conference.

A registration form to enable link sharing on fans' social networks also captured email addresses for the team's newsletter.

Here are the four steps they took to design and launch the application:

Step #1. Design coach- and player-themed Flash application

The team brainstormed several ideas for interactive, personalized Flash applications for hockey fans.

They considered action-oriented scenarios, such as allowing users to place their face on the body of a goalie saving a shot, or a skater shooting the puck. But they worried that the limits of the Flash technology would make those videos look clunky.

Instead, they went for a humorous approach that allowed users to place their head (or their dog's head, or their baby's head, or any head they wanted) on a player or coach's body. Then, they invited them to create a special message to share with friends. The goal was to make something users were more likely to personalize and share.

- Licensing the technology from the patent holder

Midway through the development process, the team learned that uploading photos to crop and paste into a Flash animation is a patented process. They signed a license agreement with the patent holder (see Useful Links below).

Step #2. Enable audio recording for further personalization

Creating a personalized message -- or "rant" -- was a key element in the team's strategy. The audio was combined with animation that made it appear as if the user's image was speaking.

The team believed that giving users the chance to record messages would make them more likely to share the application with peers. However, they worried that requiring users to record using computer soundcards and microphones would be too technical for some fans.

To simplify the process, they worked with an online telephony company to enable two options:

- Text-to-speech

This option let users type a message that was converted into either a male or female computer-generated voice

- Audio recording from cell phone

This option let users record their messages in their own voices, over their cell phones. By submitting phone numbers through an online form, an automated phone system placed a call to the users, let them record their messages, and then review and approve the recordings, which would be embedded with the Flash video.

To help cover the cost of this process, the team charged users 99 cents to record their own messages.

Step #3. Include registration form for saving and sharing

The team created a simple registration form that let users save their Flash videos and receive links for sharing them on social networks. The form appeared toward the end of the process -- after the user had uploaded a photo and recorded a rant -- to make it less of a barrier.

"Once they've created it, they're more likely to actually give you the information so they can actually share it," says Dupriest.

The form fields were:
o Name
o Email address
o Birth date (optional)
o ZIP code (optional)

The form also included a check box for users to opt-in to "Ice Chips," the team's official email newsletter.

Immediately upon registration, each user received an email containing links to the personalized Flash video. An overlay screen also provided buttons that let users share their creations on popular social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Step #4. Launch and promote at start of playoffs

The team launched its application at the start of the NHL playoffs, to capture the increased fan enthusiasm -- and web traffic -- caused by that event.

They promoted the Slapstick application in several ways, including:

- Adding a links to the application on the team homepage.

- Media outreach, such as recruiting a local morning radio DJ to create his own video and discuss it with his audience.

- Having internal personnel create their own videos to share on the team's Facebook page.

- Having the team's arena PA announcer create a video that was shown on the video scoreboard during a game.

Dupriest and his team were thrilled with initial fan reaction to the Slapstick application, until something unexpected happened: The Washington Capitals lost in the first round of the playoffs, eight days after the campaign launch.

However, during that time they saw results that convinced them to revive the Slapstick application for the upcoming NHL season.

In one week, they:
o Grew their email newsletter database by nearly 10%
o Received 15,000 impressions for the Slapstick site
o Saw 80% of users who created videos sharing them with their peers

"We exceed expectations, even though we know the impact could have been a lot bigger if the viral effect had had time to take off," says Dupriest.

Dupriest was particularly happy with the application's ability to add thousands of names to their database in one week. This year, the team will further test the sustained impact of the application by running Slapstick promotions throughout the course of the season.

They plan to promote it for the start of the season, then regroup and add new features ever few months to keep the program fresh -- and keep adding new names to the database.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from the Washington Capitals' Slapstick Flash application

Members Library -- MarketingSherpa's 2010 Viral and Social Marketing Hall of Fame: 8 Inspirational Campaigns

Members Library -- Monthly Contest Doubles Email List Size: 4 Steps to Attract Names that Convert

Members Library -- 10 Proven Low-Cost Tactics for Boosting Email Opt-In Lists

Williams Whittle designed the Flash application

Ifbyphone provided the text-to-speech and cell-phone recording platform

Gigya provided the social sharing functionality

PixFusion holds the patent on the image-uploading and cropping process

Washington Capitals' Slapstick application

Washington Capitals homepage

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