Rovio Entertainment is lining up brands to participate in marketing opportunities it will offer through Angry Birds Explore, a new augmented reality (AR) app that had a soft launch today and is based on its popular mobile game franchise.
Debuting in advance of the second movie centered around the game later this year, Angry Birds Explore will work with licensed partners by offering QR codes that can be placed on physical products, like toys and apparel. Scanning the codes with a smartphone will let consumers see elements of the Angry Birds universe through their screen and play mini-games that are customized to each brand.
Early Angry Birds Explore partners include candy brand Chupa Chups, which will include a QR code on wrappers that take viewers into an Angry Birds-style experience involving AR versions of its lollipops. Other partnerships, which had yet to be announced as of press time, could include retailers like grocery stores that can add physical QR codes to an aisle, letting smartphone users turn the aisle into a wild jungle environment.
"It gives us a nice tool for our partners to have us integrated in their physical products, across almost any category. It's good for all kinds of activations," Simo Hämäläinen, the firm's head of brand licensing, told Mobile Marketer via telephone from Helsinki. "We just don't want to make it an advertising channel, where there are brand posters everywhere."
An entertainment platform
After its 2009 debut, Angry Birds became one of the original mobile-first brands, with the popularity of its game driving marketing opportunities across channels, including via licensed merchandise. Since then, competition has surged in the mobile gaming space, lessening the focus on Angry Birds and its maker. The new Explore game appears designed to take advantage of the growing popularity of AR games that let users interact with the real world, a format that was popularized by Pokemon Go and will be extended later this year with a highly-anticpated Harry Potter AR game created by Niantic, maker of Pokemon Go.
The overall mobile gaming space continues to heat up as major platforms like Google, Apple, Facebook and Snapchat ramp up their strategies. This could further drive marketing opportunities in a format that attracts highly-engaged users.
Rovio has a long history of marketing partnerships with Angry Birds that includes organizations ranging from McDonald's to NASA, Hämäläinen said. The company also has an established track record with AR, having experimented with the technology beginning in 2013 with QR codes that could earn players special gems. More recently, Rovio has created an AR version of Angry Birds to run on Magic Leap head-mounted displays, and just last month it launched an AR version of Angry Birds: Isle of Pigs.
Angry Birds Explore is being positioned as less of an additional game in the franchise — there are already more than 20 in the app stores — and more of an AR app that can serve as a platform for a variety of entertainment experiences, Hämäläinen said. In some cases, for example, brands like Chupa Chups will be able to help consumers access special content. Currently, others unlock "anger coins" that can be used as currency elsewhere in the app. However, it's not clear if this functionality will remain in future iterations, per Rovio.
When Rovio offered AR tie-ins for the first movie, they tended to involve simple and traditional mobile game mechanics, such as the "endless runner" where characters chase a goal indefinitely and rack up points.
"This time we're able to go a little bit further, because the technology has advanced," Hämäläinen said. "You'll see everything from new ways to take selfies to quite advanced game experiences."
Although Rovio will get additional revenue from licensing partnerships, Hämäläinen said the company isn't shifting its business model with Angry Birds Explore. In fact, he said users won't have to complete a survey or view a video in order to move through a game. Angry Birds Explore will also include an AR "art studio" where players can grow hatchlings (baby bird characters), farm worms and other activities that have nothing to do with the featured brands.
Brands who don't collaborate with Rovio on customized mini-game experiences might still have a more turnkey opportunity where scanning a QR code lets consumers watch a special video, Hämäläinen added.
Besides toys and apparel, Hämäläinen said other licensing partners could come from food and beverage brands, though Rovio likely won't stop there.
"There will be lots you can do without scanning anything," he said. "The app itself is to offer extra value for our fans when they buy a physical toy. It's bringing cool additional elements that they can enjoy without any pressure, and without watching an ad."