How Tomb Raider Tapped Into The Experience Economy

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

In an online world full of click-through rates, attribution, and constant noise, putting something tangible in front of a consumer can still have a huge impact, especially if that something is a giant snake.

For four days every year, Pop-Culture lives at Comic-Con. Game developer Square Enix knew the event represented a huge opportunity to promote their new game, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the third installment in the modern reboot of the Tomb Raider series.

But Comic-Con is a crazy place. With cosplayers dressed as everybody, panels on everything, and excitement everywhere, there is no shortage of shiny things vying for attention. Just in gaming, Shadow of the Tomb Raider faced off against huge names like Spiderman, Call of Duty, and Pokemon. Even with Tomb Raider’s brand recognition, it wouldn’t be easy. Jon Grant, associate director of product marketing for Square Enix, said they needed a remarkable, share-worthy experience to promote the September launch, otherwise it would be impossible to stand out in the midst of the busy weekend.

“Shadow of the Tomb Raider is the finale of Lara’s origin story and is the biggest release in the history of the franchise,” Grant said. “Given the size of this release, we owed our fans an equally epic experience at Comic-Con.”

So Square Enix partnered with JMP-Creative to produce and execute the event, and Barkley, a creative ideas company, to lead the strategy.  They started planning an activation strategy wrapped around a simple question: What makes this game special?

“In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Lara will be tested to see if she really has what it takes to be the Tomb Raider,” said Katy Hornaday, executive creative director at Barkley on the idea behind the activation strategy. This is what makes this game special: Lara Croft, who she is and what she is put through. How could Square Enix and Barkley bring this idea to life? “We decided to test gamers everywhere, to see if they too have what it takes to be the Tomb Raider.”

The result? An event where fans entered a wild jungle environment, playtested the game in a pit with a 14’ anaconda, and ate scorpions, silkworms, and giant water beetles for a chance at prizes. Attendance reached over 9200 people, 3 times the expected goal of 3000. It was covered by SyFy and IGN, and created buzz on social media.

Thanks to Millennials, we now live in an experience economy, where modern consumers demand more than just a product. People want to do something, not just buy something. Game demos alone would have been easy, but it took creative thinking to create something worth remembering.

This example demonstrates what is going on in the digital world. Just like at Comic-Con, modern brands are not only up against their direct competitors, but everything else online. Every funny video, every post, every ad, every article wants your consumer’s attention, and it takes a compelling experience to cut through the noise.

If your brand wants to make something memorable, it needs to do something different than everyone else. Square Enix, JMP-Creative and Barkley found the idea that celebrated the spirit of adventure already in the game, and it resonated with the fans. To stand out in a busy world, find the snakes and scorpions hidden in your brand, and bring them to life.

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.