Avatars star in Genies Inc. strategy
Genies Inc. believes it has a solution for professional athletes who don’t have time to participate in every brand deal that comes their way: Let your avatar do the work.
A Venice, Calif.-based company whose investors include Kyrie Irving, Joe Montana and Russell Westbrook, Genies announced last week a partnership with the NFLPA, via its athlete-driven accelerator, OneTeam Collective. The deal will provide Genies with the opportunity to integrate more than 2,000 active players’ likenesses into their new Avatar Agency, which creates 3-D digital versions of its clients and integrates the likenesses into their social app. Genies is announcing a similar partnership this week with MLB Players Inc.
“We’re creating the next human race,” said CEO Akash Nigam, who started Genies with Evan Rosenbaum in 2016.
Genies now has 30 employees and has raised more than $30 million from venture capital firms and angel investors. Stars such as Cardi B, DJ Khaled, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and Rihanna are among the celebrities currently using their avatars (known as Genies) across social platforms. The Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve (with New Balance) is among the prominent athletes who have already used their Genies to showcase brand partnerships.
Nigam said there is no significant difference with how customers respond to humans participating in brand deals versus those that use avatars on social media, the preferred destination of the Gen Z target audience. The views, likes and comments from many of the Genie activations versus a physical, human activation show that they are “very comparable,” said Nigam, adding that, “It resonates with that community. And the avatar is able to do many more things than what is possible in the real world. You can get very [creative] with the content so the activation looks amazing.”
Whitney Wagoner, director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said Genies raises a fascinating question about the “root of what’s driving the kind of emotional reaction from consumers that we think is going to impact their behavior,” she said. “Is it Patrick Mahomes holding a bottle of Head & Shoulders? Do I have to see that for it to be meaningful, or can I just know that he uses it? What does the activation actually need to look like?”
Brands will approach Genies and express an interest in reaching a certain demographic over a specific time period with a type of campaign in mind. Nigam said his company will then review its roster of athletes, exploring who may be best based on factors like what region they play in. They will then approach the respective players union and say, “This brand wants to work with these three players’ avatars. This is how much they will be paying for the activation. Let’s put this campaign together.”
Nigam believes Genies unlocks a plethora of advertising, branding and sponsorship opportunities for athletes, especially internationally, because the athlete doesn’t have to be physically present for photo shoots or production. The athlete will be compensated; his Genie will do the work.
“The biggest carrot on the stick here is being able to provide unprecedented deal flow to players that weren’t even thinking about any type activation with a new brand,” Nigam said. “It just builds relationships beyond the [athletic] fields.”