Steven Wendland and Peter Le Masurier are among the very few people who actually hope for flight delays. The duo is part of a multi-company initiative that has placed preschool IP Airside Andy—created by Le Masurier’s London-based company of the same name—into airports across the UK in the form of branded interactive gaming pods that feature the property’s flagship app. And the longer kids spend playing the Airside Andy massively multiplayer online game at a public airport pod, the more inclined they may be to download it later to their own devices.
At least that’s the marketing strategy behind the MMO—developed by Malta studio Flying Squirrel Games and Paris-based Technicolor in conjunction with Airside Andy—which is being touted as the first of its kind for preschoolers.
The app launched in February, the same month Zodiak Kids Studios entered into a development and production pact with Airside Andy for a 52 x 10-minute preschool series that’s slated to launch in late 2017. The game takes place in a 3D virtual world set in an airport, where kids can customize their own hangars, play games, use virtual coins to buy goods and visit their friends’ hangars.
These days, with much of what occurs in the virtual world trickling into the real one, Airside Andy is looking to carve out a niche in real-life airport marketing. So far, Manchester and Newcastle airports the have set up the branded gaming pods that come equipped with approximately three interactive tablets that are child-proofed and fully loaded with additional age-appropriate games. New pods are now popping up at Gatwick, Heathrow and Birmingham airports, and at all Swissport Aspire lounges.
“Kids go to the airport, look out the window and see a world they don’t usually get to interact with. This game allows them to get into that world and keep the airport functioning,” says Wendland, VP and head of creative for Technicolor’s Animation & Games business, which supervised the game’s creative development and production in conjunction with Flying Squirrel. (Technicolor also designed the first set of visuals for the property’s TV series, which was the basis for the game.)
“There’s a huge amount of traffic flowing through airports, with waves of different people at all different times who will play with the game, so it’s interesting from a marketing perspective,” Wendland says. “We want it to be a viral phenomenon, and the airport is a starting point. ”
And getting the pods into airports in the first place was an on-brand progression for Le Masurier.
“Swissport approached me to host an Airside Andy-branded area. It was looking at a solution for its lounges and wanted to entertain kids—but not in a traditional way. It wanted to keep them quiet, and Swissport discovered our brand, which fits nicely,” Le Masurier says, adding that the pods and MMO are purposely appealing to a digital audience first, instead of introducing Airside Andy characters via the traditional broadcasting route.
While the concept of debuting a property digital-first isn’t novel, branded airport pods are.
Aware of the power of airport traffic–and the diversity it brings–Le Masurier says,”Some of the biggest changes with kids you will see is watching them interact with games in public places, and producers moving brands to these environments.” This kind of scenario undoubtedly brings up a host of questions surrounding branding and product placement, and Le Masurier admits the phenomenon hinges on the thin line between creating an engaging experience and overt advertising.
Airside Andy, which doesn’t pay for the pods’ installation, expects to move to a licensing model as the brand-building initiative grows. The company has also been approached by a number of retail outlets that wish to purchase pods on a license basis.
The company also has further plans to launch its pods at more UK airports and elsewhere in Europe.
“Nobody is really tackling the airport environment, and here we are,” says Le Masurier. “Kids love airports, which are changing drastically as so much money is being poured into refurbishing them. And delays? Kids don’t mind.”