As Covid-19 put Desperados' usual events and club nights on hold, global brand director Diederik Vos tells LBB about how 2020 opened up a whole new virtual world of possibilities
2020, however, has seen that rhythm lose a few beats. When the enormity of Covid became apparent to the marketing team at the Heineken-owned brand, they knew that they’d have to find a whole new way of interacting with people. And so the pandemic has pushed Desperados to adapt to a digital-first approach – kicking off earlier in the year with live streamed DJ sets. At Halloween, they broadcast live from Bran Castle, a Romanian castle associated with Dracula, giving people stuck at home a taste of horror. Most recently, they hosted an ambitious virtual reality club night. A collaboration with immersive EDM experience kings elrow, the Cologne-based club Bootshaus and VR platform Sansar, the event allowed partygoers to experience a night in Bootshaus. People could create their own avatars, a la Ready Player One, and participate via VR headset, desktop or mobile app – or they could sit back and spectate via elrow’s livestreams on Twitch, YouTube or Facebook.
Diederik Vos, Global Brand Director of Desperados and Sol spoke to LBB’s Laura Swinton about navigating a challenging year and discovering new ways to party.
LBB> What has been your team’s approach to marketing Desperados since Covid hit?
Diederik> With varying levels of lockdown, social distancing guidelines in place and festival plans cancelled throughout the year, we wanted to offer consumers a platform where they could still experience the unrivalled sense of connection that a party brings. We’ve used our experimental DNA to adapt to a new reality as we’ve shifted our strategy to being digital-first, focusing on how we can bring the party into the safety of people’s homes.
In collaboration with our long-term partner elrow, we came up with a series of virtual parties with international DJs, live streamed from iconic locations – including Casa Batlló in Barcelona, Cova Santa in Ibiza, and Bran Castle in Transylvania.
LBB> Events and parties are such a big part of a brand like Desperados – in general terms what sort of conversations did you have internally around the fact that these avenues were severely restricted if not totally on hold?
Diederik> With so many changes happening this year, internally we knew that we wanted to maintain our commitment to moving the party forward, especially in light of social distancing restrictions that put a halt to the nightlife scene.
We decided that the best option was to offer consumers a virtual platform to continue experiencing epic parties and keep the party spirit alive. Our parties are always very visual and high energy, so we’ve continued to apply that same level of creativity into our virtual series – elrow show powered by Desperados. This includes working with top DJs, amazing venues, great entertainment and show stopping décor.
LBB> Talk us through this new project – what inspired it?
Diederik> With a strong desire to keep pushing the boundaries through wild experimentation, we at Desperados are inspired to continuously adapt and find new ways to ignite the party spirit. Our year- long series with elrow is designed to provide an alternative way for people to connect with one another and keep partying together, whilst apart.
Partnering with Bootshaus and VR platform Sansar was the perfect opportunity to take our online party experiences to new dimensions so that consumers could relive the energy and excitement we’ve all been missing in a whole new way, from the safety of their homes.
To further immerse partygoers into a new universe, we worked with abstract urban artist Okuda San Miguel to transform the VR club into a surreal space through a combination of bright colours and geometric shapes for a virtual party experience like no other.
LBB> VR seems such a great alternative and we thought it would be massive this year – though in reality, we haven’t seen as many brands get involved as we predicted. What are the challenges of VR and why was it the right avenue for you?
Diederik> Like with all new technology, VR can pose some challenges to brands because it’s a niche specialism within events, meaning most marketers won’t yet be familiar with the full technology. Because VR adds an additional layer to regular events, it also requires more resource and time.
Nonetheless, with experimentation in our DNA, taking over an iconic nightclub for Desperados’ first-ever VR show seemed like an exciting opportunity to push the boundaries of partying forward. Moreover, it also allowed us to give consumers a new and innovative experience that elevated our virtual party series.
LBB> From a creative perspective, what were the themes and ideas? Why was Bootshaus the club brand you wanted to replicate/ work with?
Diederik> For the online party concept, we wanted to deliver something new for partygoers, something which they have never experienced before. Live streaming from epic locations enables us to do just that. What’s more, at each iconic location we’ve been able to bring to life a new theme to keep parties exciting for consumers, such as ‘House of Terror’ for Halloween at Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania
Founded as a hub for all things vibrant and wild, Bootshaus is a former warehouse venue in Cologne, Germany that is now one of the world’s most iconic nightclubs, so they instantly seemed like the perfect partner. Collaborating with them for the launch of their virtual shows helped us transport partygoers back into the club like never before.
LBB> Why was Sansar the right partner for the project?
Diederik> Sansar is a leading VR platform who have been working with Bootshaus on the VR recreation of their club. Coming in for the first takeover of the club’s VR world, we joined their collaboration to bring to life the elrow show powered by Desperados in an exciting way that captured both our brands’ wild experimentation.
LBB> I’m curious to know about the popularity of these kind of VR nightclubs – what sort of people are you seeing engaging in these spaces? Is it a space that you’d mainly find gamers or is it a broader range than that? Are there any particular fandoms or subcultures that are particularly drawn to them?
Diederik> With everyone spending a lot more time at home this year, we have found that VR has extended its reach significantly beyond its appeal to the tech and gaming industry, with record numbers of people trying out the technology. Whilst it’s still quite a new phenomenon for nightclubs, we’ve seen major artists taking their sets to new dimensions through VR– bringing this once niche concept to the mainstream.
As with real clubs, the VR show was age gated for consumers of legal drinking age, like all our virtual shows in the series.
LBB> With most IRL events, one of the benefits is that guests can enjoy the product – are you incorporating that into the experience somehow?
Diederik> Partygoers at the VR show were able to virtually walk to the Bootshaus bar and take a free ice-cold Desperados. Though they were not able to physically drink it in the virtual world, we hope consumers enjoyed a Desperados at home. Desperados was also visible in the form of branding throughout the space including at the bar, on merchandise and on the wall.
LBB> What have been the most interesting lessons that you’ve learned from the experience of pulling the party together?
Diederik> With many partners involved in helping this party come to life, we’ve learned a lot about how we can create a VR experience for partygoers around the world. This is the first time many of us ventured in the VR space, so it was quite an adventure adapting and learning about this new technology!
With experimentation being at the heart of everything we do at Desperados, using VR to elevate the party experience was inspiring. It reminded me of the importance of never conforming and always being agile and trying new things, learning and becoming a little better every day. And as we embarked on this journey early on, we have learnt a lot of things, allowing us to continue on an innovative journey that pushes boundaries and the party forward.
LBB> VR headsets still don’t have widespread adoption, so why was it important to get the brand into the VR space now? Do you think it will become a bigger part of your marketing going forward?
Diederik> Whilst VR headsets may not be accessible to all partygoers right now, as a brand with experimentation and innovation in our DNA, we see the use of VR as a great way of delivering a unique virtual experience, enabling partygoers to experience the excitement of being in a club, from the safety of their homes. For our first-ever VR show, consumers were also able to enjoy the event via social media without a headset.
LBB> VR seems like a refreshing change of pace to the Covid Zoom parties! As people (and brands!) try to navigate the festive season, could VR parties and clubs be an avenue worth exploring?
Diederik> Although it is unclear what the future of events and experiences looks like, we do see digital playing a much bigger role. With Bootshaus being closed since the beginning of lockdown, the VR show was the first time that partygoers were able to experience the club since early 2020. It’s exciting to see so many people engaging with the virtual series from the safety of their homes. We’re looking forward to continuing to adapt the experiences to new technologies and keep igniting the party spirit.
LBB> What other projects from 2020 are you particularly proud of and why?
DIederik> Firstly, I’m really proud that despite this year’s challenges, we’ve been able to shift our experiential strategy to digital-first – which enabled us to continue providing unique experiences and connecting partygoers around the world.
With this digital-first mindset, we’ve also been planning exciting campaigns for next year. From innovations, to incorporating new technologies into our experiential parties, I’m proud of the work that we will reveal in 2021 – so stay tuned in!
LBB> With vaccines on the horizon, are you talking about or planning for the return to IRL events? What do you think these first events will look like?
Diederik> It is still too early for us to say what events and experiences will look like in the future. However, the digital space will continue to play a big role in our plans. At the moment, we are exploring different options with our partners and look forward to sharing more on how we aim to keep the party spirit going and bringing people together safely.