Hopping on a treadmill may seem like the definition of running in place, but with an interactive video game, Nike is taking some runners past the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty.
To promote the new Nike React Flyknit running shoe, the brand teamed up with longtime advertising partners Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai to launch an interactive video game in which shoppers, after lacing up their sneakers, become characters in the world of “Reactland.” Customers create avatars of themselves and then navigate through the game’s forests and rooftops while jogging (in real life) on a treadmill for three minutes.
Nike hopes the experience, which was open for a few weeks earlier this month, will sell players on the light and bouncy design of its shoe. Yet the brand’s use of immersive technology also reinforces the importance of technology for retailers looking for innovative ways to boost brick-and-mortar sales.
“The realm between digital and physical will continue to blend or merge to enhance the in-store customer experience,” said Ellen Schmidt-Devlin, executive director and co-founder of the sports product management program at the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business. “It allows the customer to further engage with a brand, hopefully moving them further along in the purchase funnel.”
The Nike video game is available at select Chinese stores in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. Players scan their photos to create an avatar. Then they jog while holding a small remote that helps their characters jump on top of trains or the ocean-blue rooftops of Santorini. The longer runners last, the higher they appear on the leaderboard. Once their three minutes are up, players are given a 10-second video of their run to share on social media.
“Technology helps people look at the sport different and gives people a different access point,” said Ilana Finley, a communications director for Nike. “For those who feel like they’re not runners or they could never go out and run a 5K or a 10K, it gives them a chance to experience the sport in a way that meets them in the place that they are.”
Matt Powell, vice president and senior sports industry analyst for the NPD Group, said the key for brands is to have customers “experience the product.” In Nike’s case, that includes showing shoppers how a shoe feels “without actually having to get out on the road and run it.”
More often, Powell said he notices companies use technology to market items that, in real life, fill space — like a couch that has to fit into a room. But he said this was the first time he’d seen the technology used to promote footwear.
Schmidt-Devlin said virtual reality is still a limited option for retailers, in part, because of the high cost of developing the experience. Still, the North Face, NBA and the Olympics have used virtual reality for marketing, Schmidt-Devlin said.
In a video of “Reactland” posted by Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai, a woman laces up her crisp white sneakers and leads her avatar through a panda forest and past the Great Sphinx of Giza. As her character zips through Times Square, the woman hoists her arms in the air in celebration.
Her avatar has just crossed the finish line.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story described the technology as virtual reality. Nike says the video game experience is not virtual reality.