Gamers and fashionistas. You might be tempted to think of these two groups as mutually exclusive, but Blair Ethington doesn’t.
Ethington is a marketing and product management exec for CrowdStar, a mobile gaming company that will debut an unusual partnership with New York-based fashion designer Yigal Azrouël on Thursday: 24 hours before the designer sends his Spring 2016 collection down the New York Fashion Week runway on September 11, a selection of items from the line will simultaneously populate on Covet Fashion, CrowdStar’s styling and shopping game. Covet players will instantly have access to the clothes within the world of the game, and a week after NYFW, will be able to place pre-orders for the fashions, which will be exclusive to the app’s users.
The deal is the latest in a series that Ethington—who is GM of Covet Fashion—and her team have forged with 170 fashion lines, including BCBGMAXAZRIA, Rebecca Minkoff and Nicole Miller, to showcase the designer’s merchandise in the game. Covet Fashion, like Candy Crush and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, is free to play—at least initially. Players use virtual cash to “buy” clothing on the app to stock their Covet closets, dress avatars and compete in style challenges like “Movie Premier” or “Boho Farmer.” Their ensembles are rated by other players, with users competing to earn a the highest “Style Score.”
While most participants never go beyond those virtual transactions, about 5% do opt to spend real cash. The game gives players a daily budget of $100 in virtual currency and allows then to earn more by entering style challenges. Anyone who wants to spend more than that must use actual money. Most of those who do so spend an average of $10 to $15 per session, according to Ethington.
This “freemium” model is common in gaming—what’s unusual about Covet is how Ethington has developed the game as a marketing tool for the retail industry. Labels don’t pay to appear on the app, and CrowdStar doesn’t pay them to participate or receive a fee when a consumer clicks through to a brand website to purchase an item she’s seen on Covet. The majority of the cash generated by the game comes from the most avid players, with traditional advertising kick in roughly 10% of revenue.
“We’ve flipped advertising on its head,” says Ethington. “The ads are the clothes and that is what users spend money on.”
The Azrouël deal isn’t the company’s first experiment with moving players purchases into the real world. Earlier this year, CrowdStar partner French Connection created a dress that was only marketed to Covet Fashion users. Ethington says the game drove 37% of the retailer’s ecommerce sales on the day the campaign was launched in Covet, and helped make the dress a top number seller for a couple of weeks.
Launched in 2013, Covet Fashion is one of a handful of gender neutral and female-oriented games CrowdStar has developed since it was founded seven years ago. Early products were made available via Facebook, and after It Girl, the company’s early shopping game, caught on, CrowdStar began to increase its focus on teen girls and women in their 20s. “Women spend more time on games and their monetization in-game is higher,” says Ethington.
The company’s first mobile app, Top Girl, was the top-grossing iOS game on the day it debuted in 2011. With Covet Fashion, the company is targeting an older demographic: women 25 to 55. Crowdstar’s data shows that the average age of Covet players is 29, and that at the beginning of 2015 the app had 350,000 active daily users, a number that now stands at 600,000.
Ethington’s background in product management, consumer motivation and ecommerce has been an important factor in Covet Fashion’s growth. Before joining CrowdStar, she lead a team at eBay that changed the auction site’s fixed price strategy, and worked in viral marketing at Playdom, a game developer.
Like any good marketer, Ethington knows her product intimately. She reports that her Covet Style Score is 4.77 (out of 5.6) and that her virtual closet is valued at $302,000. And, as she hopes it will do with all Covet users, the game has also fueled her passion for real-life fashion.
“The running joke with my husband is that can I expense all the new clothes that I am buying. My monthly budget on clothes has definitely gone up,” she says. “So far, expensing that is a no-go.”
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