Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Complex Networks had to figure out how to shift its 4-year-old marquee event, ComplexCon, into a virtual festival. The transition could not be limited to a switch to Zoom panels, however. The company had to find a format that would not only convene its audience of streetwear and music fanatics into one highly monetizable location, but also try and replicate the mix of commerce, sponsorship and consumer revenue that the event was previously able to make its two day schedule.
As a result, ComplexLand was created using design and experience agency Jam3, and took place last December for an extended five-day-long period. The virtual festival gave attendees the opportunity to create avatars of themselves and explore a virtually replicated convention space, where they could visit brand booths, watch entertaining videos and, most importantly, shop for limited edition items during product drops.
Half a year later, the media company — which publishes its namesake brand Complex, First We Feast, Sole Collector and Pigeons & Planes — is reprising the virtual festival as ComplexLand 2.0 but this time with modifications to its tech to provide both attendees and advertisers with more opportunities to interaction and shop. And it is paying off.
Revenue from sponsorship deals has increased by 60%, said Complex’s CRO Edgar Hernandez, who would not disclose hard dollar figures. In 2020, ComplexLand signed seven sponsors for the five-day event. ComplexLand 2.0 has eight brand partners on board over a three-day period.
The sponsorship deals have increased in terms of dollars, Hernandez did confirmed, adding that the virtual festival this time around is giving sponsors — including the event’s two title sponsors FX’s “Dave” and 99designs by Vistaprint — more opportunities to go deeper with their storytelling capabilities that reward attendees for engaging with the brands.
The first version, which was meant to have gaming components to encourage participation, was similar to the first version of a video game, said Hernandez. As a “proof of concept,” he said it showed that the idea worked. It drew over 700,000 attendees for a total of 3.2 million engaged minutes and had an average of 125,000 people per day. The company would not disclose the number of sales made during the festival.
ComplexLand 2.0 gives attendees the “multiplayer experience,” which allows them to share drops with each other — a key component of the in-person festival experience — and gives brands the chance to have one-to-one interactions that normally took place at the event booths.
“The first version [of ComplexLand] was really [about] understanding how these worlds collide, and that is the world of gaming, commerce and entertainment. [It’s] definitely more than shopping,” said Hernandez.
The improvements include giving brands non-playable characters to guide attendees to their booths and product drops. Additionally, some sponsors, including Honda Civic, are giving points to people who stay and learn about their cars and those points enter attendees into a giveaway for a limited edition run of Honda/Complex merch, Hernandez said.
Neither of the title sponsors are consumer product companies, but 99designs by Vistaprint and FX’s show “Dave,” were given more than a virtual booth the steer the virtual guests too. 99designs by Vistaprint is sponsoring one of the virtual neighborhoods within the festival’s site that feature five small businesses which are shoppable integrations. As a way to promote and amplify these businesses within the event, both Complex and 99designs by Vistaprint gave each of the business owners $25,000 and mentoring from designers. FX is the entertainment sponsor, with the main theater in the event being presented by the studio. Some of the content programming includes interviews with the stars of “Dave.”
ComplexCon is set to return in its in-person form this November, which will re-incorporate the consumer revenue stream of ticket sales — something ComplexLand did not charge for — but Hernandez is adamant that ComplexLand 2.0 will not be the final version.
“We are long term thinking about ComplexLand as an experience that will also compliment other experiences that we create, such as ComplexCon,” he said.
This hybrid live and virtual model is already a common phenomenon in the events and experiential industry, according to Eric Fleming, co-founder and executive producer of event production company Makeout NYC. While the return of live events is quickly becoming the predominant ask among his clients once again, Fleming said that having the top layer of, at minimum, live streaming the event is something that is being asked for, with the realization that many people still might now be willing or able to travel to in-person gatherings.
And though there is concern that virtual events may not provide the same sense of involvement or could lead to “FOMO,” Fleming added that a hybrid model becomes potentially more profitable by selling the live stream, or including pre- and mid-roll ads in the programming.
“The difference between ComplexLand and maybe some of these other virtual events that have happened is that ComplexLand is really built on the data and insights of these worlds colliding, which are gaming, commerce, and entertainment, which aren’t going anywhere,” said Hernandez. “And we believe that it’s going to continue to be a future experience for our millennial and Gen Z audience.”