Kia's Australian Open tennis app: 'Everyone said the brief was impossible'

Travis Johnson, CEO, Mnet Mobile, on Kia's successful Australian Open tennis app



When and why did you decide to launch a campaign?
The campaign was launched to improve consumer perception around Kia as an auto brand, and we chose to leverage its sponsorship of the Australian Open Tennis in January.

Instead of just exposing viewers and spectators to the Kia logo and TV commercials, we wanted to involve them and put them on a virtual court. Viewers would feel what it’s like to return the serve of a real tennis pro – and at 263kph.

How did you feel about the original brief?
It was a massive challenge. Other digital agencies and media partners said it was impossible to solve. We effectively had to re-create the interactive experience akin to a Nintendo Wii or Xbox however without any additional hardware, just using your smartphone.

How hard was it to get the campaign green lit?
We theorised that merging audio watermarking technology with the phone’s gyro, accelerometer and timer would accomplish our objective but it was unproven. At our own cost we built a prototype to prove the concept. Only once this had passed testing was the campaign green lit. And that left us only a couple of months to build, test and deploy the final version.

When and how did you first know that you had been successful?
Within days of the three week campaign we had exceeded our ambitious download targets. Global media picked up the app and it became part of numerous articles and studies on best practice for second-screen mobile applications.

When we received the Kia ‘test drive’ registration data and sales data, plus brand impact study, we knew it was a unique campaign.

What was the biggest challenge in demonstrating the effectiveness of your work?
Linking gameplay and engagement to sales results and brand uplift.

What lessons did this campaign teach you?
Entertainment and engagement can be the hook to deliver more concrete and ROI-driven results. Getting people to respond to communication doesn’t mean it’s just about maths and conversion rates. Sometimes reaching fewer people in a deeper way can deliver better results than broad reach.

What were the low points/high points of this campaign?
The high point would have to be proving the technology was possible and eclipsing the campaign targets on downloads, CPA metrics and brand uplift.

The low point would be negative reviews on the app stores with players very vocal about wanting more ads on TV to play against. This was beyond our control and something of a compliment demonstrating the impact the execution.

What would you do differently if you did this campaign over again?
We would add more serves and challenges for the players, and ensure we had at least six months’ worth of prizes and content to maximise viewer participation and continue to drive this traffic to

We would also add more social integration to encourage recruitment of friends to play, and the ability to easily post your scores.

Carlos Grande ( is the effectiveness editor of the IPA, formerly of the Financial Times and Warc

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