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Would you want to attend a summer camp run by Neil Patrick Harris? Get workout tips from Rob Gronkowski and LeBron James? Hear about Drew Barrymore’s cosmetics and fashion advice? Various brands are betting that the answer to all these questions are yes, so their virtual community efforts to connect with consumers (and their children) who cannot engage in traditional community interactions, whether in local restaurants or at summer camp, include these well-known figures, as sorts of camp counselors for online communities.

Although brands have long sought to build communities around their images, both online and in-person, the coronavirus has made the virtual versions increasingly important. If consumers cannot interact with the brand, employees, and other consumers in person, they seek more access through online channels. Brands that can leverage this situation effectively thus are enjoying increased consumer engagement and appeal. For example, Pokemon Go altered its platform to support more indoor searches, as well as to allow players new means to connect virtually rather than online. After doing so, spending on its platform increased by approximately 67 percent.

The types of brands adopting these strategies are diverse too, not just limited to technology-oriented service providers. In the retail sector, Walmart has created Camp by Walmart, a virtual summer camp for children, through which they can play charades with Neil Patrick Harris, take singing lessons from Idina Menzel, and get physical fitness tips from LeBron James.

Among consumer packaged goods firms, Quaker Chewy (owned by PepsiCo) offers a different virtual summer camp option, seeking to entertain kids whose actual camps were canceled due to the coronavirus. Hosted by Taye Diggs, the NoCampNoProblem.com site provides ideas for games and crafts, along with links to purchase the granola bars, as perfect snacks while engaged in camp-like activities.

The restaurant industry is also getting in on the game, so to speak. Although Chipotle’s virtual community site differs, in that it does not adopt a camp theme or directly target children, it supports Zoom meetings in which participants can interact, as well as participate in workout sessions with “Gronk.” More broadly though, the Chipotle platform aims to bring people together, similar to their opportunities for doing so in the past when they visited a restaurant to have a meal in proximity with strangers. The desire for such connection is evident in the results: Chipotle reports 500 million impressions on average for its daily Zoom sessions.

Discussion Questions:

  1. According to this abstract, brands from various industries can establish virtual communities. Are there any limitations, such as sectors that would struggle to build a virtual community? Why—that is, what traits and criteria are needed to support a successful brand community?
  2. Why are several of these communities focused on children as a target market? What benefits does such a target market offer?

Source: Natalie Koltun, “Brands Recalibrate to Community-Building During Quarantine,” Marketing Dive, April 19, 2020; Dianna Christie, “Quaker Chewy Creates Online Summer Camp Site,” Marketing Dive, July 22, 2020; Dianna Christie, “Walmart Hosts Virtual Summer Camp, Drive-In Movies to Keep Families Entertained,” Marketing Dive, July 6, 2020