Just about every brand has a presence on Twitter and Instagram. Plan for Roblox to be next.
Roblox, a virtual universe where users can create and play games and share experiences with friends, is new territory for brands. A smattering joined in late 2021, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Forever 21, Ralph Lauren, Nike and Vans, each launching digital products.
Most brands are being cautious in getting involved with the Roblox community, says Rob Stone, digital, strategy and innovation director at 3 Monkeys Zeno, the London arm of Zeno Group. Yet there’s no doubt that it is a prime platform for marketers trying to catch Gen Z’s attention and build brand awareness. Roblox has more than 50 million daily active users. More than two-thirds of kids aged nine to 12 are playing it in the U.S., as are around 1.5 million children in the U.K.
“Brands like Nike and Forever 21 are doing well and getting positive coverage on Roblox; that will give other brands the confidence to get involved,” Stone says. “They want to be seen as innovative and moving quite quickly.”
Brands as divergent as Chipotle Mexican Grill and language-learning platform Duolingo were among the first brands to dive into Roblox’s deep end. Last fall, Chipotle became the first restaurant brand to open a virtual location on Roblox.
The timing wasn’t random. Chipotle started looking at Roblox a year ago and noticed users were already buzzing about its brand, using Chipotle in avatar names and creating brand-themed merchandise and worlds. However, Chipotle wanted to wait until the right moment to join, says Tressie Lieberman, VP of digital marketing and off-premise at Chipotle.
“Being an early mover has been part of our strategy to drive PR out of the gate,” says Lieberman. “But we have planned our launches on days where we feel we can create a lot of conversation.”
To get people talking, Chipotle Boorito Maze launched on Halloween, giving the first 30,000 Roblox users who visited the cashier in a virtual Chipotle restaurant in costume a free burrito code. The campaign resulted in Chipotle’s highest all-time number of digital transactions, single-day app downloads, mobile transactions and promo code redemptions on October 31. It also broke records for Chipotle rewards enrollment and led to the highest social volume for a Chipotle activation. The Chipotle Boorito Maze saw 8 million gameplays and had 3.5 million unique players.
“We were able to take those learnings and apply them to a permanent world we made in Roblox,” says Lieberman.
The Boorito Maze was only seasonal, so for National Burrito Day on April 7, Chipotle created a permanent experience on Roblox for fans called the Burrito Builder. In that experience, users can roll burritos to earn Burrito Bucks, the brand's in-game currency. The first 100,000 Roblox players to successfully roll a burrito won Burrito Bucks for an entrée code redeemable on the app or online. Burrito Bucks can also be traded for virtual upgrades and additional rewards.
Burrito Builder saw 4.1 million gameplays in the first week and has been played 6 million times. It was also a top 10 day for digital sales and digital transactions and the chain’s second-highest mobile-transaction day on National Burrito Day.
To keep momentum going, Chipotle creates a “buzz-driving flywheel” with each of its activations, says Lieberman. It has used this strategy for exclusive virtual items within the experiences, or free entrees and Easter eggs inside the experience, to engage fans.
“On National Burrito Day, you could transport within that experience back to our burrito experience,” she says. “It is a complex activation where we put a lot into it.”
Chipotle is targeting Gen Z with this effort and using Roblox to take its relationship with that cohort “to the next level,” says Lieberman.
“By building these experiences, people are having fun and engaging with Chipotle and spending more than 10 minutes connecting with Chipotle in those experiences,” she adds. “We want them to share the experience with their friends because they think it’s cool.”
Lieberman says that brands who want to join Roblox need to focus on content that is engaging and developed for their specific communities.
“If you come from a place of engagement and bringing joy to your community that is unique to your brand, it can really break through,” she says.
Lieberman says that the experience is similar to social channels where brands bring fans together to have a conversation, but “in a more immersive way.”
“It opens up interesting tools to creatively tap into your audience and bring your brand to life,” she says.
A very different brand also began testing the waters on Roblox late last year. In December, language-learning platform Duolingo started looking into the platform. Initially, it just wanted to experiment, but after checking the site out, the brand realized the Roblox community had already created unofficial Duolingo-themed games and avatars.
“We were unaware of a lot of the brand love we have seen on the platform,” says James Kuczynski, creative director of brand and marketing for Duolingo. “We also found that there were already a dozen or so videos on YouTube of streamers on Roblox [talking about Duolingo], and we started to see these videos garnering views.”
Kuczynski adds that instead of reinventing the wheel, Duolingo wanted to take the organic affection for its brand and come up with a concept that could scale that word of mouth it was seeing on Roblox.
That was the idea behind Duolingo Game Hub, which Duolingo launched on Roblox in late June. Duolingo made brand assets available on the platform and launched a game jam where developers could submit games for its virtual space. Nearly two dozen developer-created games were selected from the submissions for Duolingo’s space.
To incentivize players to engage with games built by the community, players can earn two- to three-times more in-world currency playing other developers’ games than they would playing Duolingo’s Spanish or Vanish game. Players can cash in that currency at Duolingo’s virtual merchandise store, which has branded items.
Duolingo Game Hub has received 6.5 million visits, with, on average, 600 to 1,000 people in the hub at a given time. About 100,000 pieces of merchandise have been acquired by Roblox users, which can be worn in other places on the platform.
“We got all of those visits in our experience organically and through word of mouth alone,” says Kuczynski. He adds that the players who bought the Duolingo merchandise for their avatars to wear will represent the brand in other Roblox games.
“So another area of success for us is creating something that continues to give and give and keep growing even after people leave the hub experience we created,” Kuczynski says.
Influencers on YouTube are also organically creating content about how to acquire Duolingo’s in-game merchandise.
Duolingo’s Roblox effort has been successful not only because of its cult following but because it directly connects to its mission of developing education and making it widely available.
“We believe everyone can better themselves through learning with us, and a younger audience is no exception,” says Kuczynski.
He acknowledges that some Roblox users are too young to think about taking up a language, but many will start to learn one in school soon.
“They can already have a brand love or acknowledgement of us, [and through our Roblox effort] they are more likely to learn and continue learning with us,” Kuczynski says.
Another tip Kuczynski has for brands that want to join Roblox: don’t reuse elements that are free or that any user can already access.
“Players will call you out, see that and rate the experience in a lower way because it doesn’t seem like you put in the time and effort,” says Kuczynski. “Easter eggs build appreciation on behalf of the activation. The more custom you can make it and the more authentic you are to your brand, the better.”
MediaMonks, a digital-first marketing and advertising firm, gave Duolingo recommendations for customizing elements and helped the brand to develop its Roblox experience.
Experts warn that the Roblox brand community is about to get more crowded, making it difficult for marketers to stand out. Brands, Stone says, must be creative, unique and genuine in how they show up on Roblox, and they need to have the right hook and reason to be there. He also predicts brands will be brave about monetizing their presence and adding value to customers in new ways.
“In Autumn, it was new and enough to replicate your brick and mortar store in Roblox,” Stone says. “Now you have to go beyond and provide much more creative experiences.”
This story first appeared on PRWeek U.S.