Riffing In The Stratosphere: A Conversation With Fender CMO Evan Jones

As one of two big brand metaverse experiences being unveiled as part of Meta’s Horizon Worlds at the Cannes Lions festival this week, MediaPost spoke with Fender CMO Evan Jones about the “Stratoverse,” a virtual reality island shaped like one of Fender’s iconic Stratocaster guitars that VR users can use to journey through a variety of content, creation and brand-related experiences, including scavenger hunts, but most importantly, new ways of creating, experiencing and sharing music vis a vis the Fender brand.

MediaPost: Where are we in terms of real metaverse branding?

Evan Jones: Well, if you think about music, you know how transcendent it can be and how it can be adapted and taken into all sorts of places – everywhere from video gaming to hologram experiences on stage. From our perspective, we’re always interested in exploring new places where we can reach players. And this felt like a really good opportunity to dip our toes into this medium and learn about how people interact with and potentially engage with a brand like ours.



MediaPost: So would you characterize this as being more at the test and learn phase? And where do you see it going over the next few years.

Jones: In the case of what we’re doing with the Horizon Worlds execution, it’s definitely a test and learn. One of the things we learned from working with both Meta and the R/GA team is that the more literal it is, the less exciting the experience will be. And the more fantastical, the more interesting it will be. None of us know exactly what is going to satisfy users at this stage, because we’ll have to wait and see what they do.

We’ve already had guitar integrations with videogames and we have been investing in digital apps and tools and experiences that can accompany players on their journey that sit outside the physical experience, but complement it.

We recently acquired a company called PreSonus, which has a team of 19 engineers in Germany who built a digital audio workstation and we are excited about trying to extend that technology to reach more entry-level and early stage creators.

We’re looking at all forms and ways of connecting with players, both current and future.

MediaPost: Is the audience for the “Stratosphere” primarily the Cannes delegates, or an anyone tap into it?

Jones: It’s an experience that any user in Horizon Worlds can visit.

MediaPost: Obviously, you’re a very emotional brand, but if I can ask a wonky question, what’s your KPI on this? How are you going to measure the ROI?

Jones: Honestly, we don’t have any heavy KPI expectations around this. This is much more about partnering with creators who already are very familiar with this phase, which is something we already do with creators across social channels and content in other places. It’s about just getting an understand of what consumers and visitors in this space want from a brand experience.

So our No. 1 KPI is just going to be learning. And hopefully, some positive feedback.

MediaPost: Well, I don’t think there’s anything more iconic than the Stratocaster and an island based on it seems like bringing it to life in a new way.

Jones: When we were going back and forth with the agency about what should a Fender experience be like in this world, I think the reason we went with the Stratosphere was simply because, when Leo [Fender] first invented it, at that time it was around the 50s space race, so that just opened up a bit more of the fantastical and allowed us to start there.

MediaPost: What is your favorite application here?

Jones: One of the things we want to see here, is how are people going to create. So the fact that people can actually build cords and riffs and put music together within the space will be really interesting to see.

If you think about what Leo created back in 1951, it was essentially a tool for musical expression. This certainly is not a Stratocaster in that sense, but finding out how people put music together in this space is going to be the fun part.

Some of the other applications – the scavenger hunt, finding different cords and putting those together – all goes back to just enabling people to create different forms of music. And then, maybe more explicitly, to see how much people want to share and talk about that with their friends and others.

MediaPost: Last question. Your product historically has been very tactile – I mean something that you literally hold in your hands to physically experience. Obviously you’ve been moving into new technologies and digital media for some time, but are you worried at all that by taking it into the metaverse it will no longer be a physical experience. And that it could end up just living in virtual realities?

Jones: We want to be open to all of the places that music can take us. A lot of what we’ve been doing is just opening up the aperture of a guitar and recognizing that the way a guitar is used today is fundamentally different from how it was used 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. And that’s okay.

There are some really incredible artists in their 20s and 30s who are doing so many different things with guitar that 20 years ago, we might have shied away from supporting, whereas now it’s not really our place to judge. It’s really our place to amplify and support.

So much of what we’re trying to do is really build a community around the brand. And whether you’re a traditional guitar player who loves pushing air through an amplifier on stage, or you’re a young, emerging creator who likes to use the guitar player as a controller with effects and digital workstations to produce, all of that fits within the community. We’re really curious to see if that extends into this space, as well.

We’re not afraid of where that’s going. It’s more important for us to just remain relevant and connected.

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