The thing about sports advertising is, it’s kind of hit-and-run. You go to a game, see a sign advertising beer or erectile dysfunction medicine, and then you walk away. Your experience with the sign lasts as long as your exposure to it, and when you get home your conversation likely will not be peppered with talk of the awesome Cialis ad you saw in left field.
But Chris Sullivan, founder and CEO of Wasabi 3D, an interactive media marketing firm based at the Innovation Garden facility at 205 Rockingham Row in Forrestal Village, dares you to walk past one of his company’s installations and not take a photo of it.
Then he dares you to not share it through E-mail or Facebook. Because the kind of installation Wasabi 3D sets out is the kind that, if you are standing in the right spot, makes you think you’re about to fall in a hole in the street.
3D art is a relatively new form of street art that we have all seen in E-mails or through social networking links — stunning pieces of art drawn in chalk on the streets of Europe (primarily) that require just the right angle for proper viewing.
If you stand directly on top of the art, it will look like a stretched-out mess of colors and lines, but stand 10 or 20 feet back, and it suddenly looks as if a giant bottle of Coke is lying on its side in the middle of the sidewalk.
Sullivan was as attracted to 3D art as anyone, except where most saw fleeting works of brilliant design, Sullivan saw the potential to hook sports venues to interactive advertising, complete with oohs and aahs from astonished fans making their way into the stadium.
“Sports advertising is dominated by impressions,” Sullivan says. “We wanted to multiply that by engagement.” In other words, unlike the Budweiser sign in center field, you will stop and take a picture at a Wasabi installation. You would pose to make it look as if you were really interacting with the object or setting it depicts, then you would post it on Facebook and E-mail your friends to say “Check this out!”
And while those traditional static signs are highly effective (would Bud rent sign space in every major league park it could if the method were a waste of money?), Sullivan sees 3D art as a way to incorporate the missing ingredient in the modern advertising audience — viral propagation. The more people are fascinated by something online, the more they take it upon themselves to spread it around online.
Or, in Sullivan’s words, “It can make a one-time experience into a thousand-time experience.”
Wasabi 3D is the first company sponsored by Innovation Garden (IGA), a next-generation business development project developed through Princeton Partners by Sullivan’s father, Tom, Scott Sipprelle, and Glenn Fratangelo (see main story, page 34). IGA houses Wasabi at the Princeton Partners offices in Forrestal Village, where it advises the young firm through its early stages. IGA contributed $120,000 to the initial round of investment to the Wasabi project (founded about a year ago) and has committed to another $125,000 if needed.
Wasbai as an idea got started in London, where Sullivan did a 3D campaign for an artist based there. Over the years, Sullivan and his London-based artists have developed a relationship that has led to the right kind of business symbiosis — Sullivan and Wasabi manage the art campaigns, the England-based artists Joe Hill and Max Lowry do them up.
But unlike the typical 3D art project, those sponsored by Wasabi are done on canvas, not chalk. They can be picked up and reused, rather than getting washed away in the first rain. Wasabi’s installations also can be walked upon, as is evidenced by the image of the Phillie Phanatic standing on an image of his own hands at Citizens Bank Park.
The Citizens Bank Park installation, done right outside the stadium last season, gained Wasabi 3D a huge amount of regional exposure, Sullivan says. “One of the morning shows came down to cover the launch and it generated such interest that one of the anchors drove down to Citizens Bank Park, and did a live remote [broadcast] on top of the graphic.” The exposure, he calculates, was worth about $500,000 in publicity.
In the spring Wasabi became the first IGA business, based on its success and promise, according to Tom Sullivan. The elder Sullivan says he stepped back from the Wasabi project and let IGA’s other partners, Scott Sipprelle and Glenn Fratangelo, make the decision whether Chris’ business met the criteria for IGA sponsorship.
Chris Sullivan had to present his model and business plan and prove that Wasabi had the potential to be successful enough to be independent and sustainable in two to three years. Tom Sullivan says his son started the business in his spare time with a website and a strategy and quickly built a track record of success. “I deferred to Scott and Glenn whether to invest in Chris, but I had confidence in Chris,” Tom Sullivan says. “He proved he could already accomplish big ideas.”
Tom Sullivan says IGA had Chris prove the finances, social media feasibility, and market analysis, as well as provide case studies. “It’s not just about monetizing space around arenas,” he says. “It’s about unique, customized social media, ongoing branding, and, of course, the art.”
Chris Sullivan has been in sales and marketing for more than 15 years, most recently as vice president of cross-media integration at Princeton Partners. Prior to Princeton Partners he worked in the direct marketing departments of Foote, Cone, Belding, and other agencies. He earned his bachelor’s in communications in 1998 from La Salle University.
Sullivan, a college soccer player, says that interest from other professional sports teams has rocketed since the Phillies installation.
“We’ve spoken with 30 to 50 teams in all sports,” he says. And yes, there is some talk about doing another installation with the Phillies. At the moment Wasabi is concentrating on the sports market because it is high-volume traffic comprising people already in the mood to spend money. People attending sports events, after all, are going out to have a good time and be entertained, he says.
As for the impact 3D art graphics have, Sullivan says that it is still a rare thing in the United States. People are just now seeing such works for the first time, and that awe factor plays a big part in spreading the word.
Wasabi 3D, 205 Rockingham Row, Princeton, 08540; 609-806-1031 fax, 609-452-7212. Chris Sullivan, president. experiencewasabi3d.com