This winter and spring, I lead the PGA TOUR’s Content Team in the development of the organization’s first ever immersive longform story, “The Natural.” It tells the story of Rickie Fowler’s path to the PGA TOUR, all tying back to his incredible playoff victory at the 2015 PLAYERS Championship. From the start, the story immerses the audience in the final round of the tournament, utilizing various forms of media to help transport fans there. The rest of the story weaves together other forms of media from timelines and Tweets to ambient videos and beautifully written copy.
The experience functions across breakpoints, with some slight changes between mobile, tablet and desktop. Media for each breakpoint was optimized based on the story and the technical capabilities of each platform. One of the key learnings after launching this story was how much it was viewed on mobile. Heading into the project, our expectations were that we would see a 50/50 split between desktop and mobile. Results showed consumption was far higher on mobile – 82% mobile vs. 18% desktop. This showed a few things. First, it confirms a natural discoverability happening on social platforms, which is largely driving mobile traffic back to the piece. Second, it goes against the commonly held belief that people will only read short, super digestible stories via mobile. For a compelling story, fans will spend time with longform—even on a small screen.
Some of the unique elements of the piece include parallax video (this is used with the ambient videos throughout the story), in addition to a timeline feature that brings motion into the story. The use of this timeline tool with the motion element is meant to help ground viewers in the action from the final round of last year’s PLAYERS.
The story is also sponsored, but the strategy wasn’t to go about sponsorship in a typical way. The basic banner ads or logo integrations commonly seen in longform storytelling on other sites can feel jarring in a story like this. Instead, the ads were meant to feel more connected to the story, both in terms of content and technical performance. This required a sponsor with an association with Fowler, and one that would be willing to experiment. Farmers Insurance signed on and we worked closely to ensure their ads seamlessly fit the story. We utilized parallax ads and ensured the content within these ads focused on their work with Fowler. This helped bring another element to the story as it highlighted some of the charitable activities he’s lead with Farmers.
The work that went into the story cut across disciplines and it took about four months to pull together. The project started in January of this year with a full-day creative session with our development agency, Omnigon. In that session, we worked through the broad idea and the technical elements we would need to tell the story. From there, the work of pulling together existing video, photos and social media elements began.
The final piece of the production of this story was a comprehensive promotion plan that leveraged owned media and paid media. We utilized a mix of paid platforms, focusing efforts on social media platforms, including Facebook Canvas ads. The strongest paid results came through Facebook, both on the Canvas and on the more traditional Facebook side. Fowler also helped support the story, participating in a Facebook Live chat on the day the story launched. He talked about the story in the interview (and elsewhere), helping to drive buzz around the unique piece.
We also tracked fan feedback on the piece, both through comments made on social media platforms and through a survey engine on the page. We saw strong results from the survey results with 96% of fans giving the story a four or five-star rating.
While this is the first of this kind of immersive story that the TOUR has produced, it certainly won’t be the last. We have plans to produce several more immersive longform stories this year. Each will utilize slightly different functionality, but all with same goal of bringing the fan deeper into the story, regardless of the device they’re using.
The Natural on Desktop
My role: Strategy lead over creative and ad integration