The Deconstructed Brief

Checkmate Norway


Brand: World Chess Federation
Agency: JC Decaux, Branded Cities


“I can’t wait to watch tonight’s live broadcast of a professional chess match,” said…no one ever.

The average length of a professional chess match is over six hours, and championships can take as many as two weeks to finish. One move can take 30 minutes or more, and according to “60 Minutes,” watching an elite chess match for non-players “would be like watching paint dry.”

The last 12 games played at the World Chess Championship — over seven hours a game — ended in a series of draws.

All of them.

The United States made a quiet return to the championship stage with its first American participant since Bobby Fischer in 1972. JCDecaux needed to increase viewership of the World Chess Championship for the World Chess Federation and interest Americans in tuning in to the match between their champion, Fabiano Caruana, and his Norwegian competitor, Magnus Carlsen.

While existing fans of the game enjoy the sport, how do you help live chess appeal to a general audience and encourage viewership of an event that many see as boring and incomprehensible?

Key insight

People admire chess players — the majority (81%) associate the game with strategic thinking — but consider it inaccessible. The top barrier is a perception of difficulty, and over two-thirds (68%) believe that, if chess were easier to learn, more people would play.


When national pride is on the line, people get involved. Sporting contests between countries bring drama and excitement to even unexciting activities.

One thought

Beat Norway.

The idea:

JCDecaux Norway, the largest outdoor advertising corporation in the world, partnered with Branded Cities to create the outdoor activation celebrating the World Chess Championship. Visitors to Oslo Central Station and Times Square could play live chess against and interact with one another during a three-hour livestream before the real match that was played in London. Participants played using an iPad, and the matches were broadcast on widescreen televisions installed for the occasion. Automatic messages — such as “Great move, USA” or “Go Norway!” — congratulated the winners of each match.

The traditional media approach to marketing chess is outlined by historian Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam, author of “Finding Bobby Fischer”: “The U.S. lacks some conflict or players that make the matches attractive to broader audiences.”

Norwegian media efforts and marketing of the match exemplify the strength and success of this approach. Chess programming has exploded in Norway. NRK, the government-owned television broadcaster, developed a talk show-style program — filmed on a soundstage in front of a live audience — that employed colorful graphics and running analysis from a panel of chess experts, television personalities and national celebrities interested in the game. Following its first broadcast in 2013, viewership has nearly tripled and amounted to over half (56%) of the national television audience.

In a country of five million people, close to half now play chess regularly, according to the Norwegian Chess Federation. Chess podcasts stand at the top of the downloads charts in Norway, and chess clubs like Sjakklubben Stjernen have doubled their membership after decades of stagnation. Stores struggle to keep chess boards on their shelves — stores that sold about 12 boards a day before the broadcasts now sell as many as 200.

What they said:

“The best ideas are those capable of changing behaviors and sometimes even the way we live,” said Leo Burnett general creative director Juan García-Escudero. “If we can get people to do all they possibly can to see more of each other, we will have done something worthwhile.”

Lessons to be learned:

  • Make OOH work for you. — MAGNA Intelligence states that OOH advertising serves as a $29 billion market, reaching as many as 90 percent of consumers. According to Nielsen, OOH serves as the most effective offline medium for developing online traffic: It generates four times the value of other forms of media (TV, radio, print), and despite accounting for only 7 percent of advertising spend in the U.S., it generates 26 percent of the gross search activations initiated by all offline media. Almost half (46%) of Americans have used an internet search engine to look for more information after seeing advertising on OOH in the past six months. Thanks to these successes, it is also the only medium (outside of online) forecasted to grow its share in 2018.  

    OOH remains one of the top means to communicate at scale and surmount the awareness issue the game suffers among Americans: Press coverage of chess was at its lowest in 2015, following a rapid, continual drop after the Fischer match in 1972.

  • Games encourage participation. — Consumers enjoy the gamification of campaigns and promotions as internet and app-based games capture their attention and virtual experiences become more interactive. According to Mintel, almost half (48%) of all consumers already play casual internet or app-based games, and a study from Asurion revealed that the average American checks his or her phone 80 times per day. These games provide momentary escapes from daily responsibilities, especially for younger (iGeneration, Millennials) and  more stressed generations. Over half (53%) see gaming as a method of escapism to help them deal with daily work pressures. Encouraging visitors to participate in the live chess games served as both a momentary escape from the day and an avenue to better understand the game itself — a key barrier to participation and, consequently, viewership.

  • Involvement generates interest. — Encouraging consumer involvement and participation in the game by filming the participants and broadcasting them live created a personal connection among viewers. Enhancing this connection by allowing viewers to play live against one another furthered the positive associations; personal connections and relationships remain some of the primary draws of digital interactions.