Will Free Entertainment Boost Prime Day Sales This Year?

Analysts are skeptical Smile box surprises can move the needle

Is Robbie Williams returning from his performance at the 2018 World Cup in one of Amazon's giant Smile boxes? Getty Images
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Robbie Williams is a huge pop star in the U.K.—the British equivalent of a Justin Timberlake (but probably not quite a Beyoncé) whose first brush with fame came with a pop group in the ‘90s and who then parlayed initial stardom into a flourishing solo career and enduring relevance, performing most recently on the world’s stage at the opening ceremony for the 2018 World Cup.

And, if reports are accurate, Williams could be joining his on-again-off-again bandmates in Take That to surprise and delight Londoners in the giant Smile box Amazon is sending their way in advance of its fourth annual Prime Day.

Amazon is certainly pulling out all the stops in the week leading up to Prime Day 2018—presumably hoping to generate buzz that will translate to increased sales beyond the reported $1 billion generated in 2017.

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment, but, per the Unboxing Prime Day site, boxes are also coming to Brooklyn, L.A., Milan and Tokyo in the week to come.

It’s unclear what awaits in these boxes, but, in a press release, Amazon promised “unforgettable [events], in a nod to the unparalleled benefits that come with a Prime membership, including music, video, gaming and more.”

The move also comes on the heels of a much-buzzed-about stunt earlier this year in which Amazon delivered a 16,000-pound box to the protagonists of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. According to social media analytics firm Brandwatch, the hashtag associated with the campaign, #AmazonFindsAWay, has been used nearly 4,200 times since May 29 and has accrued more than 51.4 million impressions.

This wouldn’t be Amazon’s first attempt to use celebrities—its 2018 Super Bowl commercial featured the talents of a range of stars, including Gordon Ramsay, Rebel Wilson, Cardi B and Sir Anthony Hopkins and critics included it among the best ads of Super Bowl LII.

The move is also reminiscent of Alibaba’s Singles’ Day, which is more or less its own Prime Day in November, and has a history of hosting celebrities like Pharrell Williams, Maria Sharapova and LeBron James.

Gartner analyst Robert Hetu said Singles’ Day has a particular cache Prime Day does not—in part because Amazon has not historically put the same emphasis on it. This may be the year Amazon attempts to rectify this, but it remains unclear whether the “unforgettable events” will get consumers excited about what has historically been a big digital yard sale.

Hetu said it’s hard to determine how much celebrities influence increased spending because, at the end of the day, it’s about the quality of the deals.

“I don’t think they have built in the relationships between celebrity and product so it seems more PR-stunt-type stuff than anything directly attributable to sales generation,” he said, noting the emphasis in 2018 seems to be on Amazon-branded products and while the addition of deals at Whole Foods is smart, he’s not sure the savings there will be game-changing.

Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali, too, questioned whether a free concert will influence consumer behavior.

“Aren’t they a dime a dozen in Central Park this time of year?” she asked.

And while Kodali said Amazon has more celebrity ties now that it is a bigger player in music and video, she said Amazon still isn’t great when it comes to sizzle and pizzazz.

“They will not create something like the Super Bowl Halftime Show, which, for much of America, is the main attraction of the Super Bowl,” Kodali added. “I can’t even imagine what could be in those boxes that would either: a) Get anyone that excited; or b) Get people to buy more on Prime Day, unless it was a bunch of $100 Amazon gift cards they just threw out.”

@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.