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Feb 26, 2002
Case Study

Can Viral Games Work for Business-to-Business Marketing

SUMMARY: Can you use a fun viral game to generate serious business sales leads? This Case Study shares details of a company that has gained five new paying clients and 135 additional qualified sales leads from a game. Copywriters will especially enjoy the emailed text-only note that started driving traffic to the game.  (Yes we included a sample for you.) Also included -- links to two more Case Studies on B-to-B viral games that worked for very different companies.

Until the late 2001, Web design firm Unleashed Media had never done a marketing campaign before. They did not need to because they got so much new business from good old-fashioned viral word-of-mouth.

However, due to the economy, business was slowing. Unleased Media needed to start aggressively marketing its services.

One of the Company's specialties is creating games for Web sites and marketing campaigns to drive traffic to them. However, almost all of its clients were business-to-consumer marketers.

Founder & Strategic Director Mike Driggers wondered, could a viral game work for B-to-B marketing?


Christmas was right around the corner. “Usually we just send out a greeting card, but this year we thought we’d test the market with a game,” explains Driggers.

He gathered together an in-house team of eight marketers and game designers to brainstorm. “It was entirely a group effort," he says. The team knew four distinct factors mean the difference between a game that gets played, and a game that is ignored.

1. Uniqueness

"Our first goal was to make it unique. We threw up all kinds of games and ideas on the wall. Someone said, ‘Let’s do a parody.’ Someone else asked, ‘What’s hot right now? Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ Combining the two, we came up with ‘Who wants to save the holidays?’”

2. Entertainment Value

“Our second goal was to make it fun. We broke out what the objective for the player was -- not for us, but for the user. It had to be fun, make him come back, make it easy on his ego. Relaxing but entertaining.”

To add to the fun, the game included 'Ask an Elf' and '50/50' options just like in the Millionaire TV program.

3. Addictiveness

The third goal was to make the game addictive, in order to encourage repeat plays.

Driggers says, “We decided not to make it too hard. The questions had to be easy enough for people to get through, yet challenging. Otherwise, we’ll bruise their egos and they won’t come back. This is why people are addicted to games. They believe they can win." He personally surfed the Net looking for obvious Christmas trivia he could turn into questions.

Also, he decided every time visitors played the game, the same questions would appear in the same order. This meant people could return and get an ego boost from easily beating the game the second time around.

"What does that do for branding?" asks Driggers. "It’s hard to measure branding, but if I’ve got them coming back four times, and I’m on their mind.”

4. Viral Pass-Along

The game page included a Tell a Friend button that players could use to share the link with colleagues. Although the team copywrote the email message that goes to the referred friends, they also allowed players to add their own comments because viral studies show that (even lame) messages written by referrers are more powerful than the best professional copy in the world.

Driggers logs these referrer comments for later review, to see what it is about the game that makes people refer it and what makes their friends click the link.

To get the word out about the game, Unleashed Media sent an email to their 3,500 in-house list of clients, former clients, partners, best prospects and other friends-of-the-Company. The email was sent 10 days before Christmas -- a time when most people's inboxes are flooded with holiday e-cards. The team worked carefully on the subject line and body copy to make it stand out from the crowd:

Subject line:

Message copy:
To: Potential Elves
From: The North Pole
As you may be aware, there are major concerns about the low
toy production numbers here at the North Pole. Analysts from
Christmas International point to the continuing strike by
Santa's Elves for the drastic downturn.

Officials with North Pole, Inc. say the problem can be solved
via the Internet but it'll take thousands of net surfers to
turn the deficit around in time for Christmas.

We are asking you to help Save the Holidays by taking part in
an online test. Each individual who accumulates one million
points on the test will be commissioned as an official elf and
flown in to the North Pole for orientation, training and

There is no time to waste!!!!

To get started, click on the link below and do your part to
Save the Holidays.

After sending this plain text email message, Driggers and his marketing team crossed their fingers and began to wait for results. Their goal, with viral pass-along, was to get 10,000 people to play the game, some of whom hopefully would be good sales prospects for related services.


From Dec 15-Feb 15, 47,000 people played the game resulting in five actual new project sales for Unleashed Media so far, plus an additional 135 requests for information and/or work samples from prospective clients.

Why did this campaign outperform expectations almost five-fold? Driggers explains, "The viral effect has been astounding. I happened to be driving down the road, and someone called into CNET radio to talk about the game, and I thought, hey, that’s us!” The Elf game has also been spotlighted on and many online arcades sites -- especially in Korean and Japanese markets.

More results:

- The original message, which was sent to 3,500 emails, got a total of about 3,500 click throughs. This does not mean absolutely everyone clicked through, which is impossible. Instead it shows the viral response to the game started immediately, with lots of email recipients forwarding the original message to friends.

- In the first week, 2500 people played the game. In the second week, 4,500 people played the game, including 200 players on Christmas Day itself (traditionally a low-traffic day for sites, especially business sites!)

- Although the game is still up and drawing about 1,000 unique players a day, Driggers has noticed a definite response curve:
Dec 15-31 = 7,000 unique players
Jan 1-30 = 30,000 unique players
Feb 1-15 = 10,000 unique players

- Driggers also noticed patterns in playing. "On the average, when people lose we’ve got them coming back four times." Of January's players 5500 played twice, 3500 played three times, 1500 played four times, and 800 played five times.

- Players are spending at least 10-15 minutes on the site.

Interested in more ideas for games that can generate sales leads? Here are two more business-to-business marketing Case Studies from MarketingSherpa on the subject:

1. Pall Corporation Gets Double Digit Sales Growth to Forensic Scientists with Internet Game Campaign

2. MainControl(R) Wins Small Business Accounts by Schmoozing Them at a Virtual Golf Game
See Also:

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