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Mar 10, 2003
How To

7 Tips on Sponsoring Interactive Games - Demographics, Effectiveness & Cost

SUMMARY: Ever considered planting your brand in the middle of an interactive game like McDonalds does in SimCity? You can get billions of exposures in your chosen demographic for a very low CPM. Find out the price-range, how it works and what demographics you can reach, in this MarketingSherpa Classic interview:
60% of Americans aged six and above play interactive games on a regular basis according to the Interactive Digital Software Association.

Planting a virtual version of your brand in a game (such as the McDonalds restaurants that populate SimCities) can be one of the most powerful and cost effective sponsorships you invest in because the frequency and interactivity of game play creates a higher impression value when compared to traditional media.

The key difference between sponsoring games versus other entertainment is that instead of viewing a character using your brand, consumers themselves are actually interacting with your brand as they play. Example: A new virtual snowboarding game in which the player has to use a name-brand wireless device to get out of trouble. Which name-brand, of course, depends on whoever sponsors it.

We talked to Julie Shumaker, Director of Sales at Electronic Arts (EA), to find out what marketers need to know about in-game sponsorships.

--> General game-player demographics

You can not generalize about game players across the board. For example although many games skew heavily towards young men, 43% of all game players are women. While many think of children as the most avid players, the average player's age is 28.

In fact, the total pool of regular players (about 145 million Americans alone) embrace a wide range of demographics. You can probably find a game that is right for your brand's target:

o Quick-play card and board games such as those found on Yahoo and EA’s are made up of mostly female players (as much as 65%). o EA’S Sims Online, the top-selling PC game of all time, skews about 55 to 56% female. o Strategy and sports games lean heavily toward the young male audience, generally between the ages of 17 and 24. o Game publishers like Nintendo target the 7- to 13-year-old.

--> Reach of in-game sponsorships

You can determine a game’s reach by looking at units sold and pass-through. Shumaker offered this formula, based on a typical EA Platinum title:

o 1 million estimated units sold across all platforms (PS2/Xbox/PC). Estimate based on sales of previous versions.
o Played on average of 50 times/year.
o Played by an average of 2.5 people per experience
TOTAL: 125,000,000 guaranteed minimum exposures

Note that this is exposures, not impressions.

Shumaker says, “EA does not begin to break out the number of impressions per exposure as we believe impressions per exposure are value above and beyond the baseline of these programs. It would put the impressions in the billions and the CPM so low we believe it undervalues the program.”

However, marketers can break that information out based on how many times per play session their brand is present.

--> Online games vs. CD-ROMs

Generally, consumers use CD-ROM games as a time filler, taking a few minutes of down-time here and there. Online gamers tend to become more engaged, in part because they are playing against other (real) people.

“I may go on my PC to play 15 minutes of basketball,” explains Shumaker. “It’s quick-play, mindless. But I go online and it’s interactive. I’m Kobe Bryant and I’m actively engaged. I’ve taken that entertainment time and chosen to have that in my night’s schedule.”

Online gamers also spend a lot of time playing. Consumers who play EA's Sim games, for example, play an average of four hours a month. That is the equivalent of watching a movie twice or a half-hour comedy every single week, and it gives sponsors a greater opportunity for brand impact.

Once you have decided to move forward with in-game sponsorships, here are some tips to make sure you do it right:

Tip #1. Choose the right type of game.

Consumers view which games they play as a lifestyle choice, much as they choose the clothes they wear or the sports they play. It is a matter, then, of knowing who you want to reach and then selecting the best game for the demographic.

“The gaming company has to be the expert,” says Shumaker. “Say a marketer wants to reach the 17- to 24-year-old male. He isn’t watching as much TV, but he’s spending hours and hours playing games. I’ll lead them to a genre of James Bond or hardcore strategy games.”

Tip #2. Plan more than half a year in advance.

If you are launching a product, you need to begin working with the gaming company at least six months before your product goes on the shelf. That means you need to approach gaming companies even earlier than that to give yourself plenty of time to make a choice.

You will also need to make sure your product launch coincides with that of the game you choose. Many games launch in the fall just before holiday season.

Tip #3. Make sure the life of your promotion lasts as long as the life of the game.

Games often have a lifecycle of 13 to 15 months, so it does not make sense to push a special that lasts only for a week or two. Instead, push what a brand means: for example, a wireless company would not want to advertise a specific calling plan but rather why a wireless phone is key to someone’s life.

Tip #4. Choose a game in which your product is contextually relevant.

For example, says Shumaker, “Motorola is already a part of what a football fan is aware of, so integrating them into our football game would actually make the game more authentic.”

Tip #5. Look for a company that integrates your brand in a compelling way.

You do not want “in your face” branding. Rather, the player should be given a choice and should choose your product because it is realistic. Ideally, your product should actually drive gameplay.

Tip #6. For a better ROI, go with a complete media package.

In-game advertising is less quantifiable than online advertising, so EA partners in-game branding with different packages. Sponsors of an online basketball game, for instance, would also get online advertising like banners and buttons as well as promotional elements such as the opportunity to tie their products in with EA products.

“For instance, say a deodorant company is integrated into one of our sports games,” Shumaker says. “So to move that beyond a brand play, we’ve given them a right to include, on their packaging, a peel-off sticker that says, ‘Here’s your code, see if you’ve won an EA game.’”

Tip #7. Expect to pay for it.

A bigger commitment on the part of consumers equals a bigger “commitment” from advertisers. Although Shumaker was close-mouthed when questioned about specific CPM, she did mention $500,000 as an example of a sponsorship package.

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