Advergames, online ads built as interactive games, are enjoying a renaissance, with major brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Coors, Mercedes, and M&M's all running campaigns.
When advergames were first hot three years ago, most marketers saw them as a low-cost way to gain brand exposure and build buzz through a fun little game featuring their logo that would hopefully "go viral," thus eliminating the need for media buys.
Ted Moon, Nextel's Senior Manager of Interactive Media, who has launched a series of three advergames (links below) over the past nine months, says times have changed.
Nextel supports its advergames with significant online and offline promotion. While they appreciate players' brand interaction, Moon says, "We really regard [advergames] as a direct response marketing opportunity."
a. Games that work best b. Do not count on viral: Nextel's promotional tactics c. How to build your database: Getting players to register d. Next, actually use your new database e. Useful links
-> a. Games that work best
Ted Murphy, CEO MindComet (who produce Nextel's games) says, "Design your game for the right demographic. Males are into sports and action games, females into puzzle and word games. Sports games will get people aged 25-55, while action games are for the younger demographic."
To make the most of your advergame investment, pick a topic that will be as evergreen as possible, something that might be played for months and years to come.
However, for popular games you should schedule an annual game revamp with new graphics, levels, added playability etc. to keep it going strong.
When choosing topics, you should also consider something that can be spun out into a series if the first one takes off. Each game in a series can promote and boost the others, and extend your brand impact with repeat players.
(Consider the impact of TV ads featuring the same creative themes over time, such as the California singing raisins.)
Action and sports games built in Shockwave are generally much more exciting. However, currently only 63.4% of Internet users have Shockwave vs. 97.4% who have a version of Flash on their computers. You will have to make a tough choice there. (Nextel chose to go with Shockwave anyway.)
Although collecting player data has replaced branding as the main goal for a successful advergame, you should still stick your brand all over it where it makes sense.
For example, branding elements in Nextel's Jam Fest basketball game, include:
o Nextel logo on each introductory game page o Nextel logo and URL on the court surface during the game o Full interstitial advertisement at the midway point of the game (half time) o Rotating Nextel logos and taglines on advertising boards around the court
-> b. Do not count on viral: Nextel's promotional tactics
Moon advises you to promote your game as you would any offer. Do not expect some magic viral effect to take hold and make promotion unnecessary.
Gone are the days when you could throw out a game and rely on the novelty factor to generate attention. There are hundreds of advergames out there vying for users (not to mention the many online games that are not advertising vehicles).
Moon says it helps to tie into a well-branded Web site and/or entertainment brand. "It's something to legitimize it in the sense that you can separate yourself from all the other also-ran games that are out there."
Nextel's first game, for example, was a hockey simulation where users took shots at star NHL goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. The game was promoted and hosted at the NHL.com website. This celebrity connection and location acted as a pseudo-endorsement of the game itself.
Also, try to integrate game promotion with your other online and offline marketing tactics.
For example, Moon launched the NHL game just as Nextel's offline marketing team were running a big sweeps campaign where the prize was a trip to the NHL All-Star game and the chance to shoot at the goalie, for real. The sweeps was advertised at NHL games, on fliers, and even the jumbotron.
Moon adds that advergames have helped the company benefit from its wider sponsorship activities.
He says, "How do you make the sports sponsorship make dollars and cents for you? Getting your name out in an arena or stadium is great. But how does that come to actually selling phones for you? This is one way where we're starting to see the rubber meet the road. A way for us to get this to pay off for us in a tangible way."
Last but not least, even though you are not counting on viral for all or most of your traffic, you should still build a tell-a- friend form into the game.
Moon recommends giving in-game incentives to use the form. In the Jam Fest basketball game, for example, sending an email referral gives the player access to new moves.
-> c. How to build your database: Getting players to register
Each Nextel game requires registration; users submit postal and email addresses and can join a list to get more game news and/or Nextel communications.
Moon adds, "yes, we get outstanding brand presence...but the real tangible benefit that we get is the registered opt-in email address that we can use for future prospect eCRM campaigns."
Each registration form also asks users questions about their interests and wireless needs.
Moon says, "we're trying to qualify and build the profile of each individual email address as much as possible. People who are ready to buy a cell phone within the next 3 months are much more of a hot prospect than someone who said they weren't looking for a phone for another 6-9 months. We can treat them differently."
To get the maximum number of registrations:
o Do not put the registration barrier right at the start of the game. Murphy says, "people need to be exposed to a primer screen with great looking graphics and animations to wet their appetite sufficiently that they're willing to pay with data."
o Instead, include the registration form within the game environment itself. Murphy says this avoids people registering then finding that they can not access the game for technical reasons, which is not the kind of branding experience you want to give people.
o Consider a sweeps tie-in. Murphy notes, "all the most successful games we've had have linked into some kind of sweeps."
o Keep profile questions to a minimum; Murphy's rule of thumb is a maximum of five.
o Do not ask repeat visitors (including those who have played a different one of your games) to fill out the exact same registration form each time.
Nextel allows return users to log in with their username and password from a previous game. They still pass through a new set of profile questions. Each new set adds more data to each user's entry in Nextel's prospect database.
Murphy summarizes, "it builds a perpetual relationship where you're always finding out more about the customer or prospect."
o Nextel also tracks clickthroughs and game registrations from these referral emails and ties that back to the original referrer. That way they can identify opinion drivers for future games marketing.
-> d. Next, actually use your new database
Moon stresses the advantage of seeing the advergame as one part of a wider communication process, using the data generated by the game to build out email marketing, direct mail and other campaigns.
This, frankly, is where most consumer brand marketers fall down. They brag about how many names their game collected, but then rarely have a plan to actually use them.
Moon sums up, "When you look at the entire universe of people who are online, the amount of people who are ready to buy a cell phone, here and now, after they saw an ad is fairly slim.
"Because of that we want to get the emails so we can start a dialog with them. Advergames can give us good permission emails in a very cost-efficient way, but also in a way that we give something back to the prospect without them even being a customer yet."
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