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How To Play Games And Influence People: Advergaming Emerges As New Ad Option

A soon-to-be-released Gartner report is predicting that “advergaming”– simply defined as games that incorporate marketing content–is set to surge in the months ahead. The report, previewed at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, suggests that these games help increase brand and product awareness, customer loyalty, and time spent at an advertiser’s web site more effectively than other online marketing devices and programs.

“With these games, advertisers can communicate with the online audience, but not in a hard or direct way,” says Denise Garcia, Gartner’s principal analyst, media and advertising. “When people go online, they’re looking for content and they’re looking to be engaged. The games satisfy both of these needs.”

The report identifies three different types of advergaming models. MSN, Yahoo!, and other media companies have developed relatively simple games and sold them to advertisers; price tends to hinge on the exclusivity of the arrangement. Then there are companies like WildTangent and Skyworks, which custom-develop complex games for big-ticket marketers like BMW, Chrysler, and Pepsi. Finally, there’s the approach taken by advertisers like Puma, which partnered with Activision to have its products embedded in the “True Crime: Streets of L.A.” video game.

Each of the models has drawbacks. For example, companies that embed their products or logos within video games have no way to gauge the reach or impact of their “advertising,” while customized games can run as much as $500,000. Similarly, the advergaming model doesn’t lend itself to certain promotions, such as sales or special offers by retailers.

Still, there’s no question that online gaming has struck a chord among consumers. The report notes that nearly 85 million unique users visited online gaming sites in December 2003, while www.candystand.com, developed by Skyworks for Kraft/Nabisco, has attracted more than three million unique visitors per month. The traditional demographic profile for gamers is men between the ages of 18 and 34 with a household income of less than $50,000–but of the men and women who play free online games, 25 percent boast a household income between $50,000 and $75,000.

The real question, then, becomes why advertisers haven’t entirely warmed to the advergaming model. “It’s new, which is a big part of it,” Garcia suggests. Those companies that have waded into the advergaming waters–packaged goods and auto companies seem to have responded most enthusiastically–have already seen results. “You can explain the more technical features of a product in a way that doesn’t seem forced,” she says. Companies can also use the games as a market-research tool of sorts: they can help marketers better understand which features of a given product or service appeal most to a given demographic.

The Gartner report points to Pepsi’s launch of Mountain Dew Code Red as a prime example of an advergame done well. Hoping to generate buzz in advance of its debut (that is, buzz not related to the drink’s amped-up level of caffeine), Pepsi had WildTangent create a game in which players chased after a hijacked shipment of Code Red. Top scorers received a pre-launch shipment of the new drink.

Of course, there are pitfalls. The report stresses that distribution is the key element in any advergaming push. “Even if it’s a great game that perfectly captures your audience and the product, if you don’t call attention to it nobody’s going to see it,” Garcia warns. In addition, marketers probably won’t realize the full benefits of an advergame unless they ask players to register and/or provide at least a minimal level of information about themselves. A viral marketing component is also encouraged (e.g., giving players the chance to invite their friends to compete against them).

As for the future of advergaming, the report predicts that as Web visitors become increasingly annoyed with intrusive marketing tchotchkes–hello, pop-ups–advergames will surge in popularity. Also, media companies will increasingly look to the games as an additional revenue opportunity.

Garcia believes the games themselves are limited only by the creativity of marketers and developers. “Maybe we’ll see some games where the game and the product are one in the same–maybe trying to find something within a car,” she suggests. “The possibilities are pretty incredible.”

Posted on aef.com: January 20, 2004


Larry Dobrow, Media Daily News. January 15, 2004

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