Let's face it: in such a fluid market as we experience today, marketing and advertising campaigns are extremely different to what they were five minutes ago, and it seems like just when each business and organisation gets a grip on 'the next thing', the next-next thing is already in full-swing.
Video games are often associated with children and not productive business, but on this note, the new and extremely profitable niche of reaching consumers through video games is, in fact, becoming extremely big business. Some are predicting that, in the United States of America alone, consumer spend on video game software will reach $70 billion, which is nothing to laugh about.
With consumers being constantly bombarded by traditional advertising media and messages, the savvy modern consumer has learnt to avoid or block out messages in ordinary scenarios; however consumers are in a different, more relaxed head-space when enjoying a video game, which is why this 'playing is paying' trend is already on the rise. On top of this, the average gamer is not 10 or 15 years old, but in fact, 37 years old, and there is almost a 50-50 split between the percentage of women and men. On top of this, these consumers tend to be very loyal by nature. In summary, brands have a very interesting opportunity here.
As I gamer myself, I know that, when playing a video game I enjoy, I become totally immersed, and hence passionate with the experience, and as a result, my mind is far less guarded and completely open to all stimuli presented to me. My experience is certainly not unique, and it is this frame of mind that can allow businesses to better connect with potential consumers in their more favourable chosen environments. The average gamer participates in this 'open minded trance' for about 8 hours a week, which is quite significant, and it is this degree of exposure, combined with the emotive availability of potential consumers that can allow this channel of advertising to be so successful.
So, translating this concept into the actual gaming world is easier than some would think. With large games becoming increasingly popular online and forever more realistic, it is easy to interject a brand into a video game just as it would be in the real world. This means, the game can be a First Person shooting game, and have a branded Soda truck drive by, or the pause menu can be on the screen of a branded mobile phone, or the fantasy character could buy a real life branded food for energy, and so on. These little subtleties create top of mind recall for consumers, in an accepting gaming environment, whilst not being too in-their-face and triggering their advertising filters.
Let's also not become too restrictive with our definition of advertising in games- it is not just massive, graphic intensive computer and console gaming that have this potential, but also other media such as banner, mobile phone and social website gaming too. Consumers love interactivity, rather than bombardment and forced viewing, and with social networking and mobile phone usage on the definite rise, combining a corporation's messages with a game that consumers wish to play will create greater acceptance and hence access through incorporating messages in a new light. Mini-social games like Farmville and Mafiawars that are popular, to the point of viral on the social website, Facebook, have been seamlessly and successfully utilised by companies such as McDonalds, who offer incentives and advantages to players who interact with their stores within the game.
There is a trap however that advertisers must be wary of, which I call the 'Fine Line Balance of Gaming Advertising'. As mentioned, consumers have adapted so as to reject advertising bombardment, and, product placement that interferes with the enjoyable gaming experience will set off alarm bells in their head, and could even lead to an unfavourable response to a brand. This can also tie into ethics- as marketing and advertising professionals, we wish to make messaging streamlined within the game, not a hindrance or saturation; if we do, it causes detriment to all parties.
Just as over-advertising in games is dangerous, so is under-advertising. There was a big ad campaign recently on Australian television that showed a man being abducted but a crazy scientist, and it contained a 'call to action' for consumers to go to their website and finish the story. Whilst the game was very well executed in terms of using social media sharing and gained a lot of exposure to the target market, the consumers had absolutely no idea that it was a campaign to promote sales for a particular brand of snack food chips.
So, finding new, innovative channels to promote favourable brand messages can be a complicated and difficult task for brands and organisations working within ever increasingly insular markets, however gaming offers a refreshing way to potentially reach consumers who are already open to stimuli at the time of playing. Finding the correct balance and game media type is critical for success in this niche, however the audience exposure is, by far, potentially worth the pay off.
Christopher Melotti 22/11/2011
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