I admit it. I watch it. "The Apprentice" is one of my guilty pleasures. I fire up the TiVo Thursday evening and watch the teams do an increasingly silly task -- all to get to the boardroom berating and firing of one of the Trump wannabees. It’s the most popular show on TV. It is the definition of mainstream entertainment right now. I even saw an episode on JetBlue (with the live TV) and enjoyed overhearing two 55+ women behind me discuss the merits of the candidates, an unmistakable sign that this show has broad awareness and appeal. So it was with surprise that a recent week’s guest star was not a celebrity but the new Sony PlayStation 2 driving game, Gran Turismo 4. The game, also known as GT4, has been a top seller for Sony for 10 years, yet few outside the gamer world had heard of it until Thursday night.
Two top marketing execs from PlayStation wanted to extend the game’s message by creating an urban mural in Harlem highlighting the game. Both teams hired graffiti artists and had to paint the side of a building with a compelling mural.
This moment to me signified the tipping point, the moment video games broke out of the basement and into everyone’s living room. Kind of like when Aerosmith and Run DMC teamed up to make “Walk This Way” both a rock and hip hop anthem. Like the song, this too was theatrical -- the Donald driving his stretch limo through Harlem to survey the murals with a custom hip hop rap playing in the background (“Trumps goin' uptown in his stretch. Trumps in the hood, Trumps in the hood!”).
GT4 is about driving cool fast cars across race tracks, deserts and other environments where you, the driver, can have either a realistic race car experience or a more abstract entertaining time. The point is this stalwart, core Sony game, now in its fourth iteration, has made the leap from hardcore to mainstream consumer entertainment.
By the way, the game sold about 500,000 copies (at $50 a piece) in its first two weeks of U.S. release. The murals tried to boil it down. The focus group was an urban, hip group of young consumers who gave their input and helped determine who would win the project. Most of them knew of the game, and one mom even knew that the game rating of “E” meant it was OK for her nine year old.
PlayStation ruled the streets of Harlem for a day, and the kids -- black and white, uptown and downtown -- got it.
So whether or not you like Trump’s hair, his new bombshell wife or his over-the-top self promotion (his new talking doll commands “have an ego, there is nothing wrong with ego”), he is clearly the leading cross-over marketer of the moment.
The question is, are you listening?
Trump's divining rod of pop culture is pointing us in the right direction. He has hocked hamburgers, hotels, face cream, ice cream and now video games on his show. "The Apprentice" is important as it’s one of the last TV shows that matter to a mass audience -- a rare property that is consistently able to draw a critical mass of young viewers. Trump covers the landscape with a new veneer of pop culture -- wherever Trump goes throngs of devotees shout “You’re fired!” He even tried to trademark the term. That is culture power!
So, all you interactive marketers, take note. Games have now jumped the chasm, made the leap, crossed the tipping point. Remember when all of the sudden everyone you saw on the subway, bus, on the street suddenly had an iPod? Trump has now ushered in that moment for video games.
Also consider the mini focus group of both NetWorth and Magna teams: 50 to 60 percent of the twenty- and thirty-something team members had actually played Gran Turismo. Would you be happy with that rate of product usage for one of your products? The rest of the members claimed to have at least heard of the game. That’s 100 percent awareness within the target market demographic. Wow!
Here's a quick recap about why you should care. First, according to Arcadia research there is an installed base of 50 million video game consoles (27 million of those are PS2s) and almost 28 million handheld Nintendo GameBoy Advanced units. That’s 78 million units owned by people who care about interactive entertainment. Second, these people are tech savvy and get it. Finally, these folks buy lots of stuff. You can communicate with them in sexy, traditional adspeak even if a lot of them are geeks. (For a good example, see this article on the sex-driven marketing of Sony Online’s game Champions of Norath.)
Often it takes a strange messenger to point out a major shift in cultural attitudes, be it Janis Joplin, Woody Allen, Ronald Reagan, JLo or Donald Trump. The message is out there, the numbers are out there, the consumers are out there.
Are you out there with them?
Mark Friedler is CEO and co-founder of Gigex, Inc./GameDAILY, a leading provider of video game news, reviews, and free downloads that launched in 1995. He is a frequent speaker and panelist at industry trade gatherings including CES, E3, Digital Hollywood and events sponsored by Microsoft, IQPC, Jupiter Communications, Digital Media Wire, IEMA, SIIA and iHollywood Forum. He was chairperson for IQPC's conference "Best Practices for Marketing, Selling and Distributing Software over the Internet." Previously, Friedler was Director of Marketing at Reach Networks, Inc from 1994 to 1995; there, he managed marketing and sales of integrated services to Fortune 500 clients.
GameDAILY is a leading video game media company that reaches over 23 million gamers each month through its destination site, www.gamedaily.com, and a network of over 130 affiliated sites and portals. Its free business-to-business newsletter, GameDAILY BIZ, is the leading video game trade publication.