One of my claims to fame while growing up on the mean streets of Stamford, Conn., is that I was the first of my friends to own an Atari 2600 video game. For a brief, but shining moment, the Chapell family rec room was the Mecca of Stamford’s video game community. Having the game at my house gave me a considerable advantage. And I quickly rose up in the ranks to become the neighborhood champ at both Space Invaders and Frogger.
Now, many years later, and completely cured of my youthful gaming addiction, I still play every once in a while. And I’m constantly amazed by how far the technology has developed. Whether I’m driving my Crazy Taxi through the streets of San Francisco, or guiding Spiderman as he sails though the canyons of mid-town Manhattan, I am absolutely amazed by how realistic looking and sounding games have become.
As video games become progressively more lifelike, they also become more expensive to produce. And in order to augment what have traditionally been razor-thin profit margins, the video game publishers have increasingly turned to advertising. Video game ads were originally composed of simple product placements. For example, instead of having the main character drive a generic car, he’d drive the new BMW.
Video game product placement is analogous to the way products are inserted into movies. However, video game product placements have the added benefit of direct interaction between gamer and product. The gamers are able to have their character interact with a product in much the same way as the gamers interact with the same product in real life. And according to a recent study conducted by Activision and Nielsen Media Research, the majority of gamers have had a favorable reaction to product placement in their games.
Now the industry is moving towards the next stage of game advertising -- ad networks. As more and more gamers are playing opponents remotely via the Internet, advertisers can use that connection to dynamically serve ads into games. The premise is very similar to the way ads are currently served onto Web sites. The leading company in this area is New York based Massive Inc.
But you need to be mindful of both the value proposition and the potential privacy risks surrounding video game ad networks.
What's the value proposition?
I can see how an ad network would make sense for publishers looking to augment their revenue stream with additional ad dollars. I can also see how this makes sense for advertisers, who are always looking for new ways to reach the coveted 18-34-year-old male demographic.
According to Nielsen Media Research, television viewership is in decline for males 18 to 34, particularly those who are active video game players. And the ad networks provide an additional way to reach them. Moreover, an ad network can provide advertisers with much more flexibility in timing their campaigns, and allows for frequency capping.
My question is: what’s in it for the gamers? Are they receiving enough value to justify the intrusion of additional ads? Ultimately, I realize that the gamers will have to accept that there will be more advertising. However, any publisher releasing a new game into the marketplace will be wise to err on the side of caution when integrating ads into their titles.
One argument in favor of advertising is that it enhances the gaming experience. The Activision/Nielsen study indicates that 70 percent of heavy gamers think that well-crafted product placements can actually make the game more realistic. For example, imagine a game character holding a generic cola beverage. Now imagine that character holding a Coke. The latter is a more realistic depiction of life. Conversely, if the gamer is playing a Star Wars game, he’s not going to want to see Darth Vader walking around with a Coke, because that just wouldn’t be realistic. So, the product placement model, in the right context, seems to be a hit with the gamers.
The question, though, is whether banner ads will be as big a hit with gamers. Massive Inc. has recently conducted a study focusing on perception. And while the results indicated a positive perception of in-game advertising, the study didn’t distinguish the perception of banner ads from product placement.
Michael Dowling, general manager at Nielsen Interactive Entertainment, isn’t so sure the gamers will be as receptive to banner advertising as they are to product placement. Dowling says, "the process of having ads served into games may make the gamers feel intruded upon.”
Dowling also notes that many gamers are very technologically savvy, and some of them may even figure out ways to circumvent (or block) the ads served in by Massive. So this is a real concern, as game publishers don’t want to kill the goose laying the golden eggs.
I like that Massive conducted research to gauge consumer perception of their offering. Too many companies seem to release technology products into the marketplace without gauging consumer perceptions. I’d like to see some additional research that distinguishes banner ads from product placement, and determines if there is any difference in gamer perceptions toward the two ad mediums. I’d also like to see additional research to determine whether gamers might feel intruded upon by ad serving, as Dowling suggested.
What are the privacy issues?
Based upon a conversation with Richard Skeen, VP of advertising sales for Massive Inc., it seems like that company has thus far adopted a conservative approach to issues of consumer privacy. And that’s good, given that a single incident could have a catastrophic effect on this nascent industry. Having said that, here’s the Chapell view on privacy for video game ad networks:
- Are they collecting personally identifiable information (PII)? Yes. Some games require registration. Massive, for example, will use the PII for ad serving purposes provided that the gamer has opted in. I would caution Massive against collecting any PII. Each game title has a fairly unique demographic anyway, and to get into the business of targeting ads further using PII is a high-risk, low-reward proposition. It’s high risk because there are all kinds of perception issues regarding the use of PII. And it’s low reward given that most game titles have a fairly well defined audience already. So I’m not convinced that adding PII into the analysis will really result in better-targeted ads, and at least right now, isn’t worth the risk.
- Are any data being shared across multiple game titles? Massive has no plans to engage in this type of tracking, although developing an in-depth profile of willing gamers must be tempting. Similar to my last point, I would advise Massive and the game publishers to shy away from sharing any data across game titles until gamers have built up a level of trust and comfort with the game network concept. Perhaps they can wait and see how the Web publishers deal with these issues before moving forward with similar plans.
Bottom line: What’s in it for the gamers?
Dowling says that in general, the gaming community wants to participate. “They want to be on the inside of the development of the gaming industry,” he says.
So the key will be to convince the gamers that the advertising is at worst a necessary evil, and at best that ad revenue will be used to fund new and original game concepts. In-game advertising is here to stay. If the gamers are willing to buy into the idea that ads make for a better experience, then the transition towards partially ad-supported games will be a much less bumpy ride.
Alan Chapell is a consultant focusing on privacy and data collection strategies -- helping clients to build customer loyalty and mitigate risk. He has been in the interactive space for more than seven years with firms such as Jupiter Research, DoubleClick and Cheetahmail. Mr. Chapell is the New York Chapter Chairman of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, and he publishes a daily blog on issues of consumer privacy.
1. Identify your practical needs
Do you need a big brain, tech savants, masters of media, social media experimenters, an army of coders, or just reliable arms and legs to execute your strategy, compensate for your too-lean staff, or interface with your IT guys? Understanding the real need and the division of labor between you and your agency is the first step in the RFP process. Be clear about how much control, direction, and outsourcing you intend to do.
Next, recognize that different agencies have different levels of name recognition, positioning, and points of origin that shape their competence, their processes, their ability to engage, and their price. No single agency is great at everything. Every agency has its core competencies and its good and bad days.
2. Don't re-fight the last war
Often RFPs seek to overcome and compensate for the failures and disappointments with a current agency. Yet, be careful not to overvalue or overcorrect for these specific issues, as they are likely to be a product of a particular agency-client pathology -- partly a result of your technical, political, personality, or marketing landscape and partly a matter of casting, chemistry, timing, or emphasis by the agency.
Focus on the mission (i.e., what needs to be done). Do you need a dramatic increase in market share, an improvement in ecommerce conversion, regular technical tweaks, media optimization, a more systematic and integrated campaign management approach, or a complete brand re-stage? The task required compared with the state of the business ought to be the prime directive in shaping your agency search.
3. Take the political temperature
You have to decide how much brand equity, brainpower, speed, creativity, media intimacy, or technical chops you want, need, or are willing to pay for at the outset. Do you need quick-and-dirty or famous-and flashy? Are you looking to impress the C-suite or are you looking to augment or complement the skills of your staff? Ask yourself: How much validation or blame will you assign to the agency?
Then compare the needed skills with the budget you have to spend. How much of the budget are you willing to spend on travel, out of pocket expenses, and infrastructure? Do you want a marquee New York agency owned by a global holding company, an independent firm with a hot reputation in your vertical, or two renegade guys in a room completely dedicated to your brand? What will your management accept, appreciate, and buy?
Once you clarify your own needs and the desires of your management, you are ready to structure the RFP process. Give yourself six months. Assume the exercise will take 90-120 days and that a subsequent notice, transition, and contracting period will be of equal length. Some firms prefer to outsource the search effort; others do it themselves or construct a hybrid division of labor. The critical variable is a sense of control. Pick the solution that gives you optimal control of the process and the outcome.
4. Cover the basics
The three fundamental questions you need to answer in any RFP process are:
- Who are they?
- What are they truly good at?
- Can we sue them if they screw us?
Every agency worth its salt has standard language to answer these questions and financial details and references to substantiate its fiscal viability. You have to ask these questions, but you'll be surprised at how similar the answers are and how little real differentiation you get when comparing responses. Everyone is fabulous, with the greatest teams skilled at every task you can imagine. Everyone has great case studies, screen grabs, intricate process maps, snappy bios, and ironclad financials.
This material is the basic ante -- table stakes in the game. All this material should be understood as a check-off rather than as critical variables. Those who can't produce this kind of information on a dime aren't ready for your serious consideration.
5. Surface your working team
There are pitch teams and working teams. Pitch teams are the agency's smoothest, senior, accomplished veteran players. They are smart, glib, practiced, and polished. Working teams are the munchkins behind the scenes you rarely see in a pitch. In many cases, an agency will not empanel a working team until they win the business, so in many cases, your working team is a fantasy.
Require your working team to be the pitch team. This will ensure that you get a clear look at the people you'll be working with. Allow the senior supervisors to help, but insist that the agency identify and engage the account executives, account supervisors, and frontline creative, media, or technical people who will actually work on your business. Be sure to meet the digital producer and/or the project manager because these individuals will really run your business and your budgets day by day.
6. Probe for process
Mechanics, skill, and speed determine productivity. Agencies are notoriously slower and more expensive than client organizations and frequently have ad hoc processes that can leave you vulnerable. Figure out how the agency works and how it takes in and processes the information you give it. Compare that with your internal processes and your productivity tolerances.
Are you willing to wait four weeks for a five-paragraph email? Will a mini-site or a landing page take 30, 60, or 90 days to complete? How many levels of editorial review and QA will those banner ads get? Will they traffic drafts digitally or on paper? Will they deploy secure intranets or just use FTP sites? Ask for process briefings and go through the agency process carefully to understand who does what to whom and when. Give them hypothetical assignments and ask for production time lines.
7. Identify agency partners
In this climate, it makes little economic sense for agencies to retain full-time people to manage occasional or contingent tasks. Almost every agency relies on freelancers, vendors, and partners to round out their service offerings. List the tasks they do themselves and those they share with vendors or partners. Compare the home-grown tasks with your top priority needs. Then ask about the freelancers and vendors and how they manage these partner relationships. Require case studies to show productivity and business results.
8. Illuminate experience
If they did for somebody else, it's likely they can do it for you, too. Identify your top priority needs and seek out analogous work that the agencies have done. Map their experience to your needs. Be as specific as possible. Carefully examine the planning process and the business goals and connect the dots. Look at creative examples and media plans. Get them talking about how they came up with the ideas in competitive contexts. You are looking for insightful thinking, smart execution, and the ability to redeploy these skills on your behalf. And while experience is not 100 percent predictive of future results, all things being equal, an agency that has done the task you need has a greater chance of doing it right again for you.
9. Look for efficiencies
Will the agency learn how to do things on your nickel or do they bring well-established learnings, relationships, procedures, and added value to the table? Ask the agency about standing relationships and deals with technical vendors, media outlets, or infrastructure suppliers. Ask them to outline and document approaches and philosophies on topics of importance to your marketing effort. You are looking to leverage their experience and their network to your benefit. Your goal in investigating these relationships is to assess the likely added value you get by selecting a particular agency on the basis of its experience and contacts.
Be as specific as you can and be relentless in follow-up questioning. Ask pointed questions: Do you believe rich media yields incremental conversion? Do you prefer one web platform over another and why? Which off-the-shelf CRM solution have you used most often and why? Which media will grant you (and us) most-favored nation deals? Ask for examples of skillful media and vendor negotiations and then ask for the marketing and business impact of these financial efficiencies.
10. Check references
No one will give you a bad reference. But ask probing questions about the nature of the relationship, the timing of projects, any claimed victories, and/or the day-to-day working experience. Ask pointed questions about the leadership, the working team, timing, and costs. Ask specifically about the things that went wrong. There always are a few. Sometimes understanding how an agency recovers from a screw-up is the most illuminating insight into their operation.
Once you have satisfied yourself that the short list agencies have the requisite experience, relationships, and energy, it's time to get creative. In many cases, your finalists will have equivalent experience, relationships, and skill sets. They will have jumped the financial bar and provided strong references. You'll need to devise an ordeal to establish true differences and to gauge how well you are likely to work with each of them.
11. Road test the finalist agencies
Don't ask for spec creative or free strategic thinking. Instead, ask agencies to participate in a live 90-minute strategy session. This more than anything will give you a live feel for what it will be like to work with any given agency team.
In structuring the live working session, follow this formula:
- Prepare real data to identify and document a real business issue or scenario that the agency will face. Supply this to the agency one week ahead of the session. Be sure all participating agencies have signed non-disclosure agreements in advance.
- Insist that only two senior people and the working team assigned to your business can participate.
- Limit the session to 90 minutes. Set a clear outcome for the meeting. For example, the meeting should yield a campaign theme and three tactics to address this particular marketing problem.
- Have your team -- the people who will interact with the agency each day --participate in the session. Run it as if the relationship existed.
- Use an independent leader. Don't lead the session if you are assessing the outcome.
- Devise a scorecard that accounts for the quality of the ideas, the creativity of the team, the experience demonstrated, and the chemistry between the participants.
- Measure how prepared the agencies were and what outside data, information, or experience they brought to the party.
- Try to understand the relative contributions of the senior agency people versus the working team members.
- Ask your people which team they liked best and why.
- Weight this exercise relative to the other intelligence you've developed to make a final decision.
Finding the right agency partner can be a crucial step toward getting better business results. You want to break through the expected and sidestep the pat answers. The process should force contenders out of their comfort zones. Agencies have significant differences in style, skill, and leadership. Using these concepts should give you a head start toward identifying them and comparing them to your individual marketing needs.
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Kia centered an entire digital campaign around a cat
Let's begin by looking at an example of a major brand that took a chance with cats and found huge success. In 2011, H20 Media decided to promote the Kia Picanto in a digital campaign that set the bar for online innovation. The brand could have simply repurposed this Picanto commercial:
But instead, it decided to extend the story and craft a digital campaign that was told from the perspective of Henry the Cat, the co-star of the ad. On an interactive website, the cat takes us on a tour of the car and its features. Henry walks (on cat level) the visitor through an experience and displays the features, jumps in and out of the car, and watches funny videos with the visitor as they learn about the product.
In addition, a Facebook app was created called the Roaar-O-Meter where you can record yourself roaring using a webcam and microphone. Depending on how loud you are, the sound is transformed into either a lion's roar or a kitty's meow. There's a high score list, multiple sharing features, and a "challenge friends" function so friends can join in. This social integration gave people the ability to engage personally with the brand, all through the lens, perspective, and context of a cat.
They also created the Fight for your Picanto app for game-orientated users. It's basically a G-rated Mortal Combat, except you use adorable felines as your fighting friends. A new touch control system was developed specifically for the application. You can challenge your friends to a cat fight all while being visually branded by the Kia Picanto.
Kia was able to create an amazingly successful traditional commercial, digital interactive campaign, social strategy, and mobile gaming app all from the context provided by this little guy:
Next, we'll see how Kia took on internet memes as well.
Cats rule internet memes
As I mentioned before, cat memes are the most popular type of captioned image on the web. As a digital marketer, it might be easy to look at internet memes as a low quality and juvenile way of promoting your brand. Kia took a different approach.
Partnering with Cheezburger, Kia took its promotion of the Sorento to unexplored levels in December when it created the "Seasons Memeing Contest." It encouraged fans on the site to caption memes featuring the Kia Sorento Crossover vehicle. Here are a few of the awesome entries:
Memes from Cheezburger.com
Despite what you think of them, at the end of the day, Kia was able to get consumers to take the time to create content for the brand. If you're wondering what young consumer brand engagement looks like, this is it.
Next, we'll take a look at another example of a brand whose sales exploded because of cats.
The "Cats With Thumbs" ad exploded sales for this brand
Have you ever heard of Cravendale milk? Neither have I. Have you ever heard of "Cats with Thumbs?" Me too.
This British milk brand worked with Wieden + Kennedy to produce the wildly popular ad "Cats with Thumbs."
So why didn't this milk brand decide to use a cow in its commercial? That would've made more sense, right? Maybe because that same year it did.
The commercial with the cow has received 203,000 views so far. "Cats with Thumbs?" Almost 7 million.
You could argue that "Cats with Thumbs" is just a better commercial, but take a close look at both of them. Both are funny, both have high production values, and both are the same length. "Cats with Thumbs" tapped into something deeper than just a milk promotion. It shifted people's feelings toward the brand itself. It deepened the relationship between the audience and the brand.
Need proof? After "Cats with Thumbs" aired, Cravendale saw:
- Brand awareness increase of 10 percent
- Sales increase of 8 percent
- 7 million YouTube views
- Voted in the top 10 best commercials of 2011 by Adweek
Not to mention that Bertrum (the cat in the ad) received his own Facebook page. The page currently has more than 84,000 "likes."
What were cats able to provide Cravendale? More brand awareness, a positive brand outlook, a dramatic sales increase, and a popular consumer driven mascot. For one ad, that's enough for any marketer to go:
Next up, we'll explore the psychology behind consumers' love of cats.
Cats create emotional connections to brands
There is a direct and proven connection between sales volumes and the emotion connection your audience has toward a brand. Unfortunately, emotions are not something you can buy. They are something you have to earn by being bold in your messaging. Playing it safe doesn't do it anymore.
Cat owners have been shown to treat and see their cats as family members. They provide people with therapy and emotional comfort.
People tend to take their personal experiences and project them onto products. I get tense when I see an airplane because I hate flying (regardless of the airline). I get excited when I see a roller coaster because I love riding in them (regardless of the theme park). Cat lovers love seeing cats. They'll project that good feeling onto your brand if they see them together in a fun and memorable way. Combine that with the sheer popularity cats have on the internet, and you might just have the makings of a fail-proof digital campaign. Here are just a few advertisements (not about cat products) that capitalized on the power of a good, expressive feline photo.
Enfapro Powdered Milk
Next we'll look at the anatomy of why customers connect so deeply with our feline friends.
Cats project human emotions
Theologian Albert Schweitzer once said, "There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats."
If you want your audience to laugh, share, and be entertained, nothing does it better than a good cat photo. In fact, the grey matter in cats' brains share intense similarities to ours, proving that cats feel emotions that are very similar to people's. Cats' expressions of happiness, excitement, anger, playfulness, and surprise are all relatable and personalized emotions we connect with.
What immediate benefits can your brand see from cats? We'll discuss that next.
Cats can help re-introduce your old brand to Millennials
Traditional brands have an increasingly large problem: connecting with the youth. It's not surprising that a seasoned company and veteran marketers would have a hard time looking at this:
And think this:
Marketers don't usually associate cats with a successful marketing tool. But the reality is that a picture of this British Shorthair cat was so popular that it helped spur the creation of one of the most popular websites in the world, Cheezburger.com.
While its valuation remains unknown, Cheezburger has raised more than $32 million dollars from investors. That's a lot of cheddar for a website full of memes. Or rather, that's a lot of cheez.
According to Quantcast, the site pulls in 3.6 million monthly readers, more than half of which are under the age of 34. If you want to reach young people quickly, you need to know your memes. If you want to know your memes, you need to know cats. If you can use them wisely (and hysterically), you can generate a huge amount of consumer engagement from the Millennial generation.
A lot of brands don't want their products to have a humorous association, which is something that cats inherently produce. But think about this: Who would have thought a year ago that an American beer company would produce one of the most emotional and serious Super Bowl commercials ever?
Budweiser is a brand just begging for a funny advertisement, especially during the Super Bowl. If it can be bold and take its campaign to a different emotional place, your seemingly serious brand can certainly get away with a successful funny campaign. What's the fastest way to ensure success in today's youth driven digital environment?
Next, you'll read why cats are a good idea simply from a numbers perspective.
Cats get huge internet views
Digital marketers love engagement. We've already seen from Kia that using cats wisely can give consumers a fun and highly engaging digital experience. The next thing marketers love is campaign popularity. Marketers want their work to go viral. Did you know that six of the top 10 most popular animal videos on the web are cat videos?
Cats go viral with more frequency and speed than any other internet animal. If you want your brand to get seen, throw a cat in your campaign, and you'll certainly get people's attention. Once that first step is accomplished, seamlessly mix in branding, messaging, information, and call-to-actions. A great example is this hilarious Electronic Data Systems Corp. commercial.
EDS didn't upload this to YouTube, but it's all over the internet with more than 4 million views because people loved it and wanted to share it. Whether they know it or not, they are also sharing a brand. That's powerful organic awareness, and it's thanks in large part to dozens of cats.
Lastly, a word of warning when using cats in your marketing.
Cats have a passionate following, so don't make fun of them
Finally, if you decide to create an ad campaign with cats, do yourself a favor and don't make fun of them. Audiences don't like it when you point out the joke you're trying to go for, especially if you're trying to sell something. It's comes across as tacky, like in this Toyota RAV4 commercial.
This ad was launched in March 2012 and only has 141,000 views. That's just sad. Audiences simply didn't find it funny, and a huge part of it was because they were poking fun at cats being so popular online. This ad has a real feeling of elitism. Cats are a force unlike any other, and people are genuinely passionate about them. Treat them well and use them right. If you can remember that, cats will become powerful allies for your brand.
In this digital world, cats are a fun, exciting, and endearing animal to consider incorporating into your marketing strategy. The internet is waiting for your contribution to this undeniable feline phenomenon.
David Zaleski is the associate media producer for iMedia Connection.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
"British shorthair cat, in front of purple background," "Evil looking hairless cat looking backwards," "Six cute kittens sitting inside in pastel containers," "Small gray tabby kitten meowing while sitting in the grass," "Black and white cat," "Cat in smart clothes with the money and red caviar on a white," "A Portrait of a Fat, Orange Tabby Cat Sitting, Isolated on White," "Close-up portrait photo of a CPA cat looking out through a window," "Surprised Cat," and "Tabby cat" images via Shutterstock.