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4 unlikely brands that won with gaming

4 unlikely brands that won with gaming Dario Raciti
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My first E3 was in 2000. There I was, at the biggest video game tradeshow on the planet -- a world of wonder and expectations that would be my first peek into the future of entertainment. It was the year before the first Xbox was launched, and the point at which Microsoft was entering the game world with its own hardware. It was also the time that I began to think about the potential of video games beyond just personal entertainment.


I went to E3 seeking opportunities to meet publishers who might let me experiment with their creations and use them as a unique way to deliver a brand message. At the time, I wasn't sure how and when that would happen -- and, based on the puzzled stares that were the standard response from the people on the floor with whom I first shared this idea almost a decade ago, the notion was foreign, if not outright weird. A handful of advertisers were already experimenting with video games, but for the most part they were one-off attempts, narrowly focused on trying something "new" to get teens' attention.


Nine years later, video games and audiences have expanded dramatically, an evolutionary path driven by the desire of consumers of all ages, genders, and socioeconomic statuses to have a more participatory entertainment experience.


According to the Entertainment Software Association, 68 percent of U.S. households now play games -- in other words, more than 170 million players. Other studies show games topping the list of favorite pastimes for both the obvious and the less-than-obvious segments of the population. The average age of today's gamer in the U.S. is 35, but there really is no such thing as an age barrier anymore. There is a game and a platform for every age, gender, taste, and free time allowance.


Certain audience segments are defecting from traditional media channels, and advertisers are finding gaming to be a highly effective option -- particularly for reaching males 18-34. Always a hard-to-reach audience, this cohort has been MIA for broadcast TV. But as Nielsen tells us, they are still in front of the screen -- they've just exchanged their remotes for gamepads. So it's no surprise that many of today's game titles feature brands from categories targeting this demographic, including auto, men's toiletries, beverage, and quick-service restaurants (QSR).


However, the broadening of game content and the acceptance of gaming in the entertainment diet of all segments of society has also created interest -- and success stories -- among some unexpected brands. In this article, we'll take a look at these surprising success stories.

State Farm extends sports franchise sponsorships to in-game


An early gaming adopter, State Farm saw games as an opportunity to extend the value of its sports sponsorships and increase the frequency and quality of the engagement experience. A long-time stadium and programming sponsor, State Farm was well positioned to tap into audiences' desire to be part of the sports action. Leveraging the realism of games such as EA's and 2K Sports' NCAA games and 2K Sports' MLB games, State Farm was able to successfully integrate and keep fresh its broadcast and stadium elements, while connecting with its target in a new way.


In a 2K Sports' NCAA game, State Farm sponsored an entire segment called College Hoops Tonight, featuring virtual representation of Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg, for which the anchors supplied their own voice-overs. From the dorna boards to unique branded broadcast elements, such as State Farm Play of the Game and the State Farm Home Run Derby, the insurance provider successfully translated and enhanced the traditional live and TV experience for sports fans, while also enabling hours of brand exposure. A series of brand studies conducted on these integrations revealed significant increases in awareness, consideration, and recommendation.

Dyson cleans up the mess


Some of the most creative in-game integrations have come from Ubisoft. When asked to name one of the most surprising brands among their titles, head of product placement Jeffrey Dickstein didn't disappoint, offering the Dyson Root 6 handheld vacuum as a case in point.


Looking to simultaneously position its Root 6 handheld model -- which looks like a power drill -- as a vacuum a man would use, while also enabling a first-person experience around the product's hygienic benefits, Dyson opted for an interesting appearance in the "CSI: Hard Evidence" game. In one of the game's cases, the player collects a handheld vacuum from a suspect's car. Back at the CSI lab, the vacuum is placed on the assembly table, and the contents of the dirt chamber are examined, yielding key evidence that indicates someone cleaned up the crime scene.



The positioning toward a male audience is addressed by having the vacuum in this case belong to a husband. However, the part that makes this integration work really well is that in order to get the evidence, the player has to take a good look at the product. The game allows the player to rotate, zoom in, and inspect it from every angle -- even take it apart with the push of a button without getting your hands dirty, just as you would do in real life, albeit in more mundane situations.


Of course, websites can deliver a somewhat similar product demonstration -- but they only reach customers who are already inclined toward buying and are actively seeking out the information. The beauty of the game integration is that it goes beyond the likely purchaser, delivering a 16-minute experience during which design features and aesthetics are imprinted on potential buyers who might not otherwise have been exposed to the product. How many other platforms can deliver this much exposure time without the user skipping over the advertising message completely through a DVR, or by ignoring the ad in favor of the content on a web page?

Swedish furniture becomes a must-have in the Sims world


By virtue of audience and price point, furniture may not at first glance seem like a prime category for game integration. However, the customization level of today's games, paired with pixel-perfect 3D detail, make for an ideal environment in which to showcase furniture design and utility.


Leveraging The Sims, the popular franchise that allows players to create and control a virtual world of people and environments, IKEA broke new ground in the category, creating its own co-branded retail game experience. The co-branded IKEA/Sims Furniture Stuff Pack offers the massive audience of "The Sims" an opportunity to furnish their virtual living spaces with the latest furniture from IKEA.



As the massive audience of Sims players knows, the majority of play time is spent creating and customizing worlds that reflect players' personality traits -- an ideal platform in which to showcase IKEA's vast product offering that covers every room in a house, and a wide range of style preferences. Inserting its product in "The Sims" world as an opt-in, IKEA helped players create their own interior designs -- and enabled extended interaction with IKEA products in a situation that was as close to real as it gets.


The experience was cleverly delivered not as a stand-alone but as an enhancement --which EA calls expansion packs -- to the current user base of "The Sims" players. Priced lower than a full retail game, the IKEA/Sims Furniture Pack was an immediate success that even topped the PC games sales charts for the first few weeks after its introduction.

Visa explains fraud protection via video games


Even before the success of the Wii and the music and fitness genres that helped broaden today's gaming audience, a number of forward-thinking brands saw the unprecedented opportunity for relevant brand experiences that gaming affords. Among these early adapters, Visa's integration with the "CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder" game was a stand-out success.



Looking for innovative ways to promote Visa's multiple layers of card security, the brand's media strategy agency, OMD, suggested the CSI game as an ideal platform. The game's target audience was an extension of the demos for the popular CBS show that inspired the game and was already a part of Visa's TV inventory. Beyond the target compatibility, the CSI game gave Visa the opportunity to take its message beyond passive reception to active engagement, enabling a first-person experience with the benefits that the card provides. In a unique execution, Visa's message lived within the game's script, giving the player a one-on-one experience with the brand while clearly communicating the security benefits of owning a Visa card.


In the game, a rich hotel heiress's posh apartment is found covered in blood. However, with no body found at the scene, it's up to the player to determine what happened. Taking the role of a CSI investigator, the player learns that the victim actually faked her own death to escape an abusive relationship, then uses her sister's Visa card to fund her getaway. Her almost-perfect plan falls apart when Visa's continuous fraud monitoring service flags suspicious spending activity on the account. At this point, the victim's sister explains that Visa cards come with fraud protection, which helps prevent her card from being used by anyone but herself. Could the unauthorized transactions have something to do with her sister's disappearance? This discovery then becomes the most important clue in solving the case.


A brand study on the integration showed the game enabled 10 minutes of message engagement with hundreds of thousands of players, and it helped drive a 53 percent increase in awareness of Visa's fraud protection security features.

As exciting and innovative as the examples in this article are, we are only at the beginning of a new era of advertising in games. In the next few years, we are sure to see many more unexpected brands find relevance and message differentiation through this platform. With game consoles now firmly established in the living room, and consumers spending more time with games than with other forms of entertainment, becoming gaming literate will be mandatory for marketers across the board. Done right, advertising in games will continue to be a winning strategy for advertisers.


As content continues to become more diverse, and interaction barriers break down, the opportunities for integration increase exponentially. However, the key to success for in-game advertising will stay the same: create a relevant storyline that showcases the product while also creating a valuable experience for the user. This is the best and only way to win with consumers.


Dario Raciti is director, Ignition Factory Gaming, at OMD.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

Dario joined the OMD family in March 2003, bringing with him extensive experience in building teen brands in a digital environment. More so, his media experience is both in offline and online across a variety of brands and categories from...

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Comments

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Commenter: Alissa Hennen

2009, August 18

I think you make a great point in "How many other platforms can deliver this much exposure time without the user skipping over the advertising message". Games can be such an effective way to teach the audience about a product without them feeling like they're learning. The commitment level and time spent in the engagement can be much higher than other mediums, as long as the content is provides interest, entertainment or some value to the user. As more and more brands participate in games, the bar will be raised on which games consumers are willing to spend 16 minutes playing.

Commenter: Steven Canter

2009, August 12

I agree, though timelines have gotten shorter at best you're looking at three months for a "lite” integration. And that "lite” integration is still going to be pretty expensive for a top tier game title. And that "lite” integration might just be billboards. These costs are based on forecasts of units sold over the lifetime of the game which in some cases is 2 years or more. And what if the title isn't a success? Well as a brand you're stuck. We've seen similar things happen with product placement deals in movies where brands spend millions of dollars to integrate into a movie that does horribly in the box office/DVD. So it seems to me that static integrations are more risky in that they are not flexible nor are they predictable (and this is one of the cornerstones of media planning) and the potential for any return needs to be evaluated over a longer period of time with greater costs involved.
Though casual gaming is a part of the in game advertising mix from a pure reach standpoint I would assume you'd get more bang for your buck by utilizing a casual gaming network like Wild Tangent or Pogo as oppose to integrating into a casual game on a console whose focus is more on AAA game titles. After all it is the AAA game titles that make the console sexy in the first place. And if dynamic is deemed as being a side dish well then what's to say of casual game advertising as the ad placements in many cases are not in the game but before the game starts.
Though with dynamic you have limited creative space (this varies game by game) you can integrate into several top tier titles with a timely and relevant message. Take for example: Ford who recently ran a dynamic campaign that I saw while playing Tiger Woods 2010 on X-Box. Players could text in and win 400 MS points ($5 value I believe). A static integration could not allow the brand to bridge the gap from the game to reality like this. Imagine executing this across 10 top tier game titles. Using your example, that's a potential reach of 15 million gamers providing a much lower frequency and much greater reach for a similar marketing spend.
In my opinion, it really seems to depend on that you want to get from the medium. Is in game advertising a playground for creative ideas that might be great and create great returns for the brand OR is it a mass media vehicle that needs to be accountable and evaluated alongside and against other mass media vehicles; using proven metrics such as reach, frequency and engagement. It's both. Each form (static, dynamic, casual, mobile etc…) has its place dependant on the goals and objectives of the brand. Each can stand alone as a viable medium.

Commenter: Dario Raciti

2009, August 12

I've seen a few comments on the time needed to develop programs such as the ones included in this article and here are some things to consider. Timelines for integrations are now much shorter that they used to be even just a year ago. Developers are getting accustomed to working with brands so these type of programs are easier to implement. In-game is by no means the only way to leverage gaming, online casual games and broadband services such as Xbox Live provide a broad range of opportunities and flexibility. In-game however offers a unique environment of interaction and a chance for a more intimate connection with a brand. . Regarding costs, in-game programs are evaluated (among other things) based on unit sales so obviously the investment for a game that sells a couple of hundred thousand units will be different from one that sells millions. Finally, while dynamic offers flexibility it also limits the message to a billboard or other signage and it is marginal to the experience. Also, while broadband penetration is growing we are still far from 100%. For example, if you have dynamic running in a title that sells 3 million copies you are really only reaching only about half of them. For most brands dynamic should be considered as a side dish at best, and if flexibility is key I recommend looking at services such as Xbox Live or online with PC/Mac based opportunities.

Commenter: Mark Richardson

2009, August 12

Now that broadband and speed are so readily available, is there not a move for more online gaming vs console (with respect to in-game advertising?) We've developed an online live action (not animation) casual game designed primarily for telecomm and spirits, beer & wine (21+ age restriction) sponsorship. It does not require long lead and/or development time because of the compartmentalized brand integration into the game. I'd be curious to hear any thoughts on this type of game:
http://www.thepickupclub.com/express

Commenter: Steven Canter

2009, August 12

It's seems strange that all of the examples provided are very deep, labor intensive and expensive advertising integrations that require long lead times. I'm surprise that in this economy more cost effective integrations were not highlighted or mentioned. Not every brand has the lead time or the budget to execute these types of integrations. Though cool integrations, with the exception of Sims 2; the CSI games titles sold a minimal number of copies. Yes, the integrations look great but if a minimal number of people actually see/play the game; does it really matter how cool the integration is? Not to mention that fact that once the brand is in the game you can never change the messaging.
It's no secret that more and more households have broadband access which has allowed more and more gamers the opportunity to play online. As a result publishers have worked to develop games that lend themselves to online game play. You mention the fact that the 18 – 34 male demo is difficult to reach but by only highlighting in game integrations that require long lead time and sizeable budgets you haven't provided any examples of easier and more cost effective ways to reach the elusive 18 – 34 year old male via in game advertising.
Dynamic in-game advertising provides brands the opportunity to purchase media within some of the biggest game titles in the world (Madden, Sims etc...) in the same way brands are currently buying media (CPM) with integration lead times of 10 to 15 days. Brands now have the opportunity to integrate into some of the biggest titles in the world with a minimal investment and minimal risk. In addition, the creative is more timely and relevant. There's also cool programs that can be layered onto a dynamic campaign (SMS text and win sweepstakes, cheat code inclusions etc…) that engage the gamer by provide instant gratification and most importantly increase the level of realism to the game.
From the view point of the publishers dynamic makes more sense too. Executing on a hard coded or static program requires a lot of work for both the brand/agency and the publisher. For every one of the brands you see in game there are probably 20 or so other brands that pulled. Also, from a pure revenue standpoint once VISA or Dyson have integrated into the game, well; there no additional opportunities for the publisher to garner any additional revenue. In the case of dynamic the potential is endless.

Commenter: marco bertozzi

2009, August 12

You have chosen some interesting ideas. I think its worth pointing out how Governement intelligence agency GCHQ whilst looking to target graduates with technical expertise around the use of the internet also turned to in gaming to target their audience. This was particulalry brave given the avdertiser and also the fact that recruitment communications are not always as imaginative as they should be and can be.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/oct/18/digitalmedia.advertising

Commenter: Scotty Moore

2009, August 12

There is no doubt that the video game platform is highly engaging and produces a strong ROI for brand marketers. However, I am still perplexed that big brands have not made a better effort to become a part of our passion. Yes! I am a core-gamer. For example, there is not one mobile phone carrier or broadband provider specifically trying to build brand equity within the video game vertical. It's not just about blasting IAB units on IGN or Gamespot. I'm talking about sponsoring local, regional, and national video game challenges or even better aligning your brand with a specific video game genre or game. For example, I recently saw a Sports Illustrated subscription TV commercial that bundled Madden 2010 for only $49.99. I was all over that offer and I will become even more loyal to Sports Illustrated for the gift that keeps on giving. I have been in the video game industry for 9 years and there are now many opportunities to target gamers, so I highly recommend working with a digital agency that has an in-house video game expert.