The highly sought-after demographic that gamers represent is fraught with challenges, but rife with opportunities. As with approaching any new market, upping your brand's credibility and visibility with the gaming community should be goals that are defined by a great strategy. But with gamers -- who view themselves as advertising resistant and brand loyal -- you need to go the extra mile and prove that you're aligned, that your brand's approach is honest, sincere, and long-term, and that they're valued.
So, in no particular order, here are six non-endemic brands that get it, along with suggestions for how they can further improve upon their strategy (free of charge):
Brand: Jeep / Chrysler
Back in 2009, Jeep and Activision Blizzard -- the software publishing company responsible for hits such as "World of Warcraft," "Starcraft," and "Call of Duty" -- began working together to enhance their in-game advertising integration. Generally speaking, in-game ads have a mixed reputation both inside the industry and among consumers. The companies formally announced a limited-edition 2011 Jeep Wrangler "Call of Duty: Black Ops" edition in October 2010, one month ahead of the new game's availability. Mike Manley, President and CEO of Jeep Brand, Chrysler Group, clearly got it. Jeeps were integrated into the game as the main vehicles. Visually, the special edition Jeeps are differentiated from the base models in many overt ways -- the designers managed to achieve the right balance of using the game's logo while not being gimmicky. That success was followed up with a 2012 Wrangler "Modern Warfare 3" edition that featured even more smart differentiators including numbered Jeeps (i.e., X out of 3,500). More co-promotions included giving away a Jeep to a select gamer attending Activision's CoD XP, a themed event for enthusiasts. This resulted in a tremendous viral impact that pushed awareness across the board.
A toy "Call of Duty" Jeep was created and the company worked with Activision on the vehicle's national ad campaign:
What's next: These guys are on the right path, but it's really just the beginning. Getting incorporated with end-caps, cross-marketing deeper with the endemic media, and being present at more live consumer events seems like low-hanging fruit for the king of the jungle. And, to be fair, the real heavy-lifting here was done by Jeff Bell when he was with the brand (he's now at Xbox, which should tell you something) who first aligned the company with gamers via the best-selling game, "Tony Hawk."
Agency: Ryan Partnership (Chicago)
Schick and Edge, brands belonging to the Energizer family, were well represented by the Ryan Partnership (Chicago) in this channel-focused campaign. The campaign honed in on a well-known group of PlayStation 3 titles such as "inFAMOUS 2," "Killzone 3," and "Grand Tourismo 5" and went deep on integration by altering the packaging, signage, ads, and downloadable content -- which, truth be told, was a bit of a SNAFU on the agency's behalf. But by all other accounts it was successful and, I know first-hand, the VP of North American Marketing was pleased with the outcome. Where it fell short was in keeping the "instant win" platform-based: Only PlayStation 3 gamers could actually win something while the vast majority of the market was left untapped. Adding value to those consumers who aren't PS3 owners seems an obvious change that will enhance the overall strategy. However, to be fair, it's a common error in what would otherwise be a spotless campaign. The fact that it was so successful for two years speaks volumes.
What's next: Honestly, it feels a little like cutting off one's nose to spite the face here. The company dropped (or hasn't yet re-started) its gaming plans and passed the ball to the Women's brands, which are running with social gaming as the strategy -- it's not a bad strategy, to be sure. But to truly engage with the gaming demographic, a brand's strategy can't be: "We'll target them during this quarter, or for this trade show, and hope that that yields long-term success." Always remember: Persistence pays off.
Brand: Red Bull
Agency: Red Bull Media House
Red Bull NA gets it -- plain and simple. It approaches a new market holistically, recognizes where consumers aspire to be, and has the softest touch of any brand to-date. Red Bull identifies a target demographic, examines who could build a career from that segment, hones in on those professionals, and supports them to the fullest -- thereby creating very popular and influential pros in the process. The company then builds from there, adding support for multiple professionals and teams and follows it up with live events. In the case of gaming, that meant recruiting Dave "Walshy" Walsh, the No. 1 "Halo" franchise gamer in the world at the time. This was a wise choice since Walsh -- at the ripe old age of 26 -- retired and became the John Madden of pro gaming. Talk about a return on investment for the brand! Taking to heart the valuable feedback of its pros, Red Bull partners with organizations that reflect the company's philosophy.
Full disclosure, one such strategy was the underwriting of individual memberships in the association I run, which represents gamers in the U.S. and Canada:
It's worth mentioning the above campaign because of its smart and intuitive tactics. Red Bull NA paid just $1 per underwritten membership and was able to give away a $20 value to its fans and followers. Additionally, it built a phenomenal database, which would have otherwise cost significantly more on a cost per acquisition basis.
What's next: Red Bull is really just getting started in the space -- making it almost unfair to judge. However, like most brands, Red Bull ebbs and flows in the gaming space, which is likely to do with budget constraints. That said, if it spent a fraction of its motocross advertising budget on national ad campaigns for gaming, the company would be far better off. For example, the brand spent millions on a multi-media spend, across various channels and even Xbox Live, to promote its disabled motocross athlete, Ashley Fiolek. She's beautiful and exceptionally talented, but gamers could care less. Had Red Bull instead spent that budget against professional gamer, Dave "Walshy" Walsh, it would have had a far more impactful result. I briefly spotted one ad on the Xbox Live dashboard a few weeks ago that featured its sponsored gaming team, Status Quo, and highlighted rising star Ian "enable" Wyatt -- this is definitely a step in the right direction.
Agency: Optimedia and Play
T-Mobile is one of those brands that knows it needs to highlight gaming in order to sell its products. The folks at T-Mobile know that they need to attract tech-savvy consumers who are likely gamers, so the brand regularly incorporates gamers and gaming themes into just about every promotion and product launch -- which is very smart. That broad-sword strategy definitely earns it a place on the list, as did Mike Racic's negotiating in addition to Walmart's marketing for an "NBA Baller's" promotion (score!). What fell short in all of this was the follow-through. AT&T had it for a brief period of time when it employed game marketing expert Glenn Broderick, but lost that consistency when the company lost him. I'm not sure I'd advocate every brand to go and recruit a games marketer, but if I were one of the big agencies, I'd be sure to have one in my stable! T-Mobile's approach is a safe and effective one, keeping the brand irregularly top-of-mind with the market segment, and likely for less spend than would be required with more consistency or deeper integration. Waiting in the wings is Sprint, the net neutrality champion, the brand that gamers love to love.
What more: My advice would be to spend less on traditional media -- or even banners and buttons -- and more on earning a rich and regular experience with current and prospective customers. It's great to be there more often than your competitors, but it's best to be there so often that consumers don't even consider them.
Brand: Sony Ericsson
One would think that a brand that begins with the name "Sony" would have this category wrapped-up as a non-endemic that slips in under the wire, but its strategy has been hit or miss -- and that's likely to do with the unusual partnership between Sony and Ericsson. The brand has refocused while launching, and now growing, the Xperia Play line (all while restructuring and changing agencies). Sony has taken some notes from other brands in the field by partnering with eSports leagues, advertising in endemic gaming media and on games-focused websites, and recruiting high profile gamers as spokesman such as professional eSports coach, Andy "JT Bravo" Dudynsky, to tap into the very peak of the consumer pyramid. The long-term effectiveness of that strategy is yet to be seen, but in the near term, it has endeared the hardest of hard-core gamers to the brand.
What's next: If the brand is to resonate with the entire community, a lot more must be done to address that need. Appealing to the tip of the pyramid is certainly a solid initial strategy, but moving down the graph means some very serious changes in approach going forward. The Xperia in particular doesn't have mind share with gamers who, very clearly, think iOS first, Android second, Nintendo third, and everything else after (really bad news for Nintendo of North America, which used to own the category). I'd advise to take a step back and reexamine who the target audience is, then use the products and partnerships to realign accordingly.
Castrol has had a long and (mostly) successful relationship with the video game business via in-game advertising and the promotion of cheat codes. The brand is creative and willing to roll up its sleeves to find the right fit, beginning with "LA Rush" in 2005 and continuing on to EA's "Need for Speed" franchise. Selling motor oil to gamers is a very different prospect than chips or soda, so you have to give the brand that much more respect for its integrations. In-game ads, as we've discussed, are questionable in terms of value, as are cheat codes -- but of a large buy, those things can also often be negotiated in as value-add. Castrol has also done on-pack pieces in the channel, which I commend, but in 2012, digital solutions would be more cost-effective and more likely to generate lift. But when the brand and MS3 parted ways, its gaming initiatives came to a screeching halt.
What's next: Castrol USA doesn't mention gaming at all on its site. Castrol India however, has an entire section dedicated to it. I suggest that the brand share the assets! Games are sticky and generate traffic and interest. If compelling enough, it may even go viral. There are a few firms that specialize in working with game developers on behalf of agencies and brands to accomplish precisely this. If you're interested, just leave a note in the comments and I'm sure the company will reach out. Gamers like games, as do the vast majority of consumers. Bring the Mountain to Moses, as they say. Reach out to Team Detroit and Ford and make some "bad asp" downloadable content together (see license plate in the image above).
Hal Halpin is President of Entertainment Consumers Association.
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