Gaming as content (and some brands that got the hang of it)

By Carla Faria

Today’s gamer couldn’t be more different. Where once every office had its own real-life version of Tim from Spaced, now you’re the odd one out if you’re not, at some level, a gamer. Put it like this, there’s a physio somewhere in the wilds of West London who knows my elbow and wrist very well.

The reasons for the rise of gaming and its evolution from nerdy sub-culture to valid pastime are a bit heavy to be going into now, but its worth mentioning a couple of the background issues for those of you willing to make the effort. First up, Nintendo made gaming a mainstream activity. Gaming consoles had been around for decades, normally hidden next to a pile of dirty washing and who knows what else in teenage male bedrooms. But it wasn’t until Nintendo launched the Wii, that consoles left the bedrooms and found their way into families’ front rooms. This was a defining moment in gaming – both as an industry, and as a pastime. Gaming consoles were now under mum’s jurisdiction, and Nintendo’s ad campaign positioned playing the Wii as the ultimate family bonding experience.

This isn’t the only reason gaming was made cool – but the rise of the Wii serves as a good example of the macro trends at work. At the same time that mums became the gaming gatekeepers at home, Facebook games became the new way to expand and interact with your network. As we sent complete strangers pigs as gifts on Farmville, we also started to kill time in lunch-breaks with Scrabble (or Scramble). Brands were quick to cotton on to this trend – and it wasn’t just the usual suspects like Coke and McDonald’s; Clarins launched a game aimed women which involved managing a successful beauty salon, Aldo created the brilliant ‘Aldo Shoe Paradise’ and Reckitt Benkiser even launched a game as part of its graduate recruitment drive.

The third ingredient in this gaming mix is, of course, mobile. After the smartphone revolution, it was about the app, then the branded app. The iPhone has only been around for about five years, but already my train journey pre-Scramble is a bit of a haze. From the dark days of Snake (or Brick Breaker if you were a BlackBerry user), gaming has achieved ubiquity across sex, age, class and culture.

This appetite for gaming creates greater scope for brands in all their online advertising. Videos in banner advertising used to be quite sexy, now it’s standard practice, and where brands can really drive user engagement is by getting viewers to play. When viewers become players, they are by definition more engaged. And that’s where the money is.

The trick then becomes finding the right brand fit. A game where you have to shoot aliens in space is never going to sit well with a baby brand like Johnson & Johnson but if you turn the aliens into yellow bath ducks, and instead of shooting them in space you now catch them at bath time, you’ve instantly created a game suitable for the brand, and the intended audience.

Beyond the brand, games can also be designed to fit a campaign. Clinique’s online campaign to promote its Chubby stick lip balm took the form of a data capture exercise, driven by a guessing game in which the player had to rotate a large jar full of sweets and count the total number of Chubby sticks buried inside. The art direction fitted completely with the Clinique brand, and the candy theme was linked to a ‘sweet treats’ promotion taking place in Clinique’s online store.

The key to an effective game deployment is to work out the key outcomes you would like for participants. Once you have this list, you can then devise a game structure that will help bring about these outcomes. Some of our recent games at Say Media* are designed to highlight product properties, while others are more about creating an engaging brand experience, before delivering a call-to-action.

Educate and entertain: Johnson & Johnson

The Johnson’s Baby Bedtime bath ad was positioned as fun test for parents to work out how tired (or ‘babylagged’) they were, to promote the sleep-encouraging properties of the bedtime bath product. The first game was a reaction test, in which the player had to click on as many bath ducks as possible in 30 seconds, as they appeared and disappeared among the bubbles. Other challenges included a puzzle game that involved fitting toys into a drawer, and memory challenge game. The player’s performance was turned into a ‘Babylagged’ score.

This campaign was not designed with dominant sales messages. At the completion of the game, players were invited to get more information, which directed them to the Johnson & Johnson baby advice site.

CAMPAIGN STATS: Full results for this campaign are confidential, but tired parents still found the time to spend playing this Johnson & Johnson campaign. As a result, Babylagged clocked up the longest average dwell/time spent scores (more than double) out of the three campaigns listed here.

Carrot and capture: Sony Xperia

To promote the Sony Xperia-T range handset, Say’s ad unit contained a short video inviting viewers to sign-up for Face Off, a driving game in which viewers could compete with other drivers, live. Viewers of the banners clicked through to the site, and registered their personal details to gain access to the game.

CAMPAIGN STATS: The Face Off campaign comfortably raced past the 2% CTS benchmark, complimented by a very healthy video completion rate.

Engagement by environment: Virgin Media

Built around Virgin’s association with Olympic medallist Mo Farah, this ad unit was all about speed. The opening unit featured dynamic menu items that raced around a track, compelling the viewer to chase them to investigate. This is a good example of a gaming mechanic employed to drive engagement. Once successful, the viewer was rewarded with more Virgin content.

This unit also came with a more traditional arcade style game, in which the player raced Mo Farah, reminiscent of the famous mid-80s game, Track & Field which involved bashing alternate buttons on the keyboard furiously to make your athlete run faster.

CAMPAIGN STATS: Virgin’s sport-themed game finished well ahead of the 2% CTS benchmark, with the game element specifically acting as the second highest (28.2%) out of 11 CTS routes behind the header logo.

These case studies show that gaming, and the mechanics of games, are the new creative solution du jour. The term used by those in the know is ‘gamification’, or more painfully, ‘advergaming’, but in truth it’s simply another content solution, and advertisers should consider it as an option, not a mandatory exercise.

Slapping a game into an ad isn’t necessarily going to deliver results. The idea of a brand story is just as important in this respect as it has ever been – the difference here is that by integrating a gaming element, you’re inviting consumers to play an active role in that particular chapter. If consumers are going to take the time to play it, the brand has an obligation to make sure it delivers a meaningful experience.

*Say Media accepts no responsibility for any keyboards or touch-screens damaged in the heat of the moment when you play any of our games!

About the author

Carla Faria is Solutions Director, Say Media

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