Monday, February 28, 2005

The future of gaming and marketing

Fortune recently had an article about Electronic Arts not getting their dues in the market...and you know what, it's about time someone called it out. I've been playing EA Games since the early 90's when I made the huge switch from Tecmo Bowl to Madden Football. If you did the same, you know how freakin cool it was to go run left/right and pass short/long to actually having a real playbook. Huge doesn't even begin to describe it. So with the hours I've spent in front of a tv playing EA's latest game, it doesn't surprise me that people are finally talking about gaming and marketing.

For my generation, video games are our tv, board game, card game, whatever...take your pick. With games like Madden, we played as our favorite football players instead of just pretending to be them. And I bet you'll find plenty of guys whose best friendships were forged over video games, be it Mario Brothers, Bond, Halo, Madden or any other. Games are a social network all in themselves. And hell, the proof is in the numbers. The video game industry pulled in more money last year the movie box office.

So the importance of gaming is pretty evident but what role does marketing have in gaming? Well it's a line that marketers need to tread lightly so that we don't screw it up. Essentially we (brand marketers) need to follow some simple guidelines:
  1. Only put your brand in place that adds value to the gameplay - For instance, Old Spice Deodorant has a long tradition with sports and football. In fact, they even have a product line named Red Zone. So it made total sense when they were in NCAA Football 2004 and had a feature called "Red Zone: When Performance Matters Most". The same holds true for the integration that Sony-Ericcson had in Ubisoft's Splinter Cell. The games that make the most sense are those set in today's world. Sport games like Madden are easy...same for "city-scape" games like The Sims or Grand Theft Auto (though not many brands are willing to take the risk to be associated with GTA and the controversy it offers).
  2. Work with game developers so you are more than just a pocketbook - Games cost a ton of money to produce these days so I could see studios turning to brands just for money. End of the day though, that isn't good for anyone. Think about how you can help the studio...what can you bring to the table? Well how about, an intimate knowledge of branding or a strong retail presence (ie shelf space) that studios could only dream about? What about some solid media support or killer consumer understanding? Let's figure out how we can both help each other and at the end of the day, sell more games AND more brand products.
  3. Be in games for the right reason...not because it is the "thing" - Think about your real reason for being in a game. Is it to drive awareness? Trial? Loyalty? Or are you hoping to build your brand's equity with a target consumer. Certain integrations can help with each of these but some are easier than others. Awareness will always be an easy one, but trial or loyatly? Well, think back to the Splinter Cell example above...I didn't have to go and buy a Sony Ericsson phone to try it out and see the features.
At the end of the day, marketers need to not ruin a good thing. Gaming can be an amazing branding tool but we need to be careful. Think of the right way to market...and follow EA's lead because they are already following Rule #1 and thinking about the right brand combinations.

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