Video games can help or hurt a brand

Over the past few years, advertisers have begun to include video games in their overall marketing strategy.

Over the past few years, advertisers have begun to include video games in their overall marketing strategy. Games offer brands a unique way to be the entertainment – not just sponsor it. The vast potential of games lies in their ability to tell stories, linking a brand's image with game play and blurring the lines between product and entertainment.

With the average American adult consuming more than 2,000 ads per day, brands must become more engaging and entertaining than ever to resonate with the consumer, and they must provide something of value in exchange for consumers' attention. According to NPD Group's 2008 Online Gaming report, 72% of US consumers reported playing games of one type or another. Games have become far too pervasive for marketers and advertisers to ignore. However, games need to be implemented strategically. As with any marketing initiative, objectives and performance expectations need to be considered upfront. Below are four points to consider when creating a branded game:

Games are a reflection of your brand; they should be original as well as entertaining.

Games can help brands gain valuable consumer feedback.

Games work best as a component of an integrated campaign.

Custom and unique games can encourage repeat play.

According to a 2008 study from Parks and Associates, 34% of US Internet users play online games weekly. In a 2007 online survey, Forrester Research reported that 62% of online consumers play video games each month, while only 11% of marketers employ game-based initiatives. Clearly, there is an untapped opportunity here.

In 2006, Burger King teamed up with Microsoft Xbox to extend the role of their popular mascot, “The King,” by building three video games. Burger King sold 3.2 million copies during the last six weeks of the year, making it the best-selling video game of the holiday season, increasing traffic and sales because the game was available exclusively in their restaurants. Burger King reported a 40% spike in quarterly profits, which CEO John Chidsey attributed to these Xbox games.

While a strategically implemented game can be beneficial, a poorly executed game can be equally damaging. For example, during the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain launched a game called Pork Invaders, based on Space Invaders. It was created to illustrate McCain's tough stance on pork barrel spending. The game was designed to reach younger voters, but failed to convey or explain its message.

Video games can provide a rich reward when developed with the consumer in mind. However, games that lack a clearly identified target audience, specific message, and content of interest to players can reflect negatively on the brand.

Brands that choose to engage consumers in the virtual world must do so thoughtfully. Consumers are involved in a dialogue and brands must participate. Take risks, be original, and, most of all, entertain.

Stephen Baer is managing partner at The Game Agency.

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