McDonald's makes a play for global youth with new game

McDonald's on March 14 kicked off its media launch for alternate-reality Olympic-themed game, The Lost Ring (TLR), but the game was already in progress, with the company's involvement downplayed.

In the news
McDonald's on March 14 kicked off its media launch for alternate-reality Olympic-themed game, The Lost Ring (TLR), but the game was already in progress, with the company's involvement downplayed. Combining offline and online components, blogosphere buzz was initially generated by sending game clues via FedEx to 50 high-profile gamers February 28. The gamers were prompted to search the game's site, thelostring.com, where a miniscule McDonald's logo appears in the right-hand corner.

McDonald's teamed with the International Olympic Committee, interactive marketing firm AKQA, and TLR developer Jane McGonigal to sponsor the mystery game that tracks a fictional long-lost Olympic game. Clues also appear on social networking sites like YouTube and Flickr. It's discussed on several blogs and has its own dedicated wikis. Offline elements include gaming documents, or "artifacts," hidden in multiple global locations.

The game will continue to run in tandem with the actual Olympics. It is scheduled to end with the closing ceremony, but McDonald's is remaining coy about that fact, as well.

Why does it matter?
With minimal corporate branding, TLR reflects an attempt by McDonald's to connect with a hard-to-reach demographic.

"We're hoping to appeal to global youth, and gamers are a very important part of that culture," said Mary Dillon, McDonald's EVP and global CMO. "Part of the idea is to connect with them in a way that's very credible, authentic, and respectful."

McDonald's limited branding and constantly evolving content provide the corporation with a cache and coolness, said Greg Johnson, CMO at GGL Global Gaming.

"Typically, the gamer audience can be difficult to reach," he added. "This [game] might provide McDonald's with a database of names, but more importantly, start a dialogue, so that next time [it] wants to talk, gamers will listen."

Five facts:
1. According to Dillon, the number of visitors to the TLR site quadrupled from March 31 to April 1. The site showcases different characters and clues to the puzzle.

2. Seventy percent of the game's traffic is international, with 100 countries represented and gamer demographics of 25% European, 21% South American, 11% Asian, 6% Canadian, 4% Australian, and 3% other.

3. Approximately 1 million observers have watched trailers posted on video sites and displayed on ad units. There were 500,000 hits on YouTube.

4. Presently, 150,000 gamers have played TLR by seeking out clues and downloading content. Seven thousand are described as core gamers who visit the site, adding to both online tools, like Facebook applications, and wikis.

5. Approximately 100,000 references have been made to TLR on blogging sites worldwide, with gamers strategizing about how to solve the game.

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