Effective consumer outreach proves to be fun and games

Online games targeting a more casual participant are attracting a wider audience, including more women, due in part to ease of play, the free or low cost, and overall popularity of video games.

Online games targeting a more casual participant are attracting a wider audience, including more women, due in part to ease of play, the free or low cost, and overall popularity of video games. Given that trend, PR and marketing pros are leveraging such games to better connect with consumers.

“Gaming is a key mechanism that works with the overall strategy to help drive awareness and deepen consumer engagement,” says Heather Mitchell, Unilever's PR communications manager.

Unilever's Axe recently incorporated the game Pogo Xtreme as part of an education campaign that teaches guys how to use a “double pits to chesty” move to apply its deodorant body spray.

“Based on consumer insights, we know that gaming is a big part of our guys' world,” Mitchell notes in an e-mail to PRWeek. She adds that Unilever sees gaming as a still-growing trend.

Intel, which recently created a PC version of Atari's Ghostbusters, used a branded Facebook game as part of the marketing campaign surrounding the game, which is part of Intel's product line.

“It's an interesting way to reach a new audience, but also get people to spend a little more time getting those messages,” says Erik Cubbage, software marketing manager for Intel. Intel worked with AOR Burson-Marsteller and The Game Agency (TGA), which says it is seeing more companies interested in casual games as part of PR or marketing campaigns.

“There are still companies licensing pre-designed games and slapping their logos on them, but they are not finding success be-cause there is nothing unique,” says Stephen Baer, managing partner of TGA. Instead, he says, success comes when games are original and incorporate a brand or product in a relevant and unique way.

Tone Skin Care, part of the Dial Corporation, took part in a Facebook fashion game called What To Wear as part of the PR campaign around the launch of its Tone Antioxidant Blueberry Body Wash. It gave the brand a unique way to reach out to its target: 18- to 35-year-old women, says Sami Myohanen, brand manager for Tone, which works with AOR Marina Maher Communications.

“When this opportunity came up, it just seemed like a natural fit, as we've seen this age group interacting with online games and social media,” he adds.

What to Wear was created by Plus Media and Large Animal Games, which both report a rise in companies asking about this tactic for PR efforts. Other firms have also seen that shift.

“There is definitely an increased appetite and inquiring to see how online original gaming can be included within the PR mix,” says Jennie Kong, digital and games consultant for Atomic PR.

“It's another example of how the marketing mix is breaking down,” adds Jud Branam, MD of MS&L Digital. “You would have thought of programming something like a game as maybe an interactive agency piece, but that is becoming more common ground for everybody.”

There is still debate about where gaming falls within the marketing mix. It would appear that PR has an edge, as games allow for consumer interaction, storytelling, and building community – all areas where PR takes the lead.

“I definitely see that falling more to PR,” says Victoria Lang, co-president of Plus Media. She adds that digital PR pros are also a necessary part of these campaigns.

“If you're looking to create an original online game specifically for a client or company,” Kong adds, “the digital team is pretty much integral to working with the PR team.”

INDUSTRIES USING ONLINE GAMES

Healthcare
Companies such as Humana, Novartis, and Teva have all introduced online games as ways to educate consumers about well-being and train employees

Automotive
Car companies like Lexus and GM have used online games to promote driving safety, showcase products, and teach consumers about car parts

Video games
Its target audience is already into gaming, so companies like EA Sports use free online games to promote their NASCAR and golfing games

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