Advergaming has been around for years, but it’s never been more popular than right now—and for good reason. More and more, consumers congregate online for shopping, research and entertainment purposes. While tactics such as banner ads provide an opportunity to target online, they fail to engage consumers the way advergames can.
“If you can engage somebody from five to 10 minutes, that’s a huge feat,” says Dan Ferguson, founder and vice president of interactive services of Blockdot, a Dallas-based interactive entertainment and advergaming technologies studio. “But through game play, especially effective game play, we’ve seen people who can spend 45 minutes to an hour in one instance playing a game and then getting that same person to come back five to 10 times.” The longer people play, Ferguson adds, the more it impacts brand recognition and purchase intent.
Jessica Rovello, president of New York-based advergaming provider Arkadium, agrees. “With traditional online advertising like banner buys or even video ads, you’re not really entirely sure if people are looking at it or paying attention to it,” she says. “With advergaming, whether it be an ad shown before your game or your brand integrated into a game, you know that people are concentrating on your brand message because they’re concentrating on the game.”
Is Advergaming Right for You?
A common misnomer, according to Rovello, is that advergames only appeal to youths and 18- to 25-year-old males, which is not the case. “Sometimes people … think games, and they think youth—action or shooting games, but that’s not the full spectrum,” she emphasizes. “One of our most popular games is solitaire … games targeted at older audiences.”
The truth is advergaming works for just about any marketer. In fact, both Rovello and Ferguson say they’ve yet to find a brand that it’s not appropriate for. Arkadium and Blockdot have done games for companies from American Airlines and Universal Pictures to feminine hygiene products manufacturers and pharmaceutical firms. The key is “to be smart about integrating your brand into the game,” says Rovello. “It sounds obvious, but even if you know that sudoku is, say, the most popular game online right now and you’ve got a car company, it maybe doesn’t make sense to do that. It’s got to make sense with your brand.”
One of the latest trends, says Ferguson, is moving advergames away from single-player experiences toward multiplayer, community-based platforms. “It used to be an advergame was a single instance … People play the game, and the experience was over. Now, the games are becoming a much larger experience where there’s lobbies, there’s chat, there’s a longer experience by playing through multiplayer,” he says. “… Companies are now building a community around it. So the more I play, the more achievements I’m unlocking … I now can display what I’ve earned; I can now post my scores to scoreboards so people can see how I’m competing. So it’s not just a five- or 10-minute experience now; it’s something that lasts over several months, and people spend hours and hours involved with the brand.”
The rise of social media also has made advergaming more effective. By integrating a game into social platforms like Facebook and MySpace, it allows users to spread the games virally and direct traffic to the marketer’s site. That goes for mobile devices as well. Ferguson says Blockdot has been “doing a lot of iPhone advergames … building an online game, then building an iPhone component so it makes for a more comprehensive piece.”
Best Practices and Opportunities
Rovello and Ferguson say Internet users don’t mind seeing advertising messages in games. They’re smart and understand that there’s a value exchange when they take time in a game. With that in mind, Ferguson says subtlety goes a long way; a game doesn’t have to hit players over the head with the brand message. Here are some more best practices he suggests:
- Find a balance between effective advertising and marketing and effective game play. The game can’t simply be an ad, but it does have to have a marketing component to it.
- Understand how to virally spread your game. Allow people to place the game on third-party sites, and give the user the tools in order to do that. “Don’t just put the game buried deep within your site and expect people to come and hang out.”
- Add scoreboard systems, and create a deeper experience.
- Find ways to reuse games. “Realize that after that campaign’s over, you still have an entertaining piece of content and that you shouldn’t just toss it away,” adds Ferguson. “… That’s probably the biggest mistake that people make: They build an advergame thinking of it as an ad unit, and when the flight is over they take it down, yet people still desire it.” That’s why Blockdot runs a gaming portal, Kewlbox.com, that continues to run games even after the campaign is over. “We just may change the marketing message within the game, so that promotion may be over but the brand is still there.”
Entertaining games are strong because “you’re potentially associating your brand with something that people are doing for stress relief and fun, making for a positive brand association,” says Rovello. But Ferguson says there is also a tremendous opportunity for educational gaming, i.e., games that inform consumers on topics such as credit cards and finances.
He also says integrating iPhone, mobile and online developments to engage people on all those platforms with advergaming offers exciting opportunities, as well as Blockdot’s recent work with Microsoft on using games tied to the search engine Bing—"building games that help educate people on how to perform search queries,” he says.
The opportunities are plentiful for marketers—and effective. A game Blockdot designed for M&M’s provided a more than 90 percent clickthrough rate on challenges, and a Microsoft/Prilosec OTC game—a bunko dice game promoted on Microsoft’s game network—became the No. 1 multiplayer game on the network, generating more than 4.5 million game plays with an average user session of 46 minutes. Arkadium worked with Degree on a game where players had to enter their e-mail addresses to start, which is a commonly used tactic for effective lead generation.
“Generally, most of the game plays that we do, we always see double-digit type of game play experiences, 10 to 15 minutes on the lower end to up to an hour,” says Ferguson. “And we usually see two-thirds of the people come back to play more.”