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Games Pop Up in Ads

  |  July 17, 2003   |  Comments

Pop-up games as advertising vehicles.

Working in online advertising, you probably keep an eye on industry trends, evaluate new methods of marketing and ad formats, and examine other advertisers' results. Surveying industry inclinations is a particularly useful practice for media buyers, who rely on such data when devising advertising strategies and media plans.

One recent trend you may have noticed is the emergence of pop-up ads. Not the commonplace pop-ups you're used to, but those that feature interactive games. Visit NYTimes.com and you're bound to encounter some from such infamous pop-up advertisers as Orbitz and Cheap Tickets. The ads generally have users spiking a virtual volleyball, practicing their aim in a shooting gallery, or trying their skills at virtual golf.

As with other interactive ad formats' objectives, game pop-ups' primary purpose is to engage users with the advertiser's brand, build interest in the advertised product, and ultimately convert users into paying customers. The concept is similar to that of online contests, which endeavor to promote consumer interaction and recruit loyal customers.

That these ads are currently cropping up everywhere is a testament to how fast a successful Internet concept can spread within the advertising industry. One can draw a parallel between game-oriented ads and sites wholly dedicated to online games. Those sites have been appealing to Internet users for years and continue to engage audiences. It's little wonder then advertisers are experimenting with a similar approach.

Just how popular are online gaming sites? According to a Nielsen//NetRatings study, "Interactive online gaming is one of the most popular entertainment categories in the US." Online gaming sites boasted over 28 million visitors in the U.S. during April 2002 alone. And, no, these numbers don't just apply to gambling sites. The top gaming sites listed in the report feature game-show style games, skill-testing games, even games for kids (research indicates such sites are growing in popularity as more U.S. Internet users have access to broadband.)

Gaming ads may seem like a great idea in theory, but some media buyers aren't so easily convinced. Some marketers don't see the connection between encouraging users to score in a virtual hockey game and the low airfare the ad promotes. This faction needs some positive data before considering the ads.

To get an idea of the ads' potential to perform, I spoke with Matthew Shapiro of Dreamam Ltd.. Dreamam is an Israel-based advertising technology company that develops gaming pop-ups and related creative concepts for its clients. According to Shapiro, gaming ads are indeed effective at engaging Internet users. No surprise, given the previous statistics on gaming sites. The average CTR on targeted gaming pop-ups created by Dreamam is 12 percent, with some ads reaching CTRs as high as 15 percent. Untargeted or run-of-network placements generally produce CTRs around 4 percent.

CTRs aren't everything, as we all know by now. What's really noteworthy is these ads produce good conversion rates, those coveted numbers that can make or break an ad campaign. Dreamam measured the conversion rates for its ads when delivered as exit pop-ups; the numbers were as high as 5 percent (conversion rates vary based on the offer and what actually constitutes the conversion).

Certainly any ad format can produce high conversion rates if the offer is good enough and the creative is effective. But given these games are generally delivered in pop-ups, a format notorious for producing high CTRs and low conversions, these statistics are a reassuring start.

This sudden, overwhelming surge of interactive gaming ads is somewhat reminiscent of the pop-up revolution we experienced a few years ago. Will these new ads be subject to the same aggressive scrutiny? Meantime, getting all the stats we can before employing new technology and ad formats ourselves is a good idea. If you've already tested online gaming pop-ups, email me your results -- good or bad -- to share with other marketers.

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Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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