Behavioral Game Plan

This past month, I did three things worth mentioning (maybe one not worth mentioning). And of those three, at least two will affect how I go about my daily life.

Anyway, the one not worth mentioning was having attended (yet another) wedding. I believe this was my fourth of the year and, hopefully, the last.

The two things worth mentioning: First, I adopted a cat, which was something I’d been looking forward to for a while. Second, I managed to find and unpack my PlayStation 2. To the disbelief of many of my friends, my PlayStation 2 actually sat packed away in a box, forgotten and neglected, for three months. As most young males and some not-so-young males will tell you, gaming in general is an obsession. Though I can’t profess having an actual obsession, I will say I’ve often played for hours on end.

Gaming is also a truly major industry. A hot new game can gross more than a major Hollywood movie. Case in point: The release of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” is expected to sell around 5 million copies in the first week. The expected first week’s gross is somewhere in the $250 million ballpark. Considering the very high youth market consumption of gaming and the Internet, it’s no surprise that TV consumption by those ages 18-34 has dropped by around 12 percent.

So what does this have to do with behavioral targeting?

Well, if you haven’t heard, Massive Inc. recently announced it’s launching a videogame advertising network. Ads will be served during game play through publisher partners’ games that are connected to the Internet.

The benefits currently being touted are ones that focus on reach and frequency, as well as quick, cumulative reach; campaign flexibility; tracking; and user interaction and engagement. In other words, many of the same things we point to in online advertising when speaking with clients who are still unfamiliar with what online advertising can offer.

Yet the question remains: Can behavioral targeting occur within videogames? Yes. In some games, such as The Sims, advertisers can target users based on their virtual behavior. Though this may seem a little strange, the truth is people play simulation games because they provide an outlet to another world. The ability to control daily events, as well as many mundane activities we all must go through in a community environment, is something many people enjoy.

Thus, if a virtual player is looking for a car, automotive ads can be served up in real time. The same can apply to music, travel destinations, and much more. Just because it’s happening in the virtual world doesn’t mean it won’t affect what a consumer thinks in the real world. In many ways, games such as The Sims are an extension of consumer interests we would normally see on the type of Web sites those consumers visit.

Sports games are another example. Ads could be served based on a player’s favorite team or player. If a player chooses the Green Bay Packers in an online football game, NFL ads could focus on Green Bay jerseys, helmets, or a particular player, such as Brett Favre. In a golf game, ads could be synched up to be served when Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson are about to tee up. It could be a Buick ad in which Tiger is featured prominently or for particular brand of golf clubs. Better yet, if a player chooses one golf course over another, airline ads featuring a fare sale to that particular location could be served to the player.

Videogames, with built-in advertising opportunities, are becoming ever more prominent in consumers’ daily lives. It will be interesting to see whether advertisers will target consumers based on the behavioral information coming from a virtual world instead of the real one.

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