Brand Games: Are You Ready to Play?

While our attention has been focused on advertising and marketing opportunities on the Internet, a promising new marketing medium has crept up behind us. It’s a medium that’s likely to become one of the top-five ranked electronic channels, along with mobile communication, interactive TV, Internet advertising, and email marketing.

I’m talking about electronic games, which, over the past five years, have taken off in a big way. Yet their enormous potential as advertising channels has so far been tapped only in a limited way — until recently.

Did you know that that one of the key reasons for energy drink Red Bull‘s dramatic success was its appearance in the original PlayStation? After a heavy, intense game, a commercial for Red Bull would appear in almost a product placement context, teasing the player to learn more about this new drink. Needless to say, Red Bull is today the leader in its category, an achievement reached in just three years.

The worldwide games industry, including everything from arcades and game consoles to PC games, set-top box games, and cell phone games, is now a $49.9 billion business. But, hold your horses! It’s expected to grow by 71 percent, to $85.7 billion by 2006, according to Informa Media Group in the United Kingdom. Experts predict that worldwide console sales will double in the next five years to a total of 200 million units, thanks to this fall’s new products from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. And, perhaps not surprisingly, these sales will be to an audience composed of intensely interested participants, an audience which currently includes 25 percent of the total online U.S. audience. This group spends five or more hours per week playing online games, according to a recent IDG study.

So, a new and attractive marketing channel has been added to the media repertoire. When Nicholas Negroponte predicted some years ago that the revenue model for games would not be a fixed price per game but a flexible price that changed according to the “ammunition” you decided to “purchase” during the game, he was on the right track. We’re going to see featured in games not only sponsor awards but also heavy product placement, even product placement strategies that allow players to choose their favorite brands — to equip themselves with a well-known car brand, select their preferred sports shoes, and consume a favored energy drink before commencing a battle.

But it doesn’t stop there. Remember, we’re talking about an interactive medium. Passive advertising won’t cut the mustard for your brand in this environment. You’ll need to harness attention for your brand by leveraging the interactivity of the games: implanting the product in the story, introducing it as part of the action, and generating the synergy between context and brand that’s so difficult to achieve via other media channels.

So, before it’s too late, tell me how your brand will articulate its message and establish its tone of voice in a marketplace where more than 200 million people are already spending more than five hours a day online — honing their skills and readying themselves for the challenge of your brand message.

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