From time to time, I come across media-placement ideas that are just so completely cool that I feel like sharing them with ClickZ readers to get their take on them. This column is my first to focus on an “out of the box” ad opportunity, and it certainly won’t be the last. As wireless devices, broadband Internet access, and other movements carry us further away from the run-of-the-mill banner ad campaign, I’ll share with you some of the more compelling ideas to cross my desk.
I remember the first time someone approached me about advertising in a video game. The folks from MPlayer, a community of competitive online gamers, were looking for sponsors to place advertising on the back of virtual playing cards. Online gamers used the cards to compete in virtual spades, hearts and poker tournaments. An ad on the back of the cards would give an advertiser a persistent branding message and create an association between the advertiser’s brand and online gaming.
Advertising within video games was a great idea back then, and it still is today. A company called Online Athletes is on the bleeding edge of video-game advertising (quite literally). They’ve set up some of the best multiplayer gaming servers on the Internet in order to capture the gaming audience. I’ll explain the advertising opportunity, but first I’ll give you a little background…
Who remembers when Doom first came out? Recognized as the father of first-person 3D shoot-em-up games, Doom tapped into a huge audience of PC gamers with its lifelike environments. Shareware versions of Doom ended up on corporate LANs all over the place, as the game made it possible for users to set up multiplayer contests across a network with very little effort. Personally, I remember killing time at Young & Rubicam by playing LAN games after hours with several coworkers. It relieved job-related stress quite nicely.
Since then, online multiplayer gaming has come a long way. First-person shooter games like Quake 3 Arena, Half-Life, Tribes, and Unreal Tournament can be played across the Internet, and large communities of Internet players have cropped up all over the place. These communities not only play games competitively against one another, but they also check their statistics frequently and post their own modifications that they’ve made to the the games’ coding.
Clearly, we are witnessing the development of a series of virtual communities with some very important characteristics:
- Power users (One must possess a high-end machine in order to participate.)
- High propensity toward broadband connections (Most players access multiplayer gaming via corporate bandwidth or through DSL or cable connections from home.)
- Dedicated audience (One must play several hours per week in order to be any good at these games. More on this later.)
I can think of several advertising clients for which this type of audience is very desirable. And the folks at Online Athletes have developed some really great ways in which to reach their users:
- Billboard ad space within the games. Ads appear within the virtual environment within the game.
- Branded icons. A “health power-up” within a game of Quake 3 could be graphically represented as a can of Coca Cola. Online Athletes has also developed a sort of “cash rewards” program in which gamers can pick up branded coins within the games and redeem them at your web site for discounts or free merchandise and such.
- Sponsored teams. Has your company ever sponsored a slow-pitch softball team or something similar? Sponsor a Quake 3 team, and your team members will wear your company’s logo on their jerseys while in competition.
The community of online gamers is very Internet-savvy and dedicated. Online Athletes claims an average play time of 19 hours per week! Talk about dedicated… that’s seven hours per day for both weekend days, plus one hour per day during the week! That’s stickier than a salt-water-taffy factory.
Opportunities like this aren’t for everyone, but if brand awareness, association, and reaching an audience of power users are goals for your upcoming campaign, Online Athletes can put together a compelling program for you. No, the ads don’t click through to your web site, but sponsorship of a dedicated audience’s playground will likely do some great things for your brand.
In closing, I’d like to state for the record that I am now officially addicted to Quake 3 and that my online character, “Bad MoFo,” will accept challenges from any of you online marketing types that harbor similar addictions.