Don’t Forget the Fun Factor

Most business-to-business (B2B) email is serious. I don’t think I’ve ever written a funny one, except for one that featured a comedian as a conference’s keynote presenter.

But the truth is people, even mature, responsible adults, want to have fun.

That point was driven home to me when I attended an advergaming panel hosted by the New York American Marketing Association (NYAMA) and moderated by New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott. (If you ever get a chance to go to an NYAMA panel hosted by Elliott, go. He’s a hoot!)

“Advergaming” is the new term for combining advertising with gaming, the global phenomenon popular not only with kids playing Game Boys but with adults as well.

Some startling statistics gleaned from the panel discussion:

  • The average time spent with an advertising title is 110 hours, compared to the 20 hours typically spent watching football over a season. (And think of how many B2B ads run during a football game!) A recent Nielsen study showed a drop in TV viewership among men 18-34; one big reason is gaming.

  • When Microsoft’s Halo 2 launched recently, there was an epidemic of “Halo flu.” Kids took off from school, and workers stayed home from the office. Halo2 did $125 million its first weekend, outperforming the hit movie “The Incredibles,” which “only” raked in $70 million.
  • The largest gamer demographic is women 35 years and older, who are also the largest group buying online games. Women generally play games online, while men play on consoles. Women like puzzles and mind-challenging games rather than the sports and futuristic “shoot ’em up” games favored by men.

Makes you look at gaming in a whole new light, huh? These adults are the same people you target by email. It stands to reason a little fun is in order.

For example, I just received an email from Staples featuring an online charity auction for celebrity-autographed staplers — signed by the likes of Paris Hilton, the Dixie Chicks, Donald Trump, and Ringo Starr. Staples must send me an email about every other day with serious benefits, like rebates and sales. Mostly I ignore them unless I’m actually ready to buy. This novel stapler promotion got me to open the email. Though I didn’t outbid the current $755 asking price for the Donald Trump stapler, it did give me a chuckle. It gave me a sense the Staples brand has a little more personality than I had otherwise considered.

The advergaming experts did say games work best with established brands that consumers know and trust already and that are associated with fun. But that leaves a lot of room for brands such as American Express, Zagat, and Travelocity, all which cater to the B2B audience. Also, a lot of high-tech products would benefit from using games to attract IT folks.

Some advergaming options available to marketers:

  • Create your own game on your Web site, and promote it via email and banner ads. A really great game can create word-of-mouth marketing for a brand.

  • Use established games. Create promotions around them, like the McDonald’s Monopoly contest that gave players a chance to win a downloadable online game.
  • Work with gaming publishers (in the early stage of game development) on placing your brand in the game itself. Interestingly, 70 percent of gamers find realistic brands make the game more authentic. Compare that to movie and TV audiences who often complain about overt product placements.
  • Advertise your product on game sites, such as AOL, Yahoo, or Pogo.
  • Sponsor games on mobile phones. Provide users with a free game, but make sure they know you’re sponsoring the download.

The most important thing according to gaming experts is advertising should never detract from game play. If it does, you’ll only turn off the audience.

Investigate this line of thought, because gaming is only getting bigger. In Korea, guys take their girlfriends to gaming cafés on dates — where they play Internet games against each other and other players around the country.

In four to six years, the technology will allow gamers to use networked devices. Games will be broadcast and played in real time; they’ll also be more episodic (allowing for easier product placement.)

In the near future, office talk on Monday morning will still be about the game over the weekend, but it’ll be a very different game than those broadcast on TV. It’ll be the one everyone actually played in — virtually.

If your B2B email efforts have reader fatigue, spice them up with a little fun. Your readers will thank you for giving them a break in their day — and they may open more of your future email messages.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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