How Marketers Miss the Mark With Gamers

Most people spent the Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family doing some couch-quarterbacking. From their living rooms, they second-guessed decisions made by real-life quarterbacks on the gridiron. I, however, spent my turkey day being a couch marketer. Now that I think of it, it wasn’t that much of a stretch from my normal day, except with more turkey and stuffing than usual. One consistent theme bothered me: traditional brands marketing within videogame environments with their general market messages.

While I understand the need for holistic marketing and limited production budgets, I can’t help but wonder how many ad dollars are lost because of this generic approach forced into such a singularly focused environment. The endemic brands (e.g., actual videogames and hardware) luckily make out easy because their general message doesn’t need to be modified for the gaming target. Unfortunately, nonendemic brands looking to reach gamers following the same rules will too often end up with the wrong message in the right environment. Last I checked, consumers don’t give partial credit. They actually treat game advertising as they do traditional advertising. They skip it.

As I perused console user interfaces, magazines, Web sites, and dynamic in-game advertising in between endless rounds of leftover green beans and mac and cheese, I encountered many examples of marketers missing the mark. Surprisingly, it wasn’t limited to one category. Without picking on any particular brands, I saw representatives from categories such as male grooming, beverage, and telecommunications with irrelevant messaging. A lot of brands aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity to begin a unique conversation with gamers.

With increased pressure on smaller budgets to work harder in today’s economy, these executions must not only show up in the intended consumer’s buffet of media choices but also break through the obvious clutter. The following lists a few recommendations to lift a brand message in the videogame space:

  • Align brand with valuable content. Gamers who spend time outside of playing games reviewing magazines and Web sites are looking for the latest and greatest content. The content can be related to early looks at upcoming blockbuster releases or tips on how to beat the final boss of the game they’ve spent 60 hours playing. Consumers actively seek this content out. Aligning your brand to it will show that you understand gamers and their needs. The more coveted the content is among consumers, the better results you will receive.
  • Be careful when using gamer language. While it may seem appropriate to swap out copy with a few key gamer words, use caution. If used incorrectly, inserting “n00b” into your message can have a more negative impact than leaving well enough alone. Gamers are quickly drawn to brands they feel understand them and are even quicker to slam those brands that don’t. As with any language, make sure you fully understand it before beginning conversations with the locals.
  • Humor always works. While humor tends to work across all forms of advertising, gamers aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves. Assuming the brand understands the gaming culture, gamers are open to executions that exaggerate tendencies in a humorous way. The key is not talk down to gamers but instead to speak as a member of the audience in a credible way. It doesn’t hurt if the brand also pokes a little fun at itself.
  • Advertising should be contextually relevant. It’s a no-brainer: ads must be relevant. I saw many examples of the ads being relevant to the brand or brand’s product, but that’s only half the equation. It’s hard to compete with advertising touting the upcoming game release consumers are counting down the days to pick up. Brands must find the sweet spot where the all-important brand message and relevant consumer message overlap. For example, gamers may be more interested in your telecommunication device if they knew it offered the widest variety of their favorite games instead of just knowing you have the best 3G network.

No doubt you will come up with a few examples that go against the idea of customizing a specific message for videogame environments. As I wrote this column, some came to mind; for example, as console providers move their devices to more of a media center, general messages may actually make sense depending on the context.

However, I challenge all marketers hoping to reach the gamer to consider these four tips in their next execution.

Wondering where the CMO column went? It’s been updated and reborn as Digital Marketing Trends by Gary Stein and Matt Story. Tell us what you think!

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