Playing the Brand Game

If I glanced through your media plan, I’m sure I’d find it contains the usual conventional media options. TV and radio ads, Web banners, print ads, and outdoor advertising. We’ve all gone with these options for years. Decades, in fact. We know we won’t be fired for using them, just as an IT guy won’t be fired for installing an IBM solution.

But this security is fast disappearing. One day, you will be fired for stubbornly adhering to the old options.

Today, the computer game market is generating revenue double that of the film industry. ACNielsen predicts within just four years, the film industry will be only one third the size of the computer game market. Where is Hollywood’s enormous power headed? Online? If it is, where are you in that scenario?

It’s fascinating to reflect on the fact almost every medium has a price for inventory. With a click, you can find that price on search engines. Media prices are more or less fixed and understood. Except for one channel: computer games.

Quick, tell me the price of placing a commercial message in a computer game. I’m sure you haven’t a clue. Is it $1 per user? A million up front? One cent per second? Who knows. No fixed model exists, and no media agency really specializes in booking game space. This is virgin territory for brand-builders. This often means low prices.

Let’s do the math. Research in my latest book, “BRANDchild,” shows that kids, for better or worse, spend almost the same amount of time playing computer games as they do watching TV. These numbers will soon trend away from one another as games lead the way kids allocate their time. The really critical difference? Your TV spot probably secures some 30 seconds with consumers. A computer game placement is likely to spend hours with them.

No wonder energy drink Red Bull claimed it secured its success because of its appearance in one of the first PlayStation games. “Want more energy?” was the message. I don’t have to tell you the answer.

If you belong to the gang inclined toward secure solutions, stop reading now. However, if you believe TV is no longer the one true path to brand success, you should already be considering opportunities in the wonderful world of computer games. Prices are still low in this unexplored territory. Results are high, as brand clutter is limited. And it’s all going full steam ahead.

The Sims Online from EA, one of the best-established game creators, no longer operates in a nonbranded world. In Sims games, players buy McDonald’s franchises and sell the branded food products, earning “simoleans,” the game’s currency. Eating the food also improves players’ standing in the game.

This builds brands through interaction. In the past, brands didn’t interact with customers, nor were they able to engage them in their philosophies. The relationship between brand and customer is set to change. Brands are learning that to create an engaged consumer, you must engage them. Surprise!

The potential for engagement in games is jump-starting a wave of brand movement. Brands are moving from passive relationships with consumers to relationships that demand constant interaction. These relationships require that brands adopt a role, play to it, and provide constant feedback to consumers.

There’s a new chapter in branding, and it’s digital. I hope you’re part of the story.

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