Bob Salomone, digital manager for MediaVest, Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) digital agency of record, faced a tough challenge in promoting his client’s heartburn remedy Prilosec OTC. For years the drug’s online marketing support has focused on male-oriented sports institutions like the NFL and NASCAR, but it also wanted to reach women over 35.
The solution to his problem turned out to be Bunco.
Bunco is a dice game of chance with a predominantly female following. It’s not unusual for some women to hold Bunco parties where players bring not only the dice, but also drinks and food dishes to share. That made it a perfect sponsorship opportunity for a heartburn medicine, according to Salomone. To reach these women with the Prilosec brand, P&G has been providing recipes and information about the game on its Web site for over three years, and it sponsors the annual Prilosec OTC Bunco Championship in Las Vegas. Late last year Salomone and P&G decided to go a step further.
“Knowing that our target was increasingly online, and they have an affinity for casual games, we saw that as an opportunity for getting Prilosec involved with online gaming,” Salomone said.
To create an online casual game based on Bunco, MediaVest and P&G turned to Microsoft’s MSN Games and its partner Blockdot. One of the first challenges that confronted MSN and Blockdot, however, was the necessity for a level of communication between players that would simulate the social environment at real world Bunco parties, according to Shawn McMichael, director of sales and marketing Microsoft Games Advertising.
“From a gaming perspective we weren’t sure if this would translate to a casual game online because it’s such a social game in the real world,” said McMichael. “Playing a single person game of Bunco would have had a short shelf life.”
As a trial, the companies launched a standalone Bunco microsite with Prilosec OTC’s branding and purple background, banner ads and logos. To marry the casual game with the benefits of a social networking environment akin to the real world, the site allowed gamers to play one another, included a chat feature for players and a High Roller’s Club where members could also share their personal information including pictures and biographical information. The site also linked to charity challenges for breast cancer research and free samples of Prilosec OTC. It was then launched officially last December with links from the Prilosec Web site, and from MSN Games’ portal.
At the end of the three month trial, the response from players was so positive that all the companies involved decided to extend the availability of the game indefinitely and to migrate it to the MSN Games portal itself.
In the nearly 11 months that the site has been up, the Prilosec-sponsored Bunco game hub on MSN has registered 1.7 million unique visitors who played 4.5 million games, according to the company. The chat feature involved with the game was used 56 million times in that period. And Bunco players on the site are also staying longer than other casual gamers visiting the MSN Games portal. The average playing time is 46 minutes, which is almost six times as long as any other game, according to McMichael.
The engagement statistics and time spent on the site represent the most telling measure of success for Prilosec and P&G, according to Salomone.
“We have them for three quarters of an hour per visit — that sticks out to me,” Salomone said. “I remember logging on and seeing them talking about all the things you heard in a regular party, like what books they read to their kids or what they are cooking for their dinner. We always talked about making Prilosec a part of the conversation with these ladies.”
Part of Prilosec’s success can be chalked up to the understated branding on the game, according to MSN’s McMichael.
“Gamers are smart people,” he said. “We need to make brands authentic to gamers, to do so is to make it more relevant to them and engaging. Games and social networks are engaging, and marrying them together in a way that includes the brand is a home run.”
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