The Optimal Media Plan

When assessing the value of video games in the media mix, it’s important to establish a tactical road map for our game initiatives. Today, I’ll lay out a recommended framework for reaching gamers through all touch points. If executed properly, this framework can yield strong ROI (define) on game advertising spends regardless of target audience, game selection, and budget. The optimal media plan adheres to the following baseline checklist:

Target Audience

It’s easy to be swept into the big-title hype and to be drawn to games that may not be in line with our client’s or brand’s goals. Media planning for games should always seek to identify and reach the target audience our products and services seek. It’s important to avoid planning against major releases because of their potential audience size without consideration for whether they deliver the demographics and psychographics of our core target consumer.

Game Selection

Once our target audience has been identified, we can select the appropriate game vehicles to deliver this audience. Adequate consideration should be given to:

  • Historical and projected audience composition of considered titles.

  • Timing of release.
  • Messaging opportunities.
  • Platform. Is this an online game, console, something else?
  • Barriers to entry. Are in-game ads appropriate, out of place?

In-Game Ads

Advertising in the actual game experience can be a very powerful way to connect with our target audience. As the game industry and major titles continue to mature into strong media platforms with integrated advertising, the likelihood that titles we are considering will offer in-game advertising with industry-standard ad formats and measurement increases every day. Companies like IGA are quickly securing publisher and game title contracts to ensure that major releases, delivering various media-buying demographics, are advertising-enabled.

If the titles we have selected aren’t ad enabled, perhaps the right price will make them so. If not, a company like IGA can assist in identifying similar ad-enabled games that deliver our target audience.

Around-Game Ads

Getting in the game isn’t only about the in-game ads. Arguably, the around-game experience can deliver a more actionable and measurable addition to the plan. Advertising around the game also lends our media plan an appreciative, captive audience.

Two very effective examples of around-game messaging are lobby-system sponsoring of rooms and game loading or updating ads. Through these placements, we can reach audiences that aren’t consumed by the game experience and are fertile ground for our message. For example, we can offer giveaways within a specific game room, named after our brand and available from the root lobbying system. For gamers to enter and be eligible for prizes, they must be willing to provide their information and answer survey questions.

Taking this concept a step further, we can promote this room and associated giveaways through game loading and updating ads. With this addition, we educate consumers about the enhancements our brand brings to the experience when they are captive, bored, and open to anything that will fill the downtime.

Online

I’m surprised by the lack of cohesive game initiatives that employ in-game, around-game, and online in unison. The complementary nature of these media platforms and the exponential reach afforded through enhancing an in-game effort with interconnected online extensions is too powerful to overlook. Additionally, as more major titles are released as online ad-powered free games, this interconnection will continue to strengthen. Consider the following example.

We decide that Quake Live will deliver our target audience. We have negotiated and contracted a significant presence in-game through hologram ad units. We have also contracted a sponsored lobby room, with giveaways and game-loading promo units. At the moment, we have a strong plan with excellent reach and frequency among the player base. Yet what about the gamers who are interested but not playing the game? How about the gamers who may have lapsed since the last “Quake” release and aren’t even aware of Quake Live? We can address these questions with game-specific online content offerings, applications, and widgets.

We now decide that we will develop a Quake Live video widget. The widget will showcase Quake game trailers, user-captured and -uploaded video, and user-generated game films that are created using Quake.

To extend the reach of our media plan, our widget will be available at a central location on the Web and promoted and available on Quake Web pages within game media properties (GameSpot, IGN, etc.). Additionally, we will distribute our widget through social networks.

This seemingly simple addition to the plan affords our buy an incredible, low-cost growth factor. It also provides us with:

  • Data capture and standard online measurement

  • Reach of lapsed Quake gamers and interested but not active players
  • Clutter-busting content and ad integrations within game communities
  • A vehicle for driving interest through contests

Event

Meeting, greeting, capturing information and interest, even selling products and services directly to the target audience can be accomplished through a presence at relevant events.

Many titles have LAN parties that give players an opportunity to connect with like-minded players and compete at central locations. Signage, underwritten tournaments, and giveaways at events are logical outgrowths to our game media plan. They can be an effective real-world addition to our initiatives.

Look for established LAN parties, conferences, gaming-league events, and similar real-world programs that offer competitions, tournament, and expositions of selected titles. Executed properly, an event presence can motivate influential gamers to speak highly of brands, products, and services among their peers.

Broadcast

Unless there are planned, title-specific broadcast programs that tie to the game titles we have selected, I see very little need for broadcast in an effective game media plan.

Analysis

Because game media plans are still in their infancy, it is important to quantify and qualify our efforts through the use of media-effectiveness studies. For example, awareness, favorability, and intent to purchase can be measured through pre- and post-studies conducted by companies like Dynamic Logic.

Allocating a small percentage of budget to analysis can provide quantitative and qualitative findings that not only measure the effectiveness of our campaign pre- and post-exposure but also compare the impact the game initiative has had in relation to other, more established and understood strategies. For instance, the movement of the three aforementioned measurement criteria can be contrasted with the effect an SEM (define) buy is having on the same.

The game vertical must be planned as a cohesive effort that employs in-game, around-game, and online with opportunistic traditional media extensions. If we establish best practices for accomplishing this, we will accelerate the maturation of games as a media vehicle and benefit from the measurable success we achieve in the process. I hope you consider and test this framework as you move forward with game media plans and buys.

Thanks for you mindshare.

–KC

Join us for ClickZ Presents: Online Marketing Summit, September 25 at the Sheraton San Diego.

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