When “Advergame” Isn’t a Bad Word

Without fail, one of the first questions I’m asked by advertisers who are considering running their first video game program is: can you make a game for our brand? The question seems to make sense on the surface, but many brands have gone down the path of advergames to attain only mediocre to poor results. An advergame can be classified as using a video game to advertise a product or message. While most brands love the opportunity to provide consumers with an engaging interactive experience based solely on their product or marketing campaign, consumers don’t always see advergames as the best way to scratch their gaming itch unless certain elements are included.

Many marketers credit Burger King’s BK Gamer as being the first console video game created around a marketer’s assets, but it’s actually following in the footsteps of companies such as Coca-Cola and Domino’s. In what is believed to be the first ever advergame, developed nearly 30 years ago, Coca-Cola partnered with Atari to create Pepsi Invaders, which was a spoof on the popular Space Invaders game. The game designed for the Atari 2600 challenged gamers to shoot down the letters of Pepsi instead of aliens. The game wasn’t meant for consumers, as it was given to Coke executives along with an Atari system during a convention. However, one of the limited 125 copies sold for almost $2,000 on eBay a few years back.

In the early ’90s, Capcom launched a game based on Domino’s mascot, Noid, for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) called Yo Noid. Gamers attempt to save the world with a yo-yo and by out-eating the evil characters in each level. Despite the obvious marketing of Domino’s mascot, there are very few branded messages inside of the game. However, gamers were lucky enough to receive a $1 off coupon on the back of the game manual.

In addition to these games, many advertisers have attempted to reach video game consumers through various types of advergames. The most common example is creating a Web-enabled game and sticking it on the brand’s Web site. The majority of corporate Web sites have a games section that usually features reskinned versions of popular casual games.

Even with the significant amounts regularly spent on creating these games, many advertisers struggle to ensure that consumers enjoy the game portion instead of being turned off by the advertising. When looking to develop a successful advergame, the following points should be considered:

  • Don’t hide the message. Gamers are savvy enough to distinguish an advergame from a traditional video game. You don’t have to be tricky with the advertising message as long as you provide an entertaining experience through game play. As witnessed by sites such as Candystand, gamers will engage with advertisements and play branded games as long as they’re also fun.
  • Strike a balance. On the other hand, don’t expect consumers to sit through a constant bombardment of advertising. Regardless of the game’s entertainment level, consumers will be turned off by consistent brand messages not intrinsically tied to the storyline. While this is both art and science, brands should look to a gamer focus group to test whether the included messages are over the top or just right.
  • Set consumer expectations. Unlike Yo Noid, which was a full-price console game, BK Gamer cost just $3.99. The lower price point set the consumer’s expectation for what they would get from the games, which actually worked in Burger King’s favor when the game quality seemed on par with more expensive titles.
  • Location, location, location. While the easiest location to slot your Web branded game is on your own site, most people coming to your site are seeking specific product information or are brand enthusiasts that don’t need to be convinced to buy your product. The best location is where gamers are already searching for new games to play. The likelihood of converting a consumer to your brand increases when you work with the leading online video game networks to ensure your game is available. The major requirement is that your game is enjoyable, or site owners will pass on it.
  • Work with the pros. Selecting a leading video game publisher can make the previous points easier to accomplish and simplify the overall process. Based on the platform the game will live on, developers can work alongside brands to create an authentic experience. Certain developers are well recognized among gamers and can lend credibility to a gaming program. And as the number of independent developers increases, marketers can look to these industry experts to help guide them through the process of creating a branded interactive experience.

When considering adding an advergame to your marketing campaign, these few points may help you change the general consumer perception of branded games or, more important, engage consumers with your branded messages through an engaging medium. If you’re lucky, they may even attempt to buy the game online years later.

Today’s column originally ran on July 14, 2008.

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