Marketing within Video Games

Last week, we discussed the movement of advertising and promotion of video games. Today, we are going to talk about the other side of marketing in the video game industry: in-game advertising. Similar to product placement on television or sponsored shows and events, advertising of products or services has become a major cog in the video game industry, but it didn’t happen overnight. Games like Kool-Aid Man and Tooth Protectors promoted brand names with in-game logos and a mascot on the Atari 2600 gaming console (released in 1977). Over the years, some games (e.g. the Battlefield series) have incorporated in-game billboards that promote real-world products. A large determinant for which games utilize in-game advertisements is the genre.

The specific game genre of a title can open up possibilities for advertising or eliminate it entirely. The most common place for in-game advertising is sport games. It is impossible to find a major sports title without any in-game promotion. From cut screens to jerseys to venue design, logos and branding for products are all over the place in the genre. The biggest sports title, Madden NFL, has switched to load screens incorporating square ads for products and services like Sheetz MTO. Player stats between quarters and at half-time are brought to you by Verizon or Sprint.

Compare that to the fictional type of game genres. You can’t place an ad for Pepsi or Coke in the middle of a medieval England or put a pair of Beats by Dre headphones on a knight in a fantasy land. Some game developers have begun to utilize sponsored downloadable content (DLC) to gain in-game advertising revenue for unrealistic settings. A major and recent example of this is present in Mario Kart 8. Nintendo released the Mercedes DLC at the end of summer. The DLC allowed gamers to drive Mercedes-inspired vehicles (pictured above). It is clear that marketing within video games has become a constant that will only continue to grow and continue to benefit the involved parties greatly.


The Progression of Video Game Marketing

Recently, someone discussed the possibility of an internship with me. While an internship over holiday break and the spring semester was enticing, it would be in a very particular field: healthcare. The marketer I spoke with understood my trepidation about the opportunity. She knew that the field was not for everyone and wanted to make sure that I took an internship that was within an industry that I was extremely passionate about. One industry that really intrigues me and that I am quite passionate about is video games.

The video game industry has a very engaged consumer base. The industry brings in roughly $100 billion annually. In order to get consumers to purchase the products, the main techniques used by the marketing department of video game companies are less prominent in other industries. While one will see the occasional television commercial or YouTube ad, the primary sources of marketing behind video games are demos, streams and in-person events.

Video game companies originally began giving out demo discs through third-parties (e.g. Pizza gave away PlayStation discs with multiple demos). Over time, the demo disc developed into downloadable gameplay for previewing a title. Now, the streaming of game content has become more prominent for big name titles. Often, individuals or companies like IGN, known for video game reviews, and Rooster Teeth, a hotbed of user-generated content, will receive or get to play video games prior to release. Those organizations or individuals often live stream or release gameplay online. Game developers have even begun to release early versions of games (alphas and betas) to large numbers of consumers to increase excitement. Other times, a game developer may decide to invite individuals and companies to an event to see and/or play with others (e.g. Microsoft held HaloFest for the upcoming release of a game collection, a television show based on a video game and a future title). Marketing strategy in the video game industry continues to shift towards letting consumers receive hands-on experience and spreading word of the game.

Breaking the Marketing Mold

Recently, I heard some kids on campus talking about “Alex from Target”. On Twitter, I saw a mention of apparently the same person. I had no idea who Alex was or why people were talking about him. Eventually, he was shining under the national spotlight. He made an appearance on Ellen today, and prior to that, Good Morning America cleared up the reason for his sudden popularity.

For those who don’t know, “Alex from Target”  became a viral sensation recently. He wasn’t posting any interesting videos, sharing stories or the king of selfies. While on the job at a North Texas Target, someone snapped a photograph of Alex bagging someone’s purchases. The picture garnered attention from many young females for his looks. As CNET put it, “Alex from Target” possesses Beiberesque beauty (referencing Justin Beiber’s look early in his music career). In no time, millions of people had been exposed to Alex, primarily through the #alexfromtarget on Twitter.

The thing that the masses didn’t know (and most people still don’t know) is that Alex did not become famous by chance. A young company, Breakr, set up the whole scenario. It had someone who saw an opportunity to capitalize on the looks of Alex. With his approval, Breakr had someone take the photograph that would eventually be tweeted by a third party. That tweet led to “Alex from Target” going viral. Breakr’s goals are to get people noticed and try to land them brand deals. Now, Breakr’s CEO has already announced that he is trying to negotiate a deal with Target on Alex’s behalf. The story that swept the nation and a portion of the globe was just a well-planned marketing ploy.

Guerrilla’s in Marketing

It was recently recommended that I take a look into the marketing of trade shows. One of the first results for trade show marketing on Google included the term “guerrilla marketing”. I was instantly curious to read a little more on the subject. I had some idea of what to expect, but the combination of the word guerrilla with any business profession seems odd.

Simply put, guerrilla marketing is an advertising or promotional strategy utilizing unconventional means to provide results at a low-cost. The association between guerrilla and marketing came about in a 1984 book by Jay Conrad Levinson, titled Guerrilla Advertising. He compared guerrilla marketing to guerrilla warfare. Where guerrilla warfare relied on quick attacks, surprising the enemy, guerrilla marketing typically uses small events that come of out nowhere to gain attention by shock and awe.

Originally, guerrilla marketing primarily included things like graffiti, sticker bombing and posting flyers. Some of those things are still done today (modern day graffiti in the featured image). More common means of guerrilla marketing recently are flash mobs and viral campaigns. While some new types of events have upped the guerrilla marketing aspect of promotion, the classics can still be quite effective. Many of “The 80 Best Guerrilla Marketing Ideas” in an article on capitalize on the use of fresh paint in public places. Whatever type of tactic is used, guerrilla marketing can be an amazing way to spread the word of a product or an organization.

Winning Them Over

Over the last few months, I have spent many hours working on the ad campaign that I mentioned in my previous posts. In the end, I dedicated at least one or two full days of my life to the project, a minimum of twenty-four to forty-eight hours. This one, at times, grueling task is something most marketing majors will encounter countless times in the “real” world. My team and I garnered plenty of experience in this situation and were left with some things to take away from what had occurred.

We, initially, went into the ad campaign with one focus but with the final presentation, had a vastly different point of interest. An organization can provide you with its desires and/or goals for a campaign, or you may have to come up with them on your own. Either way, as we found out, most people are going to find similar ways to achieve or attack the task at hand. It is important that marketers take what they are giving and think outside the box. While the business tells you exactly what it wants, you have to be able to tell the organizational heads that there is a better way to accomplish what it wants. So, while you analyze the situation, do not forget that there’s always another way.

You may not be able to find another take on the scenario, and that’s when the pitch portion of the ad campaign needs to excel. As I mentioned, when it came time for our pitches, several teams shared very similar ideas. What set some of the groups apart was the flow and strength of the pitch. After all of the teams had presented their ideas, I spoke with the owner and general manager who would be deciding on which campaign the business wants to use as its primary focus moving forward. They enjoyed the idea of students being able to take different views on achieving the organization’s goals, but that was not the point of emphasis in the discussion. The owner was most exciting by the actual execution of certain presentations, saying that some students had a presence that he doesn’t always find in the people doing pitches professionally. To him, having a speaker with such a presence can greatly enhance an ad campaign and potentially, be a deciding factor. Some times, it isn’t about the meat of the campaign that matters most, but instead, the atmosphere given off by the marketing team.

Dark Marketing

While doing a run through of my team’s ad campaign, a bit of the dark side of marketing and public relations came to light. The topic of customer service came up during the practice pitch, and subsequently, consumer reviews were discussed at length. Recent surveys from ClickFox show that ninety percent of people are influenced by what those reviews say. Thus, it is important for marketers to stay on top of the public perception in the digital world. Perception is reality. Those reviews let the organization know what is or isn’t working with the current systems of operation. The business can then identify any troubles and solve those problems. Reviews can greatly influence an organization’s success.

However, during our work last week, a professional marketer suggested something that we all assume happens but hope that it actually doesn’t. The person my team worked with told us to encourage the organization to have employees go in and type up their own reviews. While some of the staff may have experience as a consumer with the business, many of them would be asked to exaggerate and lie. Yes, this will boost review scores and the public perception online, but is it ethical for an organization to do such a thing? The marketer we worked with has employees do this on a regular basis. While I know this is part of the world we live in, I still do not believe it is ethical to post falsified reviews. Sadly, this effective marketing and PR strategy is one of the dark sides to marketing.

Crunch Time

In today’s world, we are often faced with deadlines. These due dates can place pressure on us. Many organizations strive to get productions done ahead of time, and yet, crunch has become a commonality in many industries. We find ourselves putting things off until the very last minute and pushing ourselves to finish on time. We kill ourselves trying to get everything done in the little time we have left. Crunch time can be an extremely stressful and draining period. Sleep deprived and expending energy at a rapid pace, we continue onward during crunch. More often than not, we manage to succeed in meeting our goals but only at the expense of our sanity. Is everything we did leading up to crunch time worth all the last second suffering?

Earlier this week, I experienced my first real taste of crunch time. Several classmates and I have been developing a potential ad campaign for a local business. We were meeting about once per week to complete our plan one step at a time. Yet, with our team getting together regularly, we found ourselves with one night to prepare our campaign for a pitch. As a commuter, I found myself on campus into the wee hours of the morning. I managed a few hours of sleep before having to return. Our crunch had left me with a headache and quite tired. I was forced to put off work for other classes. However, crunch paid off as a professional marketer was really enthusiastic about our ideas. Now, we appear to have a good hold of the campaign moving forward.

We must pick and choose our battles each day. All of us have our own priorities that determine which tasks get put off until crunch time. I made the choice to work on other things prior to crunch for my team’s first pitch of the ad campaign. In return, I felt the pressure of a long night’s work, which only extended the time I put off other tasks to be completed. You have to decide what matters most to you and your organization, and sometimes, the only option left is crunch time.