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Johnson Buddies looks to clean up online with advergames

Advergaming has become big business and more and more corporations are leveraging it for their Internet marketing campaigns. We recently caught up with Sean MacPhedran, Director of Creative Strategy of Fuel Industries to discuss their recent campaing for Johnson’s®.

In your press release you said “65% of women aged 25 – 34 are playing video games” – why is there this uptake with women? A good analogy to start from is Hollywood. If they only made action movies, we’d have fewer women going into theatres. Gaming has been like that for some time. It’s an industry dominated by males who have been producing male-oriented games. At the end of the day, games are just interactive entertainment. When you think about it in that broader sense we don’t have all the cultural baggage around gaming as a male sport.

Games like Solitaire and Tetris have sort of been the “gateway drug” to a huge variety of web based casual games that appeal to women, previously by accident and now by design. Women are as interested in being entertained as men, but there hasn’t been good content for them. Now it’s easily accessible and there’s more, but I think that the state of affairs is still pretty sorry out there. As we see more good content developed with an understanding of what engages different demographics of women we’re going to see a further increase, especially among younger women. But first we have to destroy all of our bad habits in game design and start with a blank slate. The Sims was breakthrough because it completely moved away from game design conventions, and it was hugely successful with women.

It’s been just about a month since you announced this campaign, what have been the results so far?

Sometimes we’re able to discuss results, and sometimes not. In this case the results are confidential until the campaign closes out. But to give a general idea of the kind of results we see for games online, we’re looking at a range between 12 to 25 minutes per session. The number of players for a game online is always dictated by the dynamics of media driving traffic to the game. Games on portals can be terrible and you’re still going to see high levels of initial plays, for a good portal in the millions. For something that lives alone or drives traffic to another site that lacks content, which is often the case with advergames, there is about a 3 week uptake to drive traffic organically as the game is seeded, the media campaign launches and people send the game to their friends.

Is there a difference between how US marketers approach advergaining compared to Canadians?

YES. Budgets in the US are typically about 10 times larger, or more, than they are in Canada. We also have a different culture in Canada in advertising that’s a bit more addicted to using television and mistakenly thinking that this is the “safe” route. US marketers are more willing to experiment a little. Innovate or die, right? Canadian advertisers are not taking much leadership in innovation with media. A few are, and we are glad to count some of them among or clients and friends.

The bigger issue is not so much advergaming specifically, we build branded online entertainment which encompasses a lot of stuff. Advergaming is a very narrow area of interactive branded entertainment and just one component of the new marketing mix. It’s the understanding of the huge shifts in media usage going on and the willingness to tackle these issues head on. In the US, they’re more likely to be cowboys and beat the competition to the punch. In Canada, I think there’s an unarticulated sense that we should wait for others to decide what works and what doesn’t, which is a shame, but this is why the vast majority of our clients are in the US and not in our backyard.
fuel industries, johnsonsWhat do Canadian marketers need to change?

Canadian marketers need to take to heart the changes that are going on in the marketplace. The stats that we see in eMarketer, Jupiter, everywhere, are not just numbers. Those stats represent real consumers watching YouTube instead of TV, and teens downloading movies, music and television shows through BitTorrent. The X BOX 360 gets plugged into your TV and poof! It’s overridden your commercial messages. And people play console games for longer than they’ll watch a television program. Look at the biggest opening weekend in history. Spiderman, right? No! It was Halo 2.

What’s also a huge issue is that advertisers will try to jump into these buzz words without a deeper understanding of the consumer behavior or psychology involved in these types of interactivity and entertainment. Building a game requires thinking that most agencies don’t have, yet properly incorporating brand messaging requires expertise that most game developers don’t have. Or looking at something like SMS, which marketers jumped on thinking it was a silver bullet, we saw a bunch of campaigns that used SMS mainly for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon. We need, collectively, to sit down and develop deeper competencies in online/interactive consumer behavior. Without this, Canadian advertising forays into new media will fail completely.

What effect does Second Life play on the future advergaming space?

Personally, I think it will have very little effect. Second Life has a reasonable audience, but nothing staggering. It’s definitely no MySpace, and promotions within the world are great for targeting the audience inside that world, as well as for getting a little bit of PR for “innovative thinking”, but I think that it will never be a silver bullet. Some people are in love with it for what it represents, but its success as a marketing channel is based on its audience size, which is not very large. As well, a lot of game formats, things like Tetris, etc. are not replicated within Second Life. Advergaming is going to evolve into interactive entertainment, so I think we have more to learn from Hollywood than we do from Second Life. Second Life will benefit from the model of branded entertainment/product placement as we see product integration into the world in ways that integrate properly. What we need is an end to “banner” thinking in gaming. Studies show that for maximum effect, brands need to play a role in storylines in entertainment, which includes gaming. This means that having a car in a TV show, or a banner served via Massive into a game, will have less an effect as building a brand into a storyline in a show, or building a game, or part of a game, around the spirit of a brand. Brands are NOT logos, they are experiences and promises, and most of the entertainment/game developers are still moving to an understanding of that fact.

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