Big guns fall in line behind Army 'adver-game'

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When the U.S. Army wanted to find a new way to reach young men three years ago, a video game seemed like a cutting-edge idea. Five million registered users later, the game America's Army is the example cited by other marketers as the reason "adver-gaming" is moving into the mainstream.

"It's sort of a deep marketing effort-a branding tool," said Col. Casey Wardynki, director of the U.S. office of economic and manpower analysis, who invented the game after a trip to Best Buy with his kids when he noticed that 80% of the offerings looked like the Army. "It has achieved the objective of putting the Army in pop culture."

That penetration into pop culture is responsible for the explosion of interest in adver-gaming this year. Big brands have jumped on the trend, including Coca-Cola Co.'s NCAA Championship Run ( and Daimler-Chrysler's Race the Pros game for Dodge. "We're seeing an uncontrolled, booming business in custom publishing for advertisers," said Dave Madden, exec VP-sales, marketing and business development, WildTangent. "Marketers can't ignore the fact that they need to have a video-game strategy."

In 2004, there was $280 million spent in advertising in games, according to DFC Intelligence. By 2008, it is predicted to increase to $1.05 billion. And consumers are expected to spend $12 billion on video-game software-nearly $1.5 billion more than they are expected to spend at the box office, according to the Motion Picture Association and SoundView Technology Group.


Any adver-game effort, however, has to be more than just a diversion for consumers if the brand message is going to stick. The Army, for instance, designed its game to reach beyond casual gamers to attract young men that have a level of proficiency at action games. "If you play America's Army, you've got to be a real gamer [who is between 17 and 19 years old]," Mr. Madden said. "The Army's goal was to make a game for a very specific audience that is already playing Halo and has a pretty good understanding of how to play such a [complicated, tactical] game. One of the elements the Army considers so successful is the weeding-out process the game allows them to do. You have to be pretty capable to get through that game." America's Army can be downloaded free from the Web site and offers an immersive experience that simulates actual military life from basic training to becoming a Green Beret. (The fact that the Army has missed its recruiting goals for February and March doesn't seem to diminish marketers' view of what the game has achieved. During wartime, even the most exciting game cannot obscure the possibility of ending up on the front lines of a very real war.)

Microsoft Corp. likewise credits good targeting with a gaming concept it tested recently to boost awareness for Windows Office 2003. The company was so impressed by the results of a Concentration-like mobile adver-game campaign that it is rolling out another Jeopardy-like adver-game this month.

Microsoft's objective was to reach busy, wired executives who are early adopters of technology through mobile Internet service AvantGo, part of the mobile division of Cybase. AvantGo programmed the application, while Universal McCann (Microsoft's agency of record) crafted the creative. Recipients were AvantGo subscribers, who are between 25 and 50, earn about $75,000 a year and are typically provided smart phones and PDAs by their employers.

The idea was that these executives tend to turn to their mobile devices during moments of downtime like when they are waiting for an elevator or languishing in a meeting. "It keeps them engaged and interested and exposed to our message for a period of time," said Kate Brustad Madrid, senior marketing manager-information worker product marketing group, Microsoft. "It's also fun, so they keep going back to it again and again."

Just over 300,000 AvantGo subscribers saw the on-device promotion about the Concentration game, Microsoft reported. Roughly 52,000 clicked through-a 17% click-through rate, according to Microsoft. Of those, 23,000 actually downloaded the game onto their hand-held device, and another 41,000 downloaded the game directly from total of 64,000. More than 45% actually played the game four or more times, and 20% played the game 10 or more times. Even better, in a survey conducted later, half of the players said they had learned something about Office.

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