'Advergames' a Smart Move, If Done Well

Survey Gives Pointers on How to Interact Effectively With Players

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Advergames, or brand-filled video games, could get more traction if a survey released this week, showing that consumers embrace the marketers that sponsor the games, holds sway.
The survey, by gaming company Blockdot, notes that benefits to advertisers do not come from ad placements in the game, but from the way the brand interacts and communicates with the user.
The survey, by gaming company Blockdot, notes that benefits to advertisers do not come from ad placements in the game, but from the way the brand interacts and communicates with the user.

Results of the survey, by gaming company Blockdot, found that consumers felt positively about the brands backing advergames, and were more likely to buy their products.

Potential gold mine
Of the 1,000 users surveyed on Blockdot's gaming portal, kewlbox.com, 83% think positively about companies that underwrite the free games while 70% said they are more likely to buy products from companies that offer the free games. The report notes that benefits to advertisers do not come from ad placements in the game, but from the way the brand interacts and communicates with the user. And because 74% of the users who play a game say they will play the title four or more times, advergames would seem to be a gold mine for marketers seeking repetitive exposure to their audience.

Kevin Wise, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, who recently co-authored a study on advergames, said Blockdot's findings are not surprising.

"It's like any other advertising," Mr. Wise said. "In our studies, we treat advergames as another execution of advertising."

While his own research does not draw conclusions about purchasing behavior, his findings do suggest if consumers enjoy an advergame, they will confer those warm, fuzzy feelings to the brand, which could sway them come purchasing time. The flip side is marketers risk alienating consumers who end up having a negative experience with a game because it is too complex or just not enjoyable.

Sword cuts two ways
Jay Krihak, senior partner-group director, MEC Interaction, part of WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia, raised a caveat that users in the survey may already be predisposed toward the brand; still, he said, "If the advergame is done well, and has a high level of entertainment value, there will be positive associations with that product."

Ian Bogost, who heads gaming studio Persuasion Games, raised another issue: Users are not always actively seeking out advergames and often come to them by chance. "It's whatever game you run into," he said. "When you look at casual gaming, it's about zoning out, not engagement."

Nonetheless, Mr. Bogost believes advergames could be a powerful venue if game play is intertwined deeply with the message, something he said automakers have been able to pull off with success, thanks to their car-racing games. Rather than a marketer license a run-of-the-mill game, far more promising would be customized advergames that integrate features, functions or competitive advantages of a product or service into the game, Mr. Bogost said.

While leveraging highly customized advergames could prove more valuable in creating user connections than simply licensing games and slapping on a brand name, contracting ad budgets means marketers may need to stick with simply sponsoring games for now.

"It's quick to market, easy to implement and execute," Mr. Krihak said. "You get what you pay for. With the customized games, it's a different type of investment, and as a result, you'll see incremental improvement."

Gamer population growing
Advergames are gaining ground as gamer demographics broaden beyond young males to a broad swath of the population, ranging from tweens to moms. Of the 244 million U.S. online consumers, more than half, 144 million, are gamers, according to a study commissioned by IGN Entertainment, a unit of Fox Interactive Media.

The medium has pulled in a new crop of gamers, with a majority of them married (55%) and nearly half (48%) with children, according to the study, released today. The average game player is 32 years old with an average household income of $79,000.
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