Marketers play Web games as serious biz

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Hunts, riddles deliver audience to advertisers AT&T, Snapple and Toyota

Marketers don't clown around when it comes to games on the Web. Industry players are beginning to take games seriously as opportunities to do some very targeted marketing.

MICRO-TARGETING MARKETERS

Interactive Imaginations' Riddler and Tracer's Sandbox are both launching redesigns with aggressive plans to lure marketers to their sites, positioning their games as a way to micro-target consumers who are ready to spend time competing for cash prizes.

In exchange for game clues and hints, users will volunteer personal and demographic information.

The trick to targeting consumers through games? Engaging users intellectually rather than merely entertaining them with bells and whistles, said Interactive Imaginations President Michael Paolucci.

"We brand our site as a competitive environment," Mr. Paolucci said.

INCENTIVES ARE KEY

If games are an entry to targeted interactive marketing, the key to that door is giving the consumer an incentive to register--which has proven difficult in the past.

Riddler is a game that revolves around--surprise--riddles. Contestants compete in single or multi-player games for prizes they choose; they can also work with branded game coins that help players keep track of chosen prizes (like a stack of AT&T chips toward a hypothetical long-distance prize).

Players can also spend the branded game coins to buy hints if they ante up personal data to answer marketer-created questions.

Advertisers receive guaranteed delivery of a specified target audience; they don't, however, have access to participants' names or demographic information.

Riddler next month introduces new sponsors including Toyota Motor Sales USA (which plans to award two cars), AT&T Corp., Quaker Oats' Snapple and Capital Records. Sprint and Silicon Graphics advertised on the site in 1995; 1996 contracts are pending.

Jon Hartman, account supervisor for Snapple at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York, said that the beverage marketer would benefit from the site because it has a low-key feel to it. "It's not something that's huge and overstated or too slick." That persona, he said, works well with Snapple's image.

Snapple is soon expected to unveil new interactive creative from Kirshenbaum, and Mr. Hartman said the relationship with Riddler "will be associated with our Web site and changes we'll be making."

Riddler boasted 100,000 registrants after its April 1995 launch and expects to have about 250,000 signed before next month's relaunch, which is primarily a graphical redesign.

SANDBOX TAPS KATZ

Meanwhile Sandbox, Phoenix, Ariz., which relaunched its online thriller, Cyberhunt, on March 1, offers journey-oriented games that encourage sleuthing for a fictional character in various Web sites.

This year the site will reposition itself for advertisers, according to President Chad Little. Sandbox hired Katz Media last month to cultivate advertisers from package goods and other consumer categories to join new 1996 sponsors C/net, Lycos and The Net magazine.

PRICEY AD MODELS

For marketers ready to take the plunge, price-points are less expensive than the usual cost-per-lead associated with targeted marketing, but do exceed standard Web pricing.

Sandbox rates are based on banners with "ad integration"--marketer brands appearing as part of the entertainment--and range from a cost per thousand of $24 to $30 (or $3,750 up to $72,000 for 125 to 3,000 page views). Button advertising without integration ranges from 90 to $2 CPMs.

Riddler charges a minimum of 25 per targeted page delivery. It also offers a 2-per-impression rate. "We don't think this is the best way to take advantage of the site," Chief Operating Officer John Waller said. He added precise targeting lets marketers use his business as an "ad lab."

Copyright March 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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