Saturday, May 24, 2008

Advergame With Caution

As the reach of television and print decrease, advergaming presents enormous opportunities for marketers to engage consumers, especially the teens and young adults who are toughest to touch via traditional media.

The advergaming landscape includes everything from casual games (such as those found on Wrigley's Candystand) to "Big Gaming" (which merges body motion with virtual gaming, such as the Fullhouse-developed in-bar-only March Hoops game for Miller Brewing) to PC and console games (such as the highly-publicized Burger King games for the Xbox and Xbox 360). Burger King sold and distributed their games via discs, but Microsoft now has an easier way for marketers to distribute games to owners of Xbox consoles. Xbox Live, a service that permits Xbox 360 owners to download games, permits third-party developers to distribute their own games via the network.

Toyota became the first brand to create and release a game over Xbox Live. Yaris, the game, was designed to promote Yaris, the moderately-priced subcompact car focused on young consumers. The game features a Toyota Yaris with a giant tentacle that reaches out of the roof to shoot enemies as the car rockets down a futuristic tunnel. (Sadly, the tentacle is not an actual option on the car.)

Of course, as with any marketing program, getting every detail correct is vital. In an article on the International Herald Tribune site, Shahid Khan, a partner at IBB Consulting Group, speaks about how games can help brands reach a younger demographic. "This group does not want to be advertised to, (so) it has to be a really good game. If it is a really good video game, then it won't matter if it was made by an advertiser."

Unfortunately, reviewers and those in the Xbox Live community have not found the Yaris game up to their expectations. One gamer in the Xbox forum came to the game's defense—if that’s what you call it—by saying, “let's keep in mind that this game is an advertisement, and a thinly veiled one at that. It's not meant to be great; in fact, it's really not even meant to be enjoyable beyond its intended purpose, which is to get players to consider buying a Toyota Yaris.” The game site Joystiq posted a review that speculated the developers, “created Yaris with an objective I can only believe is to cultivate anger in those who play it” and said, “Even at the price of free, this lemon isn't fun or worth the sticker price.”

Branded games should make a statement and get people talking; Yaris did this, but it probably wasn’t the brand impression or the sort of reaction for which the brand had hoped. The game has some fans, but the buzz has been more negative than positive. (The game apparently didn't do much to help the developer, either; Joystiq reports that Castaway, creator of "the despicably-disgustingly-dreary Xbox Live Arcade game Yaris," has since closed its doors.)

Advergaming can be a powerful tool in the experiential marketers' toolkit, but a branded game cannot be confused with an advertisement. Getting a game right requires attention not just to the brand’s message but also to every aspect of the game—graphics, animation, game play, control, rewards, pacing, and scoring.

If a branded game misses its mark, consumers will be left with a negative brand impression. But done right, an advergame can create the kind of attention, time commitment, and "Word of Mouth" to which few traditional ad campaigns can aspire.

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