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Sales and Marketing Win Big with Online Gaming

by Alf Nucifora

I've begun to notice the growing number of serious business people on airplanes wiling away hours glued to their laptops, not working, but playing computer games instead. My own wife contentedly multi-tasks at home, ears tuned to the TV and eyes glued to computer solitaire. What's going on here? For marketers, the flash report is that online gaming is fast becoming a powerful weapon for capturing consumer attention and share-of-mind.

What do we already know?

Millions are already playing. Recent research from the Conference Board, NFO and Forrester reveals that 67% of males under 35 are online gamers with 62% of females in the same age category also following suit. According to Dan Ferguson, Principal of Block Dot, (www.kewlbox.com) an interactive marketing design firm with clients including AT&T, Nokia, M&M's and Kimberly-Clarke, 45% of online gamers are female, 55% male. Older women, notes Ferguson, prefer puzzle games. Block Dot data also shows that the heaviest periods for game playing are 11.00 AM to 2.00 PM (central time), Thursday and Friday, indicating that for office workers, a computer game has now joined sandwich and chips as the lunch staple. The other peak occurs between at 7.00-9.00 PM after dinner dishes are washed and kids bedded down.

Where's the Benefit to the Marketer?

A good online game can generate real interaction and involvement with the brand. In fact, the goal is a minimum of a million plays a year with a life span of at least five years. By comparison, M&M's scored 14 million plays in less than twelve months. Cost wise, online games are relatively inexpensive to produce and highly cost effective as media vehicles, on the basis of targeted reach/frequency metrics, when compared to more traditional marketing communications vehicles. What's more, from a marketing perspective, gaming is more than interaction between brand and player/consumer. Demographic data, including name and address, purchase preference, etc. can be collected, and market research conducted.

The acquisition process is easy. Play the game on (or download it off) a website. Either way, it's a guaranteed way to generate web site traffic and return visits. If the game has pizzazz, expect a strong pass-a-long rate. There's that viral marketing again! And from an ethnic marketing viewpoint, conversion to multi-lingual versions is relatively painless. A good game, after all, is a good game, irrespective of race or culture.

Ultimately, to the marketer, it's all about brand reinforcement. As noted in a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article ("Playing Games with Customers" by Ferrazzi, Chen and Li), an online game "can hold a consumer's attention longer than advertising can", which, in turn, provides a better opportunity for developing dialog with that consumer. Equally as important, it associates the brand with fun, excitement, entertainment and in some cases, learning, both overt and implied. Incidentally, game developers shoot for a goal of 15 minutes time-spent-playing. In the area of training, the HBR article reports "that employees learn and retain more from interactive games than they do from the one-way delivery of information". Gaming-training may well be the answer to much of corporate America's current failure in the training battle.

Who's doing it?

As Ferrazzi, Chen and Li note, all the big boys are muscling in on the action including Coca-Cola, Chrysler and the U.S. Army to name but a few. A retail game on Chrysler's web site to promote its new Wrangler Rubicon, directly generated fourteen percent of the vehicle's initial orders. The U.S. Army "recently spent more than $7 million on a suite of games to support the increasingly difficult task of signing on 120,000 new soldiers each year". The results are impressive. Since July 4th, 2002, 1.2 million registrants played 55 million game missions for an average of 10 minutes each; 758,584 players completed the game's basic-training component; Web site hits went from 30,000 hits per day pre-game launch to half a million post-launch.

Even for those, who will never fully understand the popularity of online gaming, the data is incontrovertible. Interactive games work. They may not be marketing's most noble player, but in this day and age where current and future generations balance a ADD-like impatience with greater time spent online with the growing need to be constantly entertained, the online game may be nature's perfect solution to both the marketer's and the consumer's needs.

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