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Big Shots, Big Scores

How targeted marketing can help successful game franchises.

Big consumer brands are introduced to the world through successful marketing – a dynamic that is particularly true in the game industry.  Though there are a variety of design and gameplay elements that factor into a consumer’s choice of which game to buy, marketing can often make or break a franchise.

This brings up the age-old “the chicken or the egg” question.  What comes first, the great game or the great creative?  A gamer may be quick to say it is the great game, but I’d argue that the one thing all of the top-tier game franchises have in common is the know-how to reach their consumers through top-notch marketing.

To become a successful game franchise, you need to have a great marketing campaign. And to have a great campaign, you need to know your target audience and tailor your marketing to that audience. 

One company that does this beautifully is Activision.  Last year’s DJ Hero campaign, created by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, included a spot that targets hip hop fans and DJ wannabes by putting gamers on stage and letting them control the performance of mega-stars Jay-Z and Eminem.  

Let’s take a look at some key elements from a few more of the most successful campaigns from the past year, each of which are among the campaigns being recognized at the MI6 Game Marketing Awards taking place April 1:

-       NBA 2K10 – Avid pro basketball fans and gamers alike gravitate to NBA 2K’s realism and attention to detail.  The target players for this game want an experience that’s as close to being in the NBA as possible – and equally challenging.  In this ad, virtual Kobe Bryant is up against the world as he overcomes every obstacle in his path with ease (and a few of the real Kobe’s signature moves) on his way to a slam dunk. 

The tagline, “How will you take over?” challenges viewers to not only play the game, but to win.  By appealing to hard core NBA fans, NBA 2K has become the #1 rated NBA simulation game – and this ad was the tip of the spear for NBA 2K10’s smash success.   

-       EA SPORTS “Joy”- EA Sports takes a different approach.  Instead of making this spot about the drive to win, EA focuses on the more casual sports fan by actually putting “you” into the game up against the pros, while emphasizing the pure joy of playing.  EA also chose to shine a light on the beloved EA Sports franchise as a whole, rather than a specific game, which is smart business considering EA Sports has established itself as one of the leading sports gaming franchises of all time.

-       World of Warcraft: Mr. T “Mohawk Grenade” – Blizzard Entertainment, the publisher behind World of Warcraft, knows its customers just as well.  In this spot, Blizzard uses Mr. T’s name and face recognition to appeal to an audience that strives to be part of a community – and, more importantly, an audience that might give a game like World of Warcraft a chance if a celebrity is part of that community. 

As the leader in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), a genre that was traditionally reserved for the truly die hard and dedicated gamers, Blizzard Entertainment shows here how it was able to expand “Warcraft” beyond the traditional sci-fi/fantasy/gamer niche into the multi-million dollar enterprise it has become.  With over 11.5 million monthly users at 15 dollars per month, World of Warcraft is the most-subscribed MMORPG in the world.

These campaigns demonstrate that the growing success of the game franchises above was achieved through smart marketing, which can be boiled down to developing or expanding the prominence of a brand by knowing the target audience.

[Jonathan Block-Verk is President and CEO of MI6, the association dedicated to the success of marketing, promotion and advertising professionals in the interactive entertainment community.  The 5th annual MI6 Game Marketing Conference will take place Thursday, April 1st at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco.]



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