New advergame builds brand Affinity

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Web service provider Affinity Internet Inc. is doling out prizes and taking names with its soon-to-be launched Flash game designed to promote its Web hosting service at www.gate.com.

Server Mechanic, as the game's called, moves IT professionals through four levels of speed-based, on-the-job scenarios that become increasingly more difficult. The effort at www.servermechanic.com combines techniques from brand and direct marketing.

"It's a balancing act. The No. 1 objective is that it's entertaining," said John Enright, vice president of marketing at Affinity, Fort Lauderdale, FL . "Our second objective is to get our message across. If we go too far and make it a blatant advertisement it won't be as much fun for the user and click rates will go down."

The game begins in Pac-Man-style with a level entitled "Find the beep," where the player identifies which server is broken. Next is a code-off where players race to enter a specific computer programming code. One of the dangers in the game is being electrocuted.

Affinity plans to award $8,000 to $9,000 in prizes based on player speed. Prizes include the Xbox 360, T-shirts, domain names and free Web hosting service with Gate.com. The overall winner after the game's 10-week run receives a 32" LCD HDTV. All winners may opt in to join Affinity's database and receive future offers.

"It's very cost effective for us," Mr. Enright said. "It's the equivalent of the cost of two full page ads in a tech magazine. With Server Mechanic, viewers aren't just flipping past pages, they are engaged with the brand for 5, maybe even 10 minutes."

Banner ads for the game are running on tech sites. Ads will also run on selected blogs. However, Affinity is relying on the viral appeal of the game to grow its reach. In addition to passing the link to friends, the interface allows two-player games in real-time.

"This campaign is the most interactive thing that we've done to date," Mr. Enright said. "Today's market really needs to have an incentive to interact with your brand."

Affinity hopes to reach 1 million impressions over the course of the 90-day period the program runs - the equivalent of who might see a print ad that ran for the same time period, according to Mr. Enright.

While lead generation is an aspect of the campaign, the company is hoping that the theme of the game - server mechanic as action hero - carries a deeper message to its audience.

"IT guys are often the unsung heroes of the office place." Mr. Enright said. "They may not even be noticed unless something goes wrong. We want to show them that we understand you. We appreciate you."

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