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Use Branded Games to Sell Online

Soap operas are still a mainstay of daytime television. This brand of entertainment got its name in the 1950s because of exclusive sponsorship by manufacturers of laundry detergents and soaps. Procter & Gamble leveraged its participation into market dominance.

Games and entertainment still help facilitate sales through the corporate branding of everything from NASCAR races to sports arenas to Xtreme sports tournaments. Advertisers gladly attach their names for the exposure and brand reinforcement.

For a growing number of retailers, the Internet offers a similar opportunity. At a time the effectiveness and value of banner ads and other traditional advertising mechanisms on the Internet are being questioned, branded games are proving a useful tool.

A prime example is Nabisco's LifeSavers Candystand. This is an online amusement park at www.candystand.com featuring more than 30 interactive games laced with specialized news and information. The games are branded with Nabisco products such as LifeSavers. The site entertains more than 2 million visitors each month. Forty-nine percent of visitors to the site ask for samples or post feedback, compared with the mere 3 percent to 5 percent response rate to direct mail campaigns.

But you do not need to build a whole digital amusement park. Strategically planned games also can be valuable tools. For example, recently a major magazine's Web site had offered a Shockwave game of strip poker. The game was free to play, but users had to complete a short questionnaire before they could start (helping gather valuable demographic and marketing information).

During the game, players were given opportunities to view and buy Playboy brand clothing similar to that shown on the model in the game. Game play was designed to last at least one hour, which means an hour of seeing the magazine's brand and having potential sales interactions. On the first day alone, more than 10,000 users downloaded and played the game.

The game has proved extremely popular, even though it is an advertisement for the magazine's products. Users like playing because it is fun and it gives them something (entertainment) in exchange for letting themselves be sold to. It is an arrangement where both parties win.

Why games? A report from Fulcrum Analytics, New York, indicated that while the best commercial sites on the Web attract an average visit length of less than 15 minutes, the stickiest game site keeps eyeballs glued to the screen for an average of four hours. The longer someone is online at your site, the more opportunities you have to get your message across and sell.

Users are not passive observers. Games and activities offer value to users and help establish site loyalty. In the same way that cities revitalize their downtowns by bringing in movies, restaurants and other community activities, branded entertainment brings involvement and entertainment to Web sites.

A metaphor can be found in successful urban centers like Baltimore's Inner Harbor or Boston's Quincy Market. Almost invariably, thriving urban centers are those where elements of entertainment and fellowship are interspersed among the industrial, retail and office spaces.

Urban areas that are exclusively business-oriented become ghost towns at night, often leading to urban decay. Shortsighted planners fail to understand the need to incorporate cinemas, coffeehouses, concert halls, restaurants and other places where people meet, chat and then tell their friends about. This is why coffee shops sponsor Scrabble games and bookstores have poetry readings — anything to get people interacting and keep them coming back. It is the same online.

Get users involved. Games get users involved in activities that are unique and fun (playing a game, taking a survey, testing their knowledge). Users can be further involved because they can click through to find out more information about a product, thus pulling them further into the site. At the same time, advertising-based games can reinforce the client's message through branding within the activity. In a way, it is like product placement within movies and television shows.

Games offer a number of advantages as marketing tools, including:

· Minimal learning curve for the user.

· Simplicity of play.

· Addictive nature of play.

· Limitless design options.

· Natural branding opportunities.

Branding. There are a number of buzzwords for the combination of games and marketing. The newer terms include advertainment, interactivities, brandvertising, brand marketing and viral marketing.

Branding can be as simple as adding a “Presented by …” tag on a game's opening screen. Even simple games like jigsaw puzzles can add value. One of our best sellers is the familiar game of Concentration in which you have to find matching pairs of images from a set of facedown cards. What makes this game popular with businesses are the many marketing opportunities. The backs of the cards can be branded, but, even more important, the matching images offer advertising opportunities. For example, in a game for General Motors the images to match are of the new truck and car models. The card backs sport the GM logo.

At the end of the game, the player gets a score. But he also has a call to action. “Click here for more information” or “Click here to print your own discount coupon” are simple, but effective approaches. In each case, you can use the response to gather user data.

Brandvertising is not new. Think of Cracker Jack. For more than 100 years, it has given customers something extra. By giving users fun and entertainment, they recognize and appreciate the value in the “prize.” And, that the prize can be branded and serve as an advertisement is a bonus for the retailer.

So, do you want to play?

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