Don’t Forget the Boys!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

They are certainly not an endangered species, but definitely quite a peculiar one! The young boys and men of today cannot be reached efficiently via the 30-second commercial anymore, instead they need to be engaged via the gaming route

“Highly unrestrained use of expletives, dark, and very funny” that was how one could describe the new animated satire “South Park” that debuted on VH1 in May. It’s totally different from what TV audiences in India have been used to.

Let’s take a look at some of the popular shows on TV. It used to be the “saas-bahu” ones, which have now given way to the sob-sagas of little girls and their sad tales. Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi ensured that most women were stuck to their TV sets during the time it was aired. Most of them are still there, this time teary-eyed for the girl in “Balika Vadhu” and other serials like it. The point is, look around on TV and mostly those are women who are being targeted and marketed to.

However, there is a segment that, for a long time, has been the most elusive to catch and market to. It’s the young boys & men. Where do we look for them? If statistics are to be believed, then this segment is the most elusive and hence the most desired. Young men are tuning out broadcast TV as they turn to games and the internet. About 22% of them watch TV, while more and more of them are spending their time on the internet. For years, NBC’s “The Tonight Show” was the biggest money maker on television – considering it had a huge fan following. Today, the ratings of the show have declined, albeit slightly – among the younger viewers – since lesser young men are watching it.

With lifestyles changing, people staying up late, TV channels are realizing that there is a market that has gone untapped for a long time and a lot of them are creating programs to suit this group – the young males. However, these are few and far in between. Today, almost every sitcom is female oriented. Male oriented programming is almost squeezed out of prime-time, save a few like the recently premiered “South Park”. Traditionally, big mass-advertisers have targeted women, because the sales of most are driven by women - who still do most of the household buying. However, the 18-34 year old male is today making his choices, forming brand loyalties, and cannot therefore be overlooked.

Life beyond 30
Many would vouch for the fact that life begins at 30. It’s time marketers took a cue from this one. You need to look beyond the 30-second-long TV commercials if you really want to reach out. TV used to be the coveted media, but the remote control changed it all. Then came the internet & fragmented the audience. Today, TV no longer caters to the mass audience and some companies have sensed it. Back in 2003, Coca Cola cut its TV ad spending by 10 percent and pumped the money into a totally new and unexpected new media – the video game! Advertising has followed consumers; so when the young viewers switched from TV to games like The Matrix Reloaded and Enter the Matrix – so did Coca Cola. Soon P&G and GM, the biggest advertisers of US, shifted too. They had found a way to catch the target audience – a way different from the 30-second TV commercial way!

It reached the white house boy
The elusive 18-34 year old male is touted as the “most intensely targeted subset of humans today”. He’s unique – doesn’t read much, doesn’t watch much TV either – but spends hours (15 hours every week) on playing games. Today, all brands big & small are rushing to showcase their goodies on video games, just to catch the attention of this elusive species! As per Microsoft, its Xbox live – a subscription service that allows consumers to download games, and a whole lot of other stuff – reaches more men aged 18-34 than The New York Times, ESPN. com or Men’s Health. Try to beat that!

Electronics Art (EA) recalls a time years ago when it used to pay companies to reproduce their logos on its games. Today big brands like Honda and McDonald’s are paying EA; not just that, hoards of them are on the wait list – to be included in the new games being developed and launched. Recently, Microsoft has entered into a deal with EA to provide live-in game advertising within games developed by EA that can be played with an Xbox 360 or a PC. One of the first to spot the trend, Microsoft didn’t waste time, and a few years back, it acquired Massive Incorporated for $200 or $300 million. It could smell a lot of advertising money coming its way. Google, for the first time, got left behind, but it woke up & soon made plans to acquire another upcoming gaming company – Adscape Media Ltd.

A gamer, on an average, is about 18 years old. This is the age when he influences a family’s purchases, is young, has lots of interests, is a bachelor bread winner with lots of disposable incomeand the thought of him makes marketers salivate in anticipation. Not surprisingly, even Barack Obama couldn’t resist reaching this category. He created history by becoming the first presidential candidate to run campaign ads in online video games. So what if they didn’t watch TV or read, they played & he played too – not one or two but 18 games. Banners proclaiming “Early voting has began” appeared in 18 games via Microsoft Xbox live Service. The games included Guitar Hero 3, The Incredible Hulk, NBA 08 & many more.

In 2005, US $56 million got invested on in-game advertising, a figure that is expected to rise up to US $1.8 billion by 2010. In-game advertising (IGA) is today one of the fastest growing forms of advertising media. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the CAGR of games sales is expected to hit 11% annually by 2010, which is double the growth rate for movies and television.

It’s the new Phenomena

Today, not only are brands being placed in video games, but are being woven into story lines too. Lacoste featured in a game “Law & Order: Justice is served”– the murder victim here was about to sign a contract with Lacoste. Big luxury brands like TAG Heuer and Bang & Olufsen, too, are seen touting their products in games. Games once considered the sole territory of awkward teenagers have today become the playgrounds of the “Twentysomethings” male – a demographic with a lot of buying power.

What’s interesting to note is that brands are not just being placed within games, but are becoming an integral part of the game – and the viewers are loving it. They normally resent an ad when it comes in-between their favorite TV serials, but research has shown that viewers like product placements, because they make the games increasingly realistic. Not just this, according to NeoEdge Networks, in-game advertising is found to be more effective than TV marketing, delivering an unbelievable 500% increase in consumer brand awareness. 30% of in-game adverts were recalled in the short term and 15% recalled after five months – something unheard of in advertising.

Video games, as compared to any other media, are highly immersive, interactive and visually dynamic. The viewer is more involved here than in any other media. There was a kid who had a mirror on top of his computer screen, so he could watch TV without turning around. Talk of multitasking! When it comes to video games – that’s not possible – so involvement is higher and if the product is placed intelligently, then recall is higher too.

Advergaming way to go
Advertising in video games – or advergaming is the future. And you need to see who all are here. Brands big and small, exclusive or mundane, cheap or luxurious, are out there. Brands now have special games developed to promote themselves. When you play the Red Bull Flugtag Baltimore games, as you launch your airplane down the runway you cannot miss the Red Bull banners flapping all around. When all advertisement failed, it was the videogame “America’s Army” that turned out to be the most effective marketingtool and helped it recruit thousands of young men. It’s been downloaded more than 16 million times, and gives the authentic military experience – just the way potential recruits want. United Nations World Food Programme uses video games to educate the world about its mission to combat hunger. Dunkin’ Donuts used the classic story of tortoise & rabbit as the backdrop for its video game to promote its new Turb- Ice coffee drink. It used a TV campaign to promote the game. The campaign may have long ended, but the game is still on! Johnson & Johnson has a game where you are supposed to bathe as many toddlers as you can using all J&J products online. The winner gets a discount coupon, which he can use to buy a J&J product. How cool is that!

Today there is hardly any movie launch in Hollywood or Bollywood without a game too. From Chandni Chowk to China, which has three levels – chopping vegetables, training, and fighting the bad guy, to Ghajini, where you can look like Aamir, follow clues & solve the mystery, to Lord of the Rings, Da Vinci Code & zillions more. Video games are actually increasing the life span of a movie, apart from earning precious revenues.

Banks around the world may be crumbling, but “Entropia Universe” is an online video game, where players can exchange real money for Entropia Dollars, which, if you want, can once again be converted into real currency (the exchange rate is fixed at 10 to 1 to the US dollar). Its publisher Mind Ark now even has a license from the Swedish government to operate as a real bank! Last year, the economic activity in “Entropia Universe” was worth $420 million – about the same as the economic activity of the Kiribati island in the Pacific!! This is one bank, at least, which is “virtually” safe.

Games are doing it all
Thanks to technology today, video games have came a long way. They are interactive, interesting & rewarding. They are becoming an important tool in every marketer’s kitty. Games are being given as incentives and games are increasing brand recall like never before. Scotland is using games to educate youngsters on traffic rules. People are even being educated about the swine flu and its infectious nature with the help of a game “Stop Swine Flu”. They are even helping the British Intelligence Agency to recruit their spies! Games have made advertising more dynamic. Think about it – A TV commercial is forgotten in 30 seconds, while a game engages the viewer minimum for a few minutes and if you are good, then for hours; so which is more effective – you decide.

The next time you draw up your marketing plans – play around too. All work and no play make an incomplete marketing plan. Remember, it works and not just that, it takes you straight to that elusive target audience of 18-34 year olds. When you are planning to increase your market share – don’t forget the boys.