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Top ten marketing tips for AAA games

By on July 2, 2010

At the GameHorizon Conference earlier this week, Tom Rothenberg (@ryujinXV), managing partner of McCann Ericson UK, gave a talk on how to achieve a successful marketing campaign in this social-networked media environment.

Tom oversees the Microsoft account in Europe, including Xbox, Fable and Gears of War, so he knows what he’s talking about.

Here are his top ten tips. I noted these down fast, as Tom was talking, so apologies if they don’t all make sense.

1. An idea tells a thousand pictures

The premise of Tom’s point was that a picture is not enough – you need a story behind the campaign to give the advertising a raison d’etre.

Seven girls famous for being famours wearing football shirts

Unfortunately his first example totally passed me by. Tom showed a picture of seven girls wearing football shirts with no shorts. Apparently this is amazing, because the girls are all WAGs, the strips are all from the seven countries which have won the World Cup, and each shirt had a piece of hip-hop/graffiti/street art on it. This is, apparently, amazing marketing for Umbro, but perhaps because I don’t understand football, but it just looked like random booth babes looking odd in tacky football shirts to me.

The Halo campaign bulding a backstory for the Master Chief was a better example. The conceit was that the Master Chief was a hero who had saved the world, and the world treats him as such. This treatment – of the Master Chief as Nelson, Drake, Monty and Churchill all rolled into one – spawned websites, interviews with veterans who served with him and a range of other promotions. Building this back story to support your loyal fans makes more sense to me than the Umbro “birds in football shirts” campaign.

2) You need to incentivise to go viral

  • Make it celebrity, illegal, or astonishing. Best of all, get a celebrity doing something illegal and astonishing.
  • Make it interactive and allow users to personalise it.

3) Be bold

If you’re number 2, take a risk with marketing, especially if you are rising fast. The leaders can’t take a risk, but you can. This has worked for brands such as Diesel and Body Shop.

Take risks, do hijack publicity stunts. A great example was the Bavaria Beer world cup stunt getting a bunch of girls all to wear orange dresses in the stadium: the brand jumped from the 180th most popular beer website in the UK to #5.

4) Few can do, if many see/hear

For example, Flashmobs where a small number participate, but many watch on television or YouTube. T-Mobile has used it to great effect.

Watchmen used two track marketing, making alternative ways of reaching for fans. For example 10 million played the Dark Knight ARG (although, in practice hardly anyone actually took part, but everyone new about it).

This is a way of using Seth Godin’s concept of tribes, where small groups of committed fans can have a disproportionate impact on the spread of your message.

5) Social media can be fun, cheap and disposable

Get stuck in, do lots of it, because it’s cheap. Lots of it won’t work, but that’s OK. You can’t broadcast, though – this is a conversation where you are in the middle.

6) Use the web to drive longer engagement

Give people an incentive to visit, and visit again.

For example, Stephen King split his new book into 5,196 pieces and scattered them around the web. You could buy it normally, or get it early by finding it, which creates awareness by mobilising his biggest fans.

Holmes, the movie, built a browser-based game called 221B, where you had to bring a friend (your “Watson”), an inbuilt marketing campaign.

221B screenshot

7. Transmedia fuels opportunity

If you have a world (and games usually have a world), you can let your users explore it through multiple routes. For example, the TV show TruBlood ran ads for bottles of a blood drink that appeared in the series. Fans appreciated the ads and other people had a “Blood in a bottle WTF?” moment. Job done.

8) Think about the wider culture you operate in

Mark Ecko bought the ball that Barry Bond used to hit the home run that beat Babe Ruth’s record for $120,000. (Babe Ruth was described as Pele crossed with Diego Maradona crossed with WG Grace x 10). Ecko wanted the fans to decide whether he should draw an asterisk on it before giving it to the Hall of Fame (no, I don’t know why, guess it’s a baseball thing). The point is that he got endless TV, press and other publicity worth way in excess of $120,000, all because he, a clothes designer and graffiti guy, had a point of view on baseball

9) Give up some control

Market in beta. Involve consumers who want acccess to the title in return for their help. For example, Marmite created the secret society called the Marmerati to help with the launch of the new superstrong version.

The key message here for me is that brands have already lost control of the marketing message. If they accept and embrace this loss of control, they are likely to have better dialogues with their fans.

10) Work with retail

Tom used the Zynga tie-up with 7-11 that has been referenced a couple of times in the conference, to show how marketing can be tied into real world events.


Tom’s message was that you can no longer broadcast to your audience. We’ve even moved past engagement to true dialogue. Pepsi has a Gatorade mission control filled with screens and futuristic data visualisation software to help keep track of the brand’s social media presence. Increasingly, this will become normal.

But in the meantime, don’t trust anyone who says they know how to “do social media”. It’s changing all the time. The best thing you can do is try stuff. It’s cheap, it’s fun and it may just work.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: