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Media Zone: Seeking Direct Response Rules for Mobile In-Game Ads

1 Jan, 2009 By: Response Contributor Response

Yes, I know proposing arcane "rules" is sacrilege to many who experiment and opine in new media circles, but it's hard to win any game — the ad game included — without rules to govern your decisions and actions. Consider the new advertising hybrid of mobile in-game advertising. Consumer statistics and positive press coverage have understandably excited many marketers. But does the model hold direct response promise?

Timothy R. Hawthorne
Timothy R. Hawthorne

Improved 3G networks and sophisticated smart phones have mobile ad zealots drooling. Gaming ad enthusiasts cite Nielsen research that says 82 percent claim in-game advertising doesn't detract from their enjoyment, and PC-game ads boosted positive brand association by 33 percent. More important, the ads inspired action — 19 percent of all gamers surveyed discussed advertised products, 11 percent sought additional information, and 11 percent made a purchase. In our multi-channel environment, logic suggests that combining these productive media should be doubly effective. Right?

Allow me to wring out the wet blanket.

Nielsen cites Coca-Cola, Nike and Burger King as the companies that in-game ads helped the most. Since all are already high-volume brand advertisers, it's impossible to know what new sales their play dollars delivered.


In-game ad company Massive admits freely that it sells its inventory based on CPM — not the performance metrics on which direct response marketers depend. The biggest hurdle for doing games the DR way is that direct response video relies entirely upon engaging viewers sufficiently to inspire defined actions.

By definition, gamers are already responding when engaged in game play, and they aren't likely to stop just to click through to a Web site or shopping cart. That's a nearly insurmountable barrier.

If mobile in-game advertising has any chance of becoming a viable direct response option, it must adhere to three rules:

1. In addition to sponsoring games via skins or inserted ad clips, featured products should be organic components to game action. It's counterproductively invasive to advertise stain remover when dragons are battling knights-errant. A better online model appears in the "Grand Theft Auto IV" console game, where avatars can listen to MP3s on their car radios, and then use virtual cell phones to purchase and download those tunes.

2. Remember that a phone is a phone. Gamers can easily close sales by texting short codes and clicking call buttons. But since few will stop gaming to "call now," you may need a two-step creative: perhaps mid-rolls to drive interest before gamers advance to new levels, followed by call-to-action-filled post-rolls that play while displaying final scores.

3. The game should be free and inherently worth playing, regardless of its marketing function. Pre-rolls, interstitials or branded skins are free tickets to gaming enjoyment.

While I want to embrace the latest cutting-edge tactics, crafting a killer DR mobile in-game campaign requires synthesizing two media that few agencies have mastered independently. Still, any medium that can incorporate video-based advertising offers opportunity for DRTV — or even DRI-G (direct response interactive gaming). But before investing thousands on such a campaign, I'm hoping to plunk down $20 for my rulebook.

Timothy R. Hawthorne is founder, chairman and executive creative director of Hawthorne Direct, a full-service DRTV, print, mail and digital ad agency founded in 1986. A 35-year television producer/writer/director, Hawthorne is a cum laude Harvard graduate.

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