First-Person Marketer

First-Person Marketer
The Business of Manipulation

J.P. Sherman | 9 Aug 2010 15:31
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To bring you even more perspectives on the weird, wide and wonderful world of videogames, The Escapist turned to marketing professional J.P. Sherman to illuminate his often misunderstood aspect of the industry.

I'll be honest; I'm in the business of manipulation. It's one of my jobs to influence you, the gamer, to modify your behavior. More often than not, it's a subtle behavior I'm looking to modify. I want you to click on a link. I want you to download a trailer or demo. I want you to willingly give me your email address so I can send you information that will also attempt to convince you to do another thing I want you to do. I also want you to join my forums, follow me on social networks and subscribe to my RSS feeds. If I can convince you to do these things three or more times, I know that you're much more likely to part with your money and buy something. These are the facts and the realities of the marketer, and I do these things over and over again.

Now, allow me to tell you exactly what I do again, just with other words. I want to give the gaming community the screenshots, videos and information that you want. When you're looking for the latest information on an upcoming videogame, I want to provide that information to you quickly and efficiently. When the videogame comes out, I want to make sure that it is available in the right quantities where you're most likely to purchase it. I want to generate enthusiasm, buzz, purchase intent and, at times, a little bit of controversy.

There are a few things I've noticed about videogame marketing that's given us a deservedly bad name amongst gamers and self-described geeks.

We Underestimate the Intelligence of Gamers
When a popular gaming company hired an agency to do some viral marketing, they came out with a horrible rap about one of their most popular hand-held gaming devices. I remember seeing this rap. At the time, I thought that this agency, and the executives that approved it, had read all the right articles but missed the point completely. I could imagine that they made a very nice PowerPoint presentation that had bullet points on "going viral", "kids love the rap music", "make it edgy" and "growing the brand among youth". Despite being a horrible execution, which, as a marketer, I can forgive, they tried to hide the source of the marketing. It wasn't long until a few clever gamers identified the source, posted it and called them out. The agency and the client went silent, offering a few weak denials to the media. After that failure went viral, they admitted the whole thing and told gamers that "maybe our speech was a little too funky fresh???" For the most part, gamers didn't react negatively to the device. That was the one good thing of the campaign. It was the deception that caused the backlash and the denials.

We Market To Gaming Stereotypes
At Comic Con 2009, there was a social media campaign that urged gamers to take pictures involving an "act of lust" with a booth-babe. The campaign specifically targeted the stereotypical male gamer. They completely disregarded the fact that there would be another person involved with their campaign, the unwitting girl at the receiving end of the "act of lust". While it generated attention and media buzz, overall it was seen as reinforcing both male and female stereotypes. To make matters worse, they issued a standard, "I'm sorry if anyone was offended" apology without taking responsibility for the event. This is one thing marketers do that's slowly getting a little bit better... In almost every pre-marketing meeting I've been to, the target audience remains a constant. The presentation displays in a proud font, "we're going after the male, 18 - 25 demographic". More than once, when called in as a consultant, I've reminded the agency that the average gamers' age is closer to 35 than 25. Now, I have that research printed out and on-hand at the meeting to prove it. Publishers who market videogames tend to be a bit more up to date on their research, but I've yet to consult an agency where they've looked at demographic data instead of relying on their own, internal anecdotal "research".

We Go to the "Xtreemez" and Use 5-Year-Old Memes
The biggest videogame marketing trope is any ad that loudly proclaims, "Boost Your (Game/ Skills/ Score/ Rank)". They get extra points when they add a "Z" to the end of one of the words, use random capitalization or word-shortening. Marketers need to understand that most likely, they're not cool, they're not "plugged in" and by the time they've seen a funny YouTube video or heard of a meme, three more memes have gone by and died within the gaming community. By pretending to be "one of us" they look like the creepy forty year old guy at a dance club.

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