The Maturing Market For Brand Integration With Social Games: Medium Integration

This week, we examine brand integration in social games at the medium level, where license-holders of popular brands coordinate extended in-game campaigns with sizable social games on Facebook. The past four weeks have highlighted these types of integrations, with a sports brand and two celebrities partnering with big name social games for extended campaigns. Join us now for a look at NASCAR in Car Town, Jamie Oliver in Restaurant City, and Lady Gaga in FarmVille.

For the purposes of this analysis, we limit our definition of medium level brand integration to partnerships between social game developer and license-holders built around preexisting social games for the purpose of promoting a brand through a targeted series of items or quests. These campaigns usually have a specific time limit, often coinciding with a real-world event like a film release. In some cases, the campaigns have an additional live component where players watching a TV event receive special codes to unlock items in-game as part of the campaign.

Medium level brand integrations so far have been targeted affairs where the brand is a very obvious “fit” for the social game. For example, Zynga’s FrontierVille campaign for the film Rango seemed a natural blend because the game and film shared a Western-themed setting. Very recently, however, Zynga deviated from this “natural fit” approach to medium level integration with its extensive Lady Gaga promotion run through FarmVille. We’ll explore that campaign in a section below; for now, however, we name the Lady Gaga promotion as an anomaly among medium level integrations.

NASCAR Rolls Into Car Town

The most recent medium level integration campaign we use as an example is and Sprint’s partnership with Cie Games for a NASCAR Pro Championship event in Car Town. It’s one of the longer medium level brand integrations we’ve heard of, stretching from mid June through the conclusion of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cut series in late November. For the duration of the event, Car Town is featuring special virtual drivers against which players can race on three different tracks and participate in various missions as part of a virtual enactment of the NASCAR Pro Championship. Also, Sprint has its own branded vehicle, race entrance, victory lane, leaderboard and virtual item set in Car Town as part of the campaign and players can earn said item set through watching video adds on Miss Sprint Cup’s Facebook page. Lastly, special codes for in-game rewards will appear during TNT’s coverage of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup series.

The cost of a medium integration like this is a complex calculation. In a report published by our sister publication, The Facebook Marketing Bible, Cie Games CEO Justin Choi said that in cases where a flat fee is used to cover the costs of integration, a mid-sized game can fetch prices in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover multiple branded game features and virtual goods. Beyond that, however, there’s likely a revenue share model in place, or even a cost-per-engagement or impression payment attached to specific components of the campaign, like the Miss Sprint Cup video ads. Prior to this NASCAR event, Car Town hosted campaigns for Honda, State Farm and Toyota.

Celebrities as Engagement Tools

Apart from the revenue earned through a campaign, a social game exploring medium level integration is often looking for a brand that will either deepen its connection to existing players or potentially attract new ones to its game. Deepening user engagement was the goal for EA Playfish’s partnership with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver for a month-long medium level campaign started in late May 2011 for the game Restaurant City.

This campaign just barely meets our definition of medium as opposed to light integration by virtue of its duration and features external to the actual gameplay. For the duration of the campaign, players can unlock special Jamie Oliver recipes to complete in-game. Doing so earns them a link to the real life recipe for the dish on Oliver’s website. Unlocking and completing all four recipes unlocks a Jamie Oliver-branded pasta maker item.

In an interview with ISG, Restaurant City Producer Joe Raeburn tells us that the key ingredient for the campaign’s success was the alignment between the brand’s creative goals and the game’s creative goals.

“Our recipes [in the game] are made up with four ingredients. We had to have recipes that were tied together with this one common ingredient so that we could make the gameplay work for our players,” he explains. “Something that’s easy to cook, something that Jamie Oliver is well known for — that’s where the Italian pasta theme came from.”

Though the campaign is still running, it seems as though Jamie Oliver hasn’t necessarily attracted new users to Restaurant City. The game’s traffic across monthly active users and daily active users is down a little over 3% in MAU to 5.3 million and down 14% in DAU to 1.2 million since the start of the campaign, according to data from our traffic tracking service, AppData.

Note that this is Playfish’s first-ever celebrity integration at the medium level in any of its games. It may be that the developer refines its approach to this type of integration based on the results of the Jamie Oliver campaign.

Social Games as Celebrity Tools

Now we come to the odd situation of Lady Gaga’s medium integration into Zynga’s FarmVille. The Lady Gaga campaign included in-game components like a special farm players could visit to see Lady Gaga-specific virtual items and avatar goods as well as streaming tracks from the artist’s then-unreleased album, Born This Way. Outside the game, players could purchase $25 Zynga game cards at Best Buy to receive a Gaga unicorn animal for FarmVille, a free download of Born This Way when the album released, and the chance to win a pass to watch Lady Gaga tape her next music video. The campaign also extended to Zynga’s iOS/Android title, Words With Friends.

On the one hand, it’s not that strange of an integration. Zynga’s Global Director of Brand Advertising Manny Anekal previously told us that the developer saw itself doing more regular brand promotions within FarmVille, say for major media property releases like films.

“We’ve turned Zynga into essentially a new launch platform for Friday releases,” Anekal says. “I think that’s going to be a huge medium for entertainment companies moving forward. I think we’re going to continue to explore the mid-level integration. No announcements or plans or anything to speak of — but imagine an offline component coming to entertainment properties. Imagine what we could do to connect that like what we did with [FarmVille Slurpee drinks at] 7-Eleven.”

On the other hand, Lady Gaga doesn’t immediately seem like a natural fit for the FarmVille brand as the pop singer hasn’t previously connected herself or her music with the social game or with farming. Even more of a stretch is the streaming music from Born This Way; prior to the campaign, the album had come under fire from critics for being too similar to older songs from pop icon Madonna. Incorporating unreleased tracks from the album exclusively into FarmVille didn’t immediately make sense.

Even so, the campaign appears to have successfully attracted new users to FarmVille for a short time. When players were allowed to unlock unreleased tracks two days after the campaign’s May 17 start date, the game saw a spike in DAU on May 19, up almost 14% to 13.5 million. FarmVille’s MAU also increased during this time period, up 4% to 45.8 MAU on the day of Born This Way’s release. Following that date, both MAU and DAU declined toward their pre-campaign levels over a period of 10 days.

Note that this campaign was extensively promoted both by Zynga within its social game network and by Lady Gaga herself in radio ads, where she delivered special keywords that players could use in Words With Friends. By successfully playing Gaga keywords in matches, Words With Friends players received the chance to win free tickets to Lady Gaga’s next tour, plus a signed copy of the Born This Way album.

The Possible Future of Medium Integration: Plug-and-Play Models

An interesting direction medium level integrations could take as brands and social game developers explore best practices is the idea of do-it-yourself integration for specific brands. This idea was suggested to ISG by CrowdStar CEO Peter Relan when discussing Old Navy’s original integration with the developer’s leading game, It Girl.

In that game, players control an avatar whose primary objective is to visit stores and spend virtual currency on virtual clothes. Relan explains that it was easy to activate on Old Navy’s brand in the game by building a virtual store with Old Navy-branded goods for sale — and naturally, the goods sold produced revenue split between the brand and the developer. To cut back on integration flat-fee costs, Relan says it’d be ideal for CrowdStar to release developer tools to brands that they could then use to build their own virtual stores within It Girl, even down to setting the cost for individual goods.

“We would love to do something like a branded store of the month with rev share,” Relan says. “It’s a low cost way for brands to explore . The real criteria is fit, interesting [gameplay], and balancing the game’s economy.”

Stay tuned for a look at deep level brand integration in the coming weeks. To find out more about specific branded campaigns within social games, sign up for The Facebook Marketing Bible.