What Pimply Teenager?

The word “gaming” is making its way onto the whiteboards of advertising conference rooms on a regular basis these days. As a proponent of this industry’s viability as a communication platform for brands, I think that’s great progress. We’ve collectively woken up to the fact that pimple-faced teenagers are not the only ones playing games (for those of you not in the know, these guys aren’t even the typical game consumers anymore, nor have they been for quite a few years now).

However, let’s not mistake progress for enlightenment.

Brands are starting to look at games as a medium—a tendency that’s being misconstrued by many industry proponents and technology vendors as the ultimate epiphany. The consequence of such complacence in our thinking is the dilution of one of the most powerful tools in a brand’s communication arsenal. Limiting our thinking about games to media-centric terms is the trap that has stifled the branded-entertainment space as a whole.

Frankly, brands have broader and better opportunities to leverage games when a consumer is not holding a controller in their hand. The issue here is that gaming isn’t just a lifestyle. It isn’t just a medium. Where gaming really brings value to the marketing mix is when brands can identify how gaming fits into their target’s lifestyle.

This is by no means the case for all brands, but it is absolutely the case for a substantial percentage of consumer brands. It’s easy to look at target segments as caricatures because media planning has always been easier in black and white. However, when media started fragmenting, so did the luxury of speaking in superlatives.

Consumers have extremely diverse entertainment palettes. Gaming is as likely to be a part of that palette as movies or television. When we understand our consumer well enough to effectively leverage the role each of these options play in his or her life is when we’re engaging with them in ways they desire.

The irony here is that the level of interactivity offered by games is what’s inadvertently limiting the way marketers are thinking about the space. If gaming lets consumers virtually interact with my brand, what else could I ask for beyond having my product message appear in such an interactive environment? The answer: quite a bit more.

After all, when brands think about music’s role in their marketing, do they find ways to integrate their brand name into lyrics? The answer is a resounding “no” for a number of reasons. First, they aren’t dazzled by music’s interactivity. Second, the music industry is motivated in ways that movie studios and game publishers are not (yet). The state of their business requires finding innovative ways to partner with brands, but there’s no reason we need to wait until gaming publishers are in dire need of our dollars—because that’s not going to be the case for a very long time.

Instead, let’s approach game publishers as our partners to determine how we can add value to our shared consumers’ experience. This should include all aspects of gaming, from the retail experience to the social encounters to the extension of a game’s life via incremental content.

So, as you think about your brand’s existing communication platforms—be it social interactivity, sports league affiliation, entertainment partnership or otherwise—ask yourself why those platforms were chosen in the first place. Is it because they represented a targeted media channel? A unique messaging opportunity? Or was it something more creatively driven? Regardless, one question to add to that list is: How do my consumers choose to fit gaming into this communication platform?

Once that happens, you’ll notice that gaming doesn’t belong on the whiteboard … it should have a seat at the table.