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 NASCAR.com 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.