Best Practices: Brand Integration in Social Gaming

Statistics, social media trends and good old-fashioned word of mouth can all agree on one thing: social gaming has absolutely exploded in the last two years. With the peak of social platforms like Facebook, online gaming has been transformed to a universal social experience that can be shared with family and friends.

How exactly does this affect modern day marketing? Brands have noticed the trend and capitalized on it.

More than ever, consumers are actively playing social games online—perhaps why a wide variety of brands are continually beginning to invest in the space via brand integration. As social games present endless opportunity to reach a larger audience, a hot ticket in relation to today’s marketing strategy is exposure in social games.

Brand integration can occur within various levels of a game. When it comes to brand marketing, social games offer a much deeper level of integration than print, television or radio because of their interactive nature. From labeled in-game items to entire games structured around a household name, an increasing number of brands have entered into partnerships with social game developers—but what roads lead to higher success rates and lasting social impact?

The key to increasing consumer awareness is integrating brands that have aligning values with the game itself. It has to make sense for the two to work in tandem and ultimately be a win-win for both the game and the brand.

As brand integration has gained speed in the social gaming world, three specific layers of integration have emerged: light, medium and deep. While the three tiers can be summed up in brief, they warrant deeper exploration because each holds the power to define the entire landscape and purpose of a game.

Light Brand Integration

Light brand integration takes the form of branded items for sale, in-game decorations featuring company logos or on-screen banners bearing a brand’s name—essentially just quick advertising exposure that lends to very little lasting impact. These small-scale promotions are the easiest to execute across all social gaming platforms but not the best way to encourage brand engagement because it presents no interactive value to players or real-world rewards.

Medium Brand Integration

Medium brand integration takes the brand name into game mechanics through use of themed quests, storylines or special characters to name a few. These scenarios allow players to interact with an item that bears an association to a brand. Although less common than light or deep brand integration, the medium level has emerged in games at an increasingly frequent rate and holds opportunity for real-world impact. However, it’s important to note that this type of engagement usually only lasts for a short amount of time leading up to a real world event, like a film’s theatrical or DVD release. In brief, this level is a more structured campaign with limited longevity. For example, Cie Games, Inc.’s Car Town on Facebook partnered with Honda to help highlight the launch of the brand’s new CR-Z hybrid vehicle. To do so, the Honda CR-Z was modeled into the game as a racecar option for players and branded, roadside billboards were strategically placed throughout the game. The key is that the Honda brand was organically integrated prior to a brand-related event.

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Deep Brand Integration

Deep brand integration potentially showcases a brand as the entire game and is essential when looking for the greatest level of consumer engagement. In addition, it is the most demanding form of integration when it comes to game developers and carries the greatest possible risk and reward to the brand promoter. When executed properly, a brand walks away with meaningful and memorable engagement with its consumers.

As the CEO of Guerillapps and a game developer myself, I have witnessed the effects of well-executed deep brand integration first-hand through Trash Tycoon, the first-ever social game focused on upcycling, and its partnership with Kraft. Within three months of the game’s launch, Guerillapps integrated KRAFT Naturals, Singles and Snacking brands under Kraft Cheese in hopes of taking advertising in social games to a new level capable of immense social impact. What we’ve done with the Kraft name? The energy items players need in order to complete Trash Tycoon game functions are advertiser’s products such as KRAFT string cheese. Once a player has used the energy item, the leftover packaging becomes the raw material to make special game items, win points and even secure Kraft Foods branded badges for their Facebook profile pages.

Aligning verticals between the brand and the game are essential—Kraft, for example, is making a big push for sustainability and sought a game that would reflect just that. It is the educational yet fun premise of the game that allows players to best engage with the Kraft brand.

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To avoid detracting from gameplay, brand names and their associated values must make complete sense within the context of the game and correlate seamlessly. Interestingly enough, game developers continue to be approached by brands—but the cards of all parties have to be played right and aligning values are essential.

Thus far, we’ve discovered this deep brand integration has contributed to increased consumer awareness for our sponsors. As for the industry and future brand integration efforts, it’s all about going where the games are headed. When weighing options that utilize new mobile, location-based or check-in technology, developers must work with the newest technology platforms with only maximum impact in mind.

Raviv Turner is the co-founder and CEO of Guerillapps, a Manhattan-based social gaming startup that is applying proven social gameplay to Health & Sustainability markets. With 10 years of game and interactive entertainment experience, Turner and his team have recently launched Trash Tycoon, the first-ever social game to focus on upcycling.

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