If you think about the kind of improvement we are having in web technologies and social platforms in the latest years (or months), you kinda get overwhelmed.
We went from the predominance of Geocities websites to Yahoo!-like portals to Myspace to Facebook & Twitter & co., and the pace keeps increasing, so much that we’re not really sure anymore what the next big thing is going to be (or maybe we know?).
One thing though isn’t really evolving much, or well, it has not evolved at all, not in significant ways at least.
Web advertising has always been the same since many years. It’s always a matter of placing a banner in a certain spot of a certain website, if you think about it.
I can name a few “evolutions” if we can call them so:
- Modern banners are increasingly more annoying and technologically advanced, in terms of using Flash (arggghh) to annoy you with mini-videos, sounds and whatnot;
- Banner placements evolved in terms of understanding where a banner is really profitable. Top banners aren’t the biggest hit anymore, now they like to place them in the middle of a page, perhaps dividing an article in two parts, or on the side in a more “squared” format compared to the most traditional “wide and thin” one;
- Ability-banners are omnipresent, those presenting mini-games that even a monkey could complete, and once you do you’re redirected to some spammy page offering the most various of things;
- The biggest innovation: Google, they built an empire approaching the banner ads philosophy in a scientific way, which is only the real way to be successful at that.
I tried for nearly 30 minutes to think of more innovations but I really couldn’t come up with anything else.
This advertising model, if done well, obviously works, and Google proves it. But the truth is – and Google realized this – it’s starting to smell bad.
The real problem is that, despite the “advancements”, banner ads are still a way to bring online a successful “offline” business model, and this doesn’t work well all the times.
In my view, brands shouldn’t be too happy in investing in them, not all the times at least.
- They sure don’t present a unique way to present a brand’s message (and people, like managers, love “unique”);
- People avoid them, at all costs. There’s a whole software segment dedicated to adblockers, for any major browser out there. In all truth, if you install one of these extensions it will be like banner ads never existed. Not good for a brand, but good for the people;
- They offer a one-way form of communication. It’s like TV, but, it’s not TV. The worst of both worlds;
- They are invasive, especially now that they can show movies and sounds, they can literally wake you up with banging music and sound effects, very annoying most of the times;
- They are overall pretty boring, I honestly can’t recall a single time I clicked on any of them, but I guess I am special.
One alternative way to approach online advertising is to actually try and engage the potential customer in something that, even though connected to the brand itself, is perceived not as an attempt to sell products or services, but as a form of entertainment.
The best way to achieve this is the use of games as a method of advertising.
Advergaming to achieve interactive marketing
Advergames are just this, real and more often than not entertaining games meant to promote a brand’s product or service, but nevertheless providing fun to the end-user without asking for anything in return.
Every major brand has made or makes use of advergames in their promotional campaigns, as they provide a perfect way to attract people without the obnoxious “banner ad approach” and without making it look like an advertisement at all, at least not that much. Modern game programming allows for awesome interactive experiences the user will remember, and with them, the associated brand alongside.
There are several types of advergames, for example:
- A game involving the brand’s mascot playing a platform, Super-mario-esque game, in which the player becomes more aware of the brand itself in a playful environment. This is especially successful for brands which focus their business around kids’ products;
- A brand using advergames as a final stage for a traditional marketing campaign. For example, buying a certain product you get a code to play a game online, which unlocks rewards or additional services;
- A game allowing the player to compete with other players in a weekly/monthly ranking, whose “top 3″ get a promotional discount code to buy the brand’s latest product. One real shot at achieving the long awaited viral marketing success.
I could go on for hours, you can see the potential for an advergame is virtually unlimited.
The fact is, advergames are on the rise because videogames are on the rise themselves. People of all ages love playing them, and web games have been popular for a while now.
Brands have the chance to invest in the game industry to get a little slice of the cake for themselves, and they’d be stupid not to do it.
The mobile revolution
Another advantage of advergames over traditional advertising is the mobile world. Platforms like iOS and Android devices serve as a perfect ground for this kind of “experiments”.
Audi understood this when they released their driving game for the iPhone, and Volkswagen went a step further asking Firemint, the producer of one of the most successful iPhone driving games, to brand the “light” version for the game around their new Golf GTi 2010.
These games offer quick fun to people on-the-go for the reasonable price of “zero”, but don’t get fooled. They won’t stick to it if the game itself sucks.
The one thing to remember is: if you are going to do it, do it good. There’s nothing worse like an advergame that sucks. It’s bad for the people playing it, and it’s worse for the brand connected to it. Don’t fall in the illusion that since the game is free you have a good margin of error, ’cause you don’t. On the other side, if possible you have to put more attention in an advergame than in a normal game. You have to think about it as a true marketing investment, with a real budget to pay real developers to make it for you.
Asking the wiz-kid next door to program it for you won’t really cut it.
My final thoughts are about what is the next step of advertising online going to be.
Banner ads will be with us for a long time still I think, and so will advergames, more and more, as the “mobile revolution” silently takes over.
Platforms like Apple’s new iAds and Google’s AdMob offer yet another way to advertise online, the first in a more innovative, multimedia way, the latter in a more traditional way (centered around Google’s own main business, after all).
But what next?
What do you think is the real future of online advertising?