By Tom Bannister
This week’s E3 gaming conference is a great opportunity to see all the permutations that branded-content-as-a-marketing-medium can take, all under one (big) roof. E3 also demonstrates how different types of content are better at different points in the purchasing cycle (awareness and research to purchase, retention and evangelism). And it shows how the content might be created by a brand sanctioned professional or by an amateur — in the case of the latter, as long as it’s in an environment sanctioned by the brand (something game makers are very good at).
Below we look at different types of branded content “on display” at E3, and how they fit into purchasing cycle and a brands’ overall marketing plan:
Just as at Fashion Week, E3 has shifted to prioritize public opinion, as well as decision makers at retail level. On top of the 45,000 industry insider attendees, E3’s organizers have created a side event for 20,000 hardcore fans to interact and, most importantly, drive social. Third party recommendations and reviews on social and/or UGC platforms are the most trusted form of digital content out there. They drive the initial awareness and point of purchase decision making, and are a great example of how digital media has empowered the consumer opinion over traditional advertising methods. According to Brandwatch’s amazing social roundup, Zelda: Breath Of The Wild dominated this year’s social conversation, with Battlefield 1 coming in second. Brands can effectively stoke social with content marketing strategies, but much comes down to the final product itself.
Industry-wide, much of the content that classified as “branded content” seems more like long-form commercials. The closest E3 comes to traditional advertising is in the game trailer format. Game trailers are 2–3 minute game outlines showcasing the game’s strongest footage and storylines (along with often cheesy acting). Game trailers are cornerstones of game announcements and press events, launched on YouTube and then cut down for TV commercials and pre-rolls, closer to game launch and purchase. At E3, the Battlefield 1 trailer logged more than 5 million views on YouTube, within 24 hours of release and some of the other big trailers include Resident Evil 7 and The Last Guardian. Game trailers, though highly anticipated are often less trusted as a source to indicate game quality and are more viewed as an opportunity for game maker to put forward their best case for buying their game. Gamers sometimes criticize game trailers for being difficult to judge a game’s overall quality, or often, game’s not delivering on trailer promises.
Awareness -> Research
Everybody is live broadcasting from E3. As a medium, the spectrum of live broadcasting runs from user-generated social media to professionally produced content. On the professional end, both YouTube and Twitch (powered by T-Mobile) announced extensive live broadcast schedules for E3. YouTube had a 12-hour live stream, hosted by Geoff Keighly. Twitch, along with streaming the game maker press conferences, also operated their own live stage with hosted segments, a “co-stream” in which Twitch broadcasters can stream the main feed to their followers), and even non-live content via a partnership with Vice Gaming, which is providing two behind-the-scenes documentaries for upcoming games (sponsored by Taco Bell). Live is a burgeoning medium with a lot of opportunities to experiment, but we do know that dwell times and engagement for live streams compared to regular digital video are extremely high. In 2015, the 20,000 attendees were joined by approximately 2 million online viewers. Live is in the moment and drives awareness, but is also powerful at the end of the purchasing cycle with customer retention, upselling and evangelism. Live, like social, adds a meta quality to content, as all content in these mediums is on some level promotional.
As we have written about before, live events are now branded content, as they are often created to engender digital extensions rather than the just event itself. The whole of E3 is, of course, a live event, but Doritos spearheaded the main live event-within-the-event, with a “six-story mix arcade in the middle of Staples Center.”Steve Aoki and Wiz Khalifa are headlined. This branded installation is reminiscent of what we saw earlier in the year at Coachella and SXSW. Live events are often more about brand than direct marketing. Frito Lay was establishing their brand within the gaming community, rather than launching a specific product. Most people at these concerts are likely already aware of Doritos, the brand.
Awareness -> Research -> Purchase
Kanye West was probably the biggest mainstream celebrity at E3, promoting the launch of his own game, Only One, and continuing to be one of the most innovative marketers across fashion, music and entertainment. Otherwise, the majority of stars at E3 were digital-native stars from Twitch, YouTube and competitive gaming. Paying gamers to play-broadcast, co-stream, review, feature, appear with and promote games is becoming more and more important to marketers, as real life increasingly filters through the digital lens. Influencers can drive awareness but they also help consumers who are already aware as they research more details about a game up to the point of purchase.
Like consumer brands, game companies at E3 use connections to sporting events to promote and sell sports games, like Fifa 17 or Madden NFL 17. But the buzziest sports game launch of the conference was arguably Ubisoft’s Steep, which is set in the world of extreme sports. This game capitalizes on GoPro movie making we have seen explode online and empower the extreme sports lifestyle and supporting brands like Red Bull and Mountain Dew. Esports were a major theme of this year’s conference. Many marketers at E3 were looking for ways to connect their new games to esports, and as Dustin Steiner of PVPLive writes, “this has led everyone with a competitive multiplayer to describe their programs as esports, and claim that their game will be the next big esport. EA’s Madden program, in particular, seems out of place.” Indeed, EA announced a new Madden esports championship with a 1 million dollar prize. Sports marketing, especially when the sport is the product, are effective in all phases of the purchasing cycle.
Awareness -> Research -> Purchase -> Retention -> Evangelism
Movies based on game IP have been big this year and allow game makers to grow audience and further monetizing already existing audiences. The biggest film announced at E3 was “Assassin’s Creed,” and Ubisoft and 20th Century Fox unveiled behind the scenes footage and cast interviews from the film. With both “Warcraft and “The Angry Birds Movie” performing well recently, is this a turning point for game based movie adaptations? Feature films impact all phases of the purchasing cycle from driving new awareness to retaining customers and when successful are highly effective marketing vehicles.
There were many games developed from non-game IP launched at E3. These were either promotional, in which a brand commissioned a game to promote its products, a way of further monetizing already popular IP, or often something made with both goals in mind. Trey Parker and Matt Stone (“South Park,” “Book of Mormon”), after successfully launching of a role playing game in 2014 (“South Park: Stick of Truth”), decided to launch major sequel (“Fractured But Whole”), instead of a new “South Park” movie. At the E3 press conference, Parker explained, “What really surprised us, and what we really learned from ‘The Stick of Truth,’ was how, for many people around the world, that was their first exposure to ‘South Park.’” Lego was also a big presence at E3 with three game launches (Dimensions, Lego Worlds and Lego Star Wars), along with all the merchandising and toys for upcoming movie tie-ins (“Ghostbusters,” “Mission Impossible,” “Harry Potter,” etc). And, of course, Disney continues its post-”Star Wars” prequel merchandising onslaught with a new “Star Wars” product. Apparently, EA has the next four years of “Star Wars” games already mapped out.
Retention -> Evangelism
Virtual reality is, of course, big at CES and as P.J. McNealy of Digital World Research said, “this is clearly the coming out party for VR.” According to E3, the number VR purveyors has doubled since last year. Not only did Sony and Microsoft announce headsets or consoles with VR functionality, these companies announced large numbers of virtual reality titles to be launched in the coming years. Virtual reality experiences were on the convention floor, too, to help promote and further large IP like Batman and Star Trek. How will consumer brands and traditional film and TV makers compete in this landscape where nobody has a historical advantage or precedent but games seem to have the structural advantage? Will virtual reality create its own IP or be more about extending already popular IP? For consumer brands, will it drive awareness or be a better medium for engaging current fans? On the new IP front, Occulus announced 20–30 original games at E3.
At SXM, we divide the notion of brand funded content into five subcategories, which i could apply to the above. But that’s another article!
This post was penned by VideoInk publishing partner Branded.tv, a one-stop shop for branded entertainment. Branded.tv features and catalogs the best branded entertainment campaigns from around the world.