Can You Make Money by Advertising in Social Games?

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on April 4, 2011
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More than 56 million Americans spend countless hours every week caught up in the virtual worlds of social games like Farmville, FrontierVille, and Restaurant City. So it’s natural to ask: How can you turn these gamers into consumers for your business? Here are some key points to consider when it comes to marketing your company in the virtual world.

1)   Make sure the demographic fits your business. Although video games typically appeal to younger male audiences, the average profile for a social gamer is a 43-year-old woman, according to a recent survey from PopCap. Before spending money to advertise, research the demographic data for each game you’re considering advertising in, and make sure that your product is the right fit for this market.

2)   Tie your product promotion to a game-based incentive. For instance, Microsoft’s Bing placed an ad on Farmville last year, offering users free virtual currency in exchange for becoming fans of Bing on Facebook. The fan page grew from 100,000 to 400,000 users in a single day. A subsequent Farmville-themed status update with a Bing search for “Farmville animals” drew 20,000 clickthroughs, highlighting the power of tailoring promotions to social gamers’ interests. These incentive-based promotions can be a great way to add new Facebook fans, but you’ll need to work to tailor your product offerings to their interests and monitor whether they’re actively engaging with your brand.

3)   Advertise within a game that’s related to your niche. For example, Restaurant City — a game that lets players run their own virtual restaurant — has hosted in-game billboards on behalf of Restaurants.com, which provides discount coupons for local restaurants. Likewise, if you’re promoting a pet product, you’ll probably find better results with a pet-focused game like Pet Society.

4)   Make your product part of the experience. Creating a fully branded experience within a social game can be expensive, but it can be a great way to create a positive brand identity for your consumer base. For instance, Old Navy launched its own virtual store, featuring replicas of actual Old Navy clothing, for a social game called It Girl. The company also offered discounts for physical Old Navy stores, but making sales wasn’t the main focus of the promotion. “It’s not so much about transactions and direct revenue for Old Navy in this situation, it’s about putting the brand in front of their customer base,” Peter Wexler, the director of strategic partnerships for advertising platform TrialPay, explained during the Social Gaming Summit.

If you decide to try advertising in social games, the level of actual product sales made through the platform may be underwhelming. However, if you’re more focused on gaining Facebook fans and raising your brand’s profile on the social web, this marketing model could be the way to go.

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