The Ability of Online Branded Games to Build Brand Equity: An Exploratory Study

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Author: Deal, David
This paper deals with the convergence of online games and advertising in the form of "Advergames". As such, this topic discusses a relatively new arena in which businesses from many diverse industries are taking an interest in video games simply for their ability to serve as online advertising vehicles. Because it deals with an aspect of gaming that is having a growing impact in the business world, this paper is applicable to the "Industry and the Academy" theme of the DiGRA 2005 conference. --------------------------- The Internet offers us many novel ways to spend our idle time, and increasing numbers of Americans are taking advantage of these opportunities. A growing trend toward turning off the television and tuning in to the Internet is forcing many marketers to enter a relatively unexplored advertising arena where the best methods of reaching and influencing customers are as yet unknown. Studies have found that many Internet users spend their online time playing video games, a realization that has led some major marketers to launch into a new marketing format that merges games with advertisements into a hybrid form of branded entertainment called "Advergames". The advergame advertising format has a strong potential to overcome the weaknesses of previous forms of online advertising that marketers have been struggling with, such as banner ads and pop-ups. Studies investigating the viewing behavior of visitors to Websites have utilized eye-tracking devices to discover that the average individual looks at less than half of all banner advertisements to which they are exposed, a fact that appears to stem from an intentional avoidance of the ads (Dreze and Hussherr, 2003; Chan, Dodd, and Stevens, 2004). Advertisements that people purposely avoid viewing simply do not have an opportunity to make an impression. More intrusive advertising vehicles, such as pop-ups, have been found to be even less appreciated by online consumers. A recent study found that 35 percent of pop-up ads are completely ignored with 50 percent being closed before the ad has had the time to fully load onto the viewer‘s screen. In addition, this study found that these intrusive ad formats are regarded as distracting, irritating, and even insulting, resulting in very negative attitudes that have the potential to actually damage a viewer’s impression of a brand (Chan, Dodd, and Stevens, 2004). It is worth noting that negative consumer reactions to these forceful persuasion attempts is exactly what would be expected according to past research on reactance theory and advertising (Clee and Wicklund, 1980; Friestad and Wright, 1994). This theory and its supporting studies suggest that the more blatantly aggressive an advertisement is, the more likely viewers are to disregard the ad and to develop negative impressions of both the advertiser and the advertisement itself. Advergames, on the other hand, represent an advertising format that has a potential to overcome this resistance to marketing messages by providing consumers with an enjoyable and interactive experience. Studies of other interactive ad formats have found that interactivity and animation tend to produce positive attitudes (Raney, Arpan, Pashupati, and Brill, 2003; Dynamic Logic, 2003; Dynamic Logic, 2002). This enjoyable experience can be expected to result in positive feelings toward the advertised product and the advertisement itself, an affective reaction that has been found to influence brand attitudes and intentions to purchase the product (Brown and Stayman, 1992). In addition to providing an advertisement that consumers are likely to enjoy, building a video game around a marketing message offers several unique characteristics. First, the consumer that chooses to play an advergame does so by their own volition; it is something that they want to do (quite unlike looking at banner ads or pop-ups). A second unique characteristic is that exposure to an advergame involves active participation and interaction with the marketing message, something that cannot be accomplished via television, magazines, radio, etc. Also, players that enjoy an advergame will continue to expose themselves to the advertisement for as long as they are having fun. Depending on the quality of the game, this exposure can last from several minutes to the better part of an hour, a span of time much greater than can be achieved through traditional media (such as a 15 or 30 second television spot). This new advertising format appears promising, but little research has been conducted that proves its effectiveness or justifies its widespread adoption. This lack of evidence supporting its ability to generate brand equity has led to the research question, "Does the use of branded online games (a.k.a. Advergames) generate a higher rate of advertising recall than the use of traditional banner advertisements?" In order to shed some light on this question, an exploratory study of the relative merits of these two advertising mediums was conducted. A sample of online gamers played a branded advergame and an unbranded game that was coupled with a banner ad, and were then queried to determine their ability to remember the brands to which they had been exposed. Not surprisingly, the advergame yielded a much higher rate of recall than the banner advertisement (68 percent versus 16 percent, respectively). While the results were very positive, the study also resulted in the identification of several variables that future marketing research involving advergames will need to consider when developing a study design. These included the need for a sample that is as representative of the overall online game playing population as possible, exposing respondents to the advergame and the banner ad for equal lengths of time, and using an advergame and comparative media that are roughly equivalent in their entertainment value, and that have not been previously seen by respondents. In summary, this paper shows that advergames have a promising future as an Internet advertising vehicle. Interest in this medium can be expected to grow for many years to come as academics and marketers alike continue to explore its potential to solve the need for an effective method of reaching the vast and growing population of online consumers. References Brown, S. P., & Stayman, D. M. (1992). Antecedents and consequences of attitude toward the ad: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(1), 34. Chan, A., Dodd, J., & Stevens, R. (2004). The efficacy of pop-ups and the resulting effect on brands – A white paper by bunnyfoot universality. Retrieved September 26, 2004, from Clee, M. A., & Wicklund, R. A. (1980). Consumer behavior and psychological reactance. Journal of Consumer Research, 6(4), 389. Dreze, X., & Hussherr, F. (2003). Internet advertising: Is anybody watching? Journal of Interactive Marketing, 17(4), 8. Dynamic Logic. (2003). Interactive ads yield better than average results in getting consumers closer to the point of purchase. Retrieved September 25, 2004, from Dynamic Logic. (2002). Rich media campaigns twice as effective at lifting brand message association. Retrieved September 25, 2004, from Friestad, M., & Wright, P. (1994). The persuasion knowledge model: How people cope with persuasion attempts. Journal of Consumer Research, 21(1), 1. Raney, A. A., Arpan, L. M., Pashupati, K., & Brill, D. A. (2003). At the movies, on the web: An investigation of the effects of entertaining and interactive web content on site and brand evaluations. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 17(4), 38.
Contact: David Deal, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dept. of Consumer Science,
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