It’s a well-known fact that marketing budgets are signficantly higher in the months leading up to Christmas than at any other time of the year.
Only a few weeks ago, MCV reported that UK games firms are spending a combined total of over £181 milion on promoting their wares this Q4. But why is it necessary to invest so much at this time of year?
For a start, the rivalry for consumers’ disposable income between games and all other purchaseable goods reaches its peak as December nears.
“There is so much competition at this time of year, and not only in games,” says Disney’s head of marketing Keely Brenner. “We are also sharing limited retail and media space with DVDs, toys, music, clothes and other gifting items.”
GAME’s head of PR Neil Ashurst agrees: “Everyone is vying for attention, so the key is not just shouting louder but communicating smarter. You’re talking to a wider market and your marketing has to reflect that.”
It is crucial to remember that it is not just gamers that firms need to target. Gifters are vital at this time of year, and advertising must be adapted to those who do not understand the products.
“The usual marketing rules apply but the purchaser is not necessarily the person who will play the product,” explains Sega’s marketing director Amanda Farr.
“We need to not only ensure that the end consumer requests our titles, but also create awareness amongst the purchaser.”
SPREAD THE WORD
Another reason for such staggering marketing budgets is the need to invest in a wider spread of media.
From the traditional print and TV advertising to new channels such as social media, there is no room for hedging your bets here. Of course, firms are still learning how to make the most of their ad spends.
“This is the one time of year you can't afford to miss out on TV as well as extensive print ads in the tabloids and selected broadsheets,” says HMV’s games marketing planner Al Hunter. “You can't connect with a mass audience without these twin pillars. Everything else just helps.”
Many argue that online has become just as important, and striking a balance between these three main avenues of marketing is more crucial than ever (see ‘We Three Kings’).
The rise in marketing spends can also be attributed to the correlating increase in advertising costs that always occurs towards Christmas, although Brenner believes this has not had as much impact on publishers as it has in the past.
“It is a time of year when media is at its most expensive, so being targeted with what sort of space you buy is very important,” she says.
“But games companies are now prepared to spend more on their Christmas campaigns, with involvement from celebrities and reality show contestants.
“This has become a standard part of any PR campaign and an effective way of getting onto those prized Christmas wish lists.”
A glance at this year’s ad plans shows this, with David Beckham, Helen Mirren, and Mel B family all pushing games this Christmas.
It is also vital to work closely with retail during this crucial selling period.
Ultimately, the likes of GAME and HMV control whether customers will even have access to a game – a lesson THQ learned from its previous Christmas campaign.
With this plan refined to form the Great Games, Great Value range, THQ’s marketing director Jon Rooke says: “You can spend £2 million on promotions, but if consumers can’t find your products because
it’s not stocked at retail, you’re going to miss out.”
Activision’s senior brand manager Scott Wood concurs: “Retail is always the one piece of the marketing puzzle that gets affected the most. With the sheer number of titles vying for space, there’s never enough space for everyone.”
Most importantly, publishers need to adapt to the changes that have occurred in our consumer culture over the last five to ten years.
Awareness about products has increased, and a flood of connected devices such as smartphones has made the end user less susceptible to an instant sale than was possible five years ago.
“The interaction with the consumer was very different back then,” Rooke explains. “They were very used to being told what to buy, but now they often have smartphones or laptops with them. They actively search to find out what a product is. Consumers want to validate the purchase themselves before they commit.”
AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR
It has also become important to market products as early as possible, and maintain much longer ad campaigns, ideally running all the way up to Christmas and beyond.
“The sales period starts earlier every year, so shoppers are waiting longer and sometimes after Christmas to take advantage of savings,” says Warner Bros’ sales and marketing director Spencer Crossley.
As the market continues to change – both in terms of our own industry and retail in general – games firms need to adapt their marketing budgets accordingly.
The nature of advertising is changing, as are publishers’ relationships with their consumers. Spending more has become a necessity but it’s more than that.
As GAME’s Neil Ashurst observes, the key is to market in a smarter way, not just a louder one. Exposure is only half the battle, but the games industry is well experienced at fighting this particular war.