The world of video games marketing has changed drastically in 2009, with the fragmentation of TV, falling print readerships and the rise in social networks.
In the first part of our roundtable with the UK most influential video game marketers, we discuss the economy and the changing-face of TV advertising.
How has the economy impacted your marketing this year?
Rob Lowe, Product manager for Wii, Nintendo: It's certainly tough for everyone this year and budgets in all areas are under pressure. That said we're confident we've made the right investment levels both above and below the line.
We are always striving to grow the universe of those who play, and this requires continuous investment and education to audiences that are traditionally quite difficult and expensive to reach even in difficult economic times.
Amanda Farr, UK Marketing Director, Sega: The economy has had a positive impact on our ability to gain share of voice and deliver more consumers for every pound that we spend. The number of advertisers outside of gaming has declined this year. The TV market, up to December, was showing deflation and so the cost of reaching our target market has been lower than last year and this applies to most media in the UK with outdoor also being key.
Al Hunter, Games Advertising Planner, HMV: Whilst we believe passionately that investment in advertising and other forms of promotion will always deliver real benefits, we also have to be mindful of the trading environment, as this, inevitably, has an impact on the budgets that are made available to the marketing team. It also depends what products are out, as this also helps determine how you divvy up the marketing pot and what co-op support you can secure from your suppliers.
Murray Pannell, UK Marketing Director, Ubisoft: It’s become clear as 2009 has progressed that the video games market is just as susceptible to the wider economic downturn as any other industry and I think many publishers have had to shift focus as the market has evolved. In many ways this has made our marketing team work harder than ever, since our marketing plans have constantly shifted as we make changes to the strategic priorities of the business.
David Miller, UK Marketing Director, Namco Bandai Partners: Broadcast media has been cheaper this year than for a long time. In May and June, good quality TV inventory was going for a song – in some places it was discounted as much as 80-90 per cent of the usual price. The market has definitely recovered to a degree, but there are still a lot of good deals out there.
However, the flip side to this has been a rush of publishers into the format and with that, less share of voice and ultimately, cut through. So while a medium might be cheaper, the ROI is not improved by default.
Alan Duncan, Marketing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment UK: Most importantly the credit crunch has resulted in a significant change to the way people decide on purchasing. This has meant our communications have become more focussed on benefits and showing the value in our products and services. From a media buying perspective we have been able to take advantage of the significant deflation in market prices, basically our money has gone further than it did last year.
Have you been sourcing cheaper forms of marketing? If so, what?
David Tyler, UK Marketing Director, Activision Blizzard: We've certainly been working hard with our media agency to fully exploit a relatively soft media market this year. However, we've not consciously moved to upweight our use of low cost inventory because low cost inventory is usually low for a very good reason.
Chris Walton, Marketing Executive, Zushi Games: As we tighten our belts our focus has moved online to the likes of Facebook, twitter and other social networking sites where we can spread the word of our games without the expense of more traditional marketing channels.
Murray Pannell, UK Marketing Director, Ubisoft: We’ve definitely been looking to get better value for money. And where as in the past, we may have included one or two ‘extravagant’ elements in our marketing mix, this year we’ve been looking to ensure that every pound we spend has some effect in terms of driving brand awareness or direct product sales.
Proving a return on investment has never been more important in marketing departments as the challenging marketplace has put pressure on margins and profitability in many sectors.
Richard Chapple, Comercial Director, The Hut Group: Retailers are always looking for marketing channels which deliver the lowest 'cost per sale' we've put more effort into our Affiliate and Paid Search channels than ever before with intelligent feeds and daily tweaking by our agencies and us to ensure is as low as possible. On some days these marketing channels can deliver over 30 per cent of our traffic and revenue.
TV advertising is fast becoming the norm in games. Why is this? And has this affected your marketing?
Jonathan Hales, Managing Director, South Peak: We’ve certainly looked at TV spends for 70 per cent of our games this year and have invested in TV where and when we believe it will make a difference to a product. With a property such as Horrid Henry, for example, there was a huge case to purchase a TV buy as the brand is really well known for the popular cartoon. Where we don’t have that luxury it’s not always the best use of your budget, especially if you can’t reach the share of voice needed for TV to make a difference.
Amanda Farr, UK Marketing Director, Sega: TV advertising is an effective method of reaching a mass market audience – no other medium could guarantee reaching 16million plus people at the same time and it’s a medium that let’s you really showcase your product. It’s not right for every product and we will always take a case-by-case approach to whether it fits our marketing objectives but with viewing figures going up this year and costs going down, it is no surprise that it is being used more extensively than ever.
Stuart Turner, Head of UK Marketing, Capcom: We’re working with a visual product so any place that we can show off moving images of our products is surely the right place to go whether that be online, TV or Cinema. With the growth of digital TV and the slump in costs, TV is no longer just the preserve of triple-A titles and equivalent budgets.
Some of our smaller titles have benefited massively from TV exposure where a couple of years ago TV would have been out of our price range.
Alan Duncan: Despite the changes in viewing habits and the rise of digital, it is still impossible to replace the effect of TV advertising in terms of awareness and word of mouth for a major campaign. We have always led our campaigns with TV advertising and that's not likely to change any time soon. Has the rise in on-demand TV and an increase in TV channels benefited you?
Murray Pannell, UK Marketing Director, Ubisoft: Despite the trend in audience fragmentation and a fractured media marketplace, TV is still the best way to build awareness quickly and with impact. It is after all a visual and entertainment medium, so historically, Ubisoft has invested heavily on TV broadcast and we will continue to push our big brands on TV. And as the relative cost of TV advertising has benefited marketing teams this year, there is definitely the temptation to really maximise the opportunity.
Amanda Farr: An increase in TV channels has been a benefit – it allows us to pick channels that index highly against our audience rather than just the stations that have the biggest overall audiences.
The rise in on demand TV has opened up the world of advertising by individual programme more than ever, which comes at a premium but again allows us to really target our audience – especially those that are time starved light viewers.
Technology hasn’t come without its challenges though, we now have to factor into account people watching to their own schedule on Sky plus, skipping ads and so on. There is an argument that ratings delivered need to be higher than they were 10 years ago to take all of this into account.
Picking programming that people watch live is an art in itself. There is a requirement for marketing teams to be far more analytical than ever before and really understand our consumers’ media preferences and this is an area that we have been really focused on in the last 12 months.
Alan Duncan, Marketing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment UK: On demand TV provides another media channel to chose from which is always a benefit. The increase in TV channels has led to a major fragmentation in viewing but does allow from sharper targeting especially in the kids market. With a greater choice of TV channel, it’s certainly allowed us to target our messaging to a more specific audience, but the more specific a channel, the smaller the audience so we’re always careful to tailor our messaging to the right channels, regardless of how many there happen to be.