September 28, 2005, 12:00 AM

Step Right Up

Advergaming becomes a big way to promote retail web sites and sales.

It’s no secret that online gaming can be addictive. More than 80 million people go online every month to play games, according to industry analysts. And online adults spend about six hours per week on video games, according to Jupiter Research.

So it’s no surprise that online retailers have latched onto the marketing phenomenon known as advergaming to promote their web sites. "The theory is that people enjoy playing games, there is a large audience of folks who do, and if you can engage them with your brand, it will have brand impact," says Jay Horowitz, analyst with Jupiter Research.

Attracting a new audience

Among the most successful of recent forays into advergaming is Bluefly.com’s driving game, which this spring created a 33% increase in new customers for the online discount apparel retailer. "The exciting thing about it is that it attracted a lot of new customers because customers tell friends and their friends tell friends," says CEO Melissa Payner. "It’s a great way to get our name out there."

A report just out from the Yankee Group confirms the popularity-and continued expected popularity-of games for advertising and marketing. Yankee reports that spending on advergaming-a game built around a specific brand or product as a way to engage consumers-will nearly quadruple from $83.6 million in 2004 to $312.2 million in 2009. Advertising in online video games, where consumers see the products in games they play, much as viewers see product placements or logos in TV shows and movies, will grow from $117.6 million in 2004 to $874.7 million in 2009. The revenue estimates don’t include spending for advertising on game web sites apart from the games themselves.

While consumer packaged goods and automobile manufacturers are the heaviest users of game-oriented advertising, retailers such as Bluefly Inc.’s Bluefly.com and Radio Shack Corp. also employ games as a marketing tool. Both recently used auto-racing games. Radio Shack deployed a game developed by Shockwave.com, a popular online game network, to promote the retailer’s remote-controlled ZipZaps cars. Bluefly-which sells designer apparel and accessories-used its driving game to give away a Porsche Boxster.

Bluefly, which has used advergames to draw visitors to its site for several years, develops its games in-house and retains ePrize.net, an interactive promotion agency, to execute them. EPrize also picks the winners, awards the prizes, and collects information on the winners. EPrize-which hosts the site-receives a flat fee for its services. Bluefly’s biggest expenses are for the prizes and advertising promoting the game, Payner says.

The great shoe giveaway

In one game, the retailer offered a grand prize of 24 pairs of Manolo Blahniks, high-priced, high-fashion shoes favored by celebrities and featured on TV shows such as "Sex in the City." In that game, customers clicked on boxes that opened up to show a shoe. If the shoes from each box matched, the customer won a pair of Manolos.

Bluefly also gave away 42 pairs of Manolo slingbacks in a "pair-a-day" instant giveaway. The game-which ran in October and November of 2003-produced 500,000 entries after the first 20 days, of which 100,000 were from newcomers who opted in to receive e-mail marketing messages. In another game that ran in the fall of 2002 , customers played a slot machine to win one of 12 high-priced Hermes Birkin and Kelly handbags. During that promotion, Bluefly acquired 11,000 e-mail addresses in one week alone.

Bluefly’s most recent game, however, was a departure from its predecessors: the online win-a-Porsche game was designed to attract a male audience. To play the game, which was promoted on Bluefly’s home page and in e-mails to opt-in customers, shoppers entered e-mail addresses and passwords. A view of a Porsche-style dashboard then appeared, showing a tachometer needle that bounced among several prizes as the roar of an engine sounded.

Bluefly limited game players to one session a day. If a shopper failed to win a prize during the session, a pop-up window encouraged the shopper to earn another game pass on the same day by referring the game to a friend. The sign-up form for the game gave shoppers an option of receiving a daily e-mail reminding them to play the game.

More car racing

The grand prize of the game was a Porsche Boxster plus a $2,000 shopping spree. Other prizes included discounts of 10% or 15% on future purchases and free shipping.

The Porsche promotion-which began in early April and ended May 15-contributed to "a huge increase in sales," Payner says. During April, sales rose 32%, but it’s not clear how much of the increase was due to the game, she says.

But while the Porsche promotion had some impressive results, Bluefly will be returning to games that directly tie into the luxury goods it sells, Payner says. "We found that we’re best off and get the best overall response in the long-term when we stick to high-fashion items," she says

In its fall advergaming promotion-which is still under development-Bluefly will be giving away 30 luxury handbags in 30 days. Conde Nast Publications, publisher of high- fashion magazines, will be a cosponsor of the contest, Payner says.

Radio Shack also has had good results from its ZipZaps games, which were played more than 30 million times, according to Shockwave.com. More than 50% of players said they were more likely to purchase ZipZaps cars because of the game, whose object was to play the game and not to win a prize.

Moreover, 28% of those who played one of the games own a ZipZaps car or purchased one for someone, Shockwave found. Of those who own or bought cars, 26% said they were either somewhat or strongly influenced by the games.

The play factor

But setting up just any type of game isn’t enough. Online games will succeed as marketing tools for e-retailers only if they are entertaining, says Dave Williams, chief marketing officer and general manager of Shockwave.com. "It’s really important that the games be focused first and foremost on good game play," he says.

The automobile race games developed by Shockwave to market Radio Shack’s ZipZaps model cars succeeded because they started out as a "great, really fun driving game and then we integrated the product within that experience," Williams says.

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