DETROIT -- Automakers are using the latest online technology to create video games aimed at boosting awareness and capturing sales leads. Young men are the primary targets.
"It's not enough anymore to just proclaim your brand and product," says Laurent R.O. Stanevich, senior vice president of digital marketing at Wunderman Detroit. The marketing communications company creates branded video games for Mercury.
"You have to offer entertainment value to the people you want to reach," Stanevich told Automotive News. "Games are a very effective way to clearly communicate detailed information, like product features or a more complex, nuanced message."
Wunderman Detroit created "Milan Traps," a game featuring the Mercury Milan that the automaker placed on its Web site, mercuryvehicles.com. The game encourages players to "protect" their Milan sedans by setting traps for those who come near them. Mercury ties the game to TV, print and online media promotions.
Stanevich says his company and Mercury designed the game to appeal to young men. According to a study conducted last year by 1Up Network, an online game-marketing company, the average age of video-game players is 23. Three out of five every gamers are male, the study says.
Subaru sought to reach the same audience when it created an online racing game that features its 2006 Impreza.
The game, called "Shakedown," includes video clips of race drivers. It also highlights Impreza options.
"It's not about selling a car this weekend but engaging consumers, allowing them to experience the vehicle," says Jonathan Rivard, Subaru's national manager of marketing programs. "Our target group for the Impreza is very Internet-savvy and heavy users of online gaming. This was a no-brainer for us."
The Mercury and Subaru online games are examples of "advergaming," which builds a game around a specific vehicle or brand.
Car companies also sponsor automotive video games designed for consoles and arcades. They promote their vehicles in those games. For example, Sony's PlayStation racing game "Gran Turismo 4" features automotive partners such as Mitsubishi.
Automakers say advergaming is appealing because they can measure how computer users interact with the video games. By requiring users to register to play the games, the automakers also can compile databases of potential customers.
"We start with general metrics, like reach and penetration into the target market," Stanevich says. "We flesh out the results with higher-level metrics, like (the game's) impact on favorable opinion of the brand."
Stanevich says Mercury employs a market research service to survey users before and after they download the video game.
Looking for leads
Subaru's Rivard says four out of every five visitors to the "Shakedown" game's Web site,
imprezashakedown.com, register to play. That enables the company to "collect prospect data for later use," he says.
Garry Kitchen, CEO of Skyworks Technologies, a developer of video-game content, says advergames are especially effective for automakers, "since we're able to feature their product as the 'hero.'
"Unlike more traditional online advertising, advergames are product-centric experiences that people seek out, enjoy and tell their friends about," Kitchen said. His Hackensack, N.J., company has developed video games for BMW, Ford and Toyota.
As more consumers subscribe to broadband Internet services and computer speeds and memory improve, online games are exploding in popularity, Kitchen says. "We are able to create gaming experiences approaching game-console quality."
Skyworks is developing video-game content for mobile phones. A company promotion says, "After decking out their dream vehicle on their cell phone, the consumer would go home and be able to drive that exact vehicle in an online advergame in the ultimate driving experience."