In 2008, we're all going to move closer to becoming gamers.
I'm not talking just players of actual games, per se, although those segments of consumers are growing exponentially:
- Casual gaming snares lots of middle-aged women, just as players of all ages try to win at online poker
- Gaming consoles are still popular, and Nintendo's Wii has captured (if not outright created) an entire new category of players with its buttonless controller
- MMORPGs keep millions of players occupied with slaying or doing business with one another
- Alternate-reality games (or ARGs) are engaging more and more people, and involving them in real-life events
So much of the world's population is playing one video game or another, across enough lifestyle segments, to suggest a natural predisposition to the experience...or perhaps at least a vulnerability to its lure.
And how does brand marketing address this phenomenon so far? By placing billboards and products in video games. Or running commercials as bookends. And sometimes hosting games on web sites.
I predict that some of the cutting-edge digital marketing that we celebrated in 2007 will have to move past this rudimentary understanding (or recognition) of the game interface, and give us some interesting experiments with games in 2008.
Conversely, I suspect the business world won't tolerate another year of endlessly vague experiments in new media branding that yield a bunch of inert, one-time awareness numbers, and then nothing more tangible than that.
This year, maybe we'll start exploring the idea that games aren’t something to be used like another channel, no different in structure or experience than a web site or print magazine. That maybe games aren't tools to engage with branding, per se, but rather a suggestion for a model for structuring branding itself. Less tactic, more strategy. Brand loyalty as game addiction. Consumers as players. Loyalty as leveling up in an ongoing give-and-take experience.
Contrast that with the archaic language of today's brand planning: we still create positions and messages/images, then choose channels through which to deliver them. Interactivity is our target consumers running into our branding; conversation and involvement are in reaction to those elements of brand we elect to promote.
Perhaps the interaction itself is a game...brands as games...not with swords and adventures, but with boundaries, narrative direction, risk and reward, purpose, status accrual, and payoffs along the way.
Consumers get it, and make a game of much marketing anyway; we certainly do so with some of our decision-making on purchases. You can likely remember searching for a sale item, or comparing possible choices, and putting your possible actions to the test of community review. Making a sort-of game of how we shop is getting only easier and more common, thanks to the comparison and communication tools available to us via the Internet.
But the behavior isn't anything new. Life is just a game isn't a cliche for nothing. It's true.
So maybe it's a short leap to imagine branding embracing these behaviors, and directing digital media toward it. Gaming could well emerge this year as something inherent in brand planning, and not just a sometimes utilized tactic.