I have argued in this blog for months and at tradeshows that social game companies need to create robust marketing strategies (not simply rely on performance marketing) to survive and prosper. Today, I will talk about how you can create effective video ads (either for YouTube, television, or something in between). I was inspired to create this post by a recent Harvard Business Review article, The New Science of Viral Ads. In fact, this post largely summarizes that article and discusses how it could be applied to social game marketing.
Do not force your brand or product down the user’s throat
The first principle in creating ads that will go viral is not to make the branding or product name too prominent. Consumers are very sophisticated and this practice will turn them off immediately. Instead, subtly show your game, via screenshots or people playing it, repeatedly without the big logo popping up every five seconds.
Avoid boring viewers
Consumers have many alternatives, even when viewing ads, and can quickly get bored if the ad is not entertaining. To keep viewers, you need to introduce joy and surprise quickly; you need to generate at least one of these responses early on. What is also interesting about the research that points to the need to build quickly joy and surprise is that it is very similar to good social game design.
Users will watch for a while but then stop
A video ad that creates joy quickly and delivers it at the same pace have been shown to be ineffective at engaging consumers for long periods. Instead, an effective video ad will create an emotional roller coaster; ie. joy-no joy-joy again-no joy again-etc.
Even popular ads are often not viral
The HBR article showed that even ads that people liked are often not shared. Given that the goal of your video is probably is to persuade as many potential players as possible to try your game, virally spreading the ad is one of the most important means to achieving this goal. To increase your odds of going viral, the authors of the article suggest surprising the game players without shocking them (no naked videos of the CEO ).
Even perfectly done videos often are not viral
The final point that the authors of the article make is that only a small subset of perfectly tailored videos ever go viral. The way around this problem is to target the viewers who will share the video. The people who are most likely to share videos are ones who demonstrate extroversion and egocentricity. Obviously, you can just target your ads to those who are egocentric (at least I have not seen that checkbox on the Facebook Ads submission form) but you can be creative in finding these people. Twitter is a great resource to try to identify the appropriate targets. Even in Facebook, companies are placing ads on the pages of users who often post links.
Putting it together
If you follow the hints above while creating promotional videos, you are much more likely to build cost effective marketing for your games. You may not get it right the first time (you probably will not), but you will be building the skills needed to market your social games in the years ahead.