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What do ice cream and games have in common? Not enough. In the consumer packaged goods world, brand is life. But in the game industry, especially in mobile games, marketing tends toward the functional, with a focus on the bottom of the funnel where ROI seems much easier to demonstrate.
However, with competition growing and performance marketing becoming an increasing challenge, it might be time to turn to lessons from the CPG world. Iconic brands can live forever — and connecting deeply with consumers is what makes the difference, said Laura Keren, VP of marketing at Playtika.
She joined Peleg Israeli, director of global gaming, creative shop, Meta at the GamesBeat and Facebook Gaming Summit this Tuesday, for a discussion about how mobile game studios can actually build lasting relationships with their players to drive growth and engagement.
Playtika, which has been around since 2010, first started in the social casino space, but now ranges across 15 different genres. It’s a global company that spans about 20 offices worldwide. Before joining Playtika, Keren was a business unit manager at Unilever. But while going from consumer packaged goods to gaming was a dramatic change, she has demonstrated that brand building is essential to successful mobile gaming marketing.
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“Coming from the CPG industry, I’ve learned that there is no replacement for a good story,” Keren said. “A strong brand is even more important in the game industry, since the competition is much more fierce.”
There’s everything from the number of copycats to the number of new game developers looking for a piece of a booming market’s pie, plus how difficult performance marketing has become with and new privacy restrictions and increasing CPI, and digital marketing growing more and more automated.
“The main thing we can control is our creative and our messaging,” she said. “This is the way we can create emotional connections to our games and to our brands.”
The company is defining its brand identity together as a team, across studios, using players’ insights, talking to employees, and mapping the competition, because the people that work on the brand know the game the best and know their players the best. They create workshops based on player insights and competition analysis, and build it into a 360-degree holistic campaign that will appeal to both potential and existing players.
“We call this ‘gametainment,'” she said. “We see that mobile games, especially now since COVID, have become a more popular, a more accepted form of entertainment. The boundaries between TV shows, movies, music concerts, and gaming are really blurring. In the campaigns we’re adopting, we want to bring entertainment to our players, and we gradually build more and more gametainment elements inside the game and also in our marketing efforts.”
What gametainment looks like
Keren spoke to some of the company’s most successful gametainment campaigns, including the one that kicked off with the “She’s Bingo” music video, aimed at promoting Bingo Blitz. It’s the top free-to-play social bingo game, with more than 1 million active players per day, but the company wanted to move beyond the perception that it’s an old person’s game.
“We started out as a market leader. Our responsibility is to drive the category forward,” Keren said. “This was our state of mind when we planned this campaign. We wanted to make bingo cool again, and to expand it to the mass market. We thought, what could be a good solution to connect different generations? And the answer was music, because music usually connects people everywhere, across countries and generations.”
They took a hit from the ‘80s, “D.I.S.C.O.,” and tapped Luis Fonzi of Despacito and Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls and the Masked Singer to create a three-minute music video with very high production values. They released the clip organically, first through the singers’ YouTube channel. They racked up more than 70 million views on YouTube, TikTok, and Spotify, and even had a successful TikTok challenge with a dedicated dance. After the release of the song, they went live with a TV and UA campaign edited from the full video clip. They also created avatars, community activities, and special features inside the game to engage current players.
“The business results really surprised us dramatically,” Keren said. “We increased awareness and UX. The campaign has created a major lift in our daily installs, in our revenue.”
The House of Fun campaign, promoting one of their social slot games, teamed up with Penn and Teller to create a TV and digital campaign aimed at their current players. They created an in-game miniseries with Penn and Teller to take the players to a mission-based adventure — the first time that a miniseries has been streamed exclusively within a mobile game, Keren said.
“This project was really a turning point for us, for the way we think holistically about marketing, player experience, and how we combine both to provide high-quality entertainment to our players,” she said.
The challenges of brand marketing
Within mobile games, the main focus has been, and will always be, on acquisition and performance, conversation, and clear measurements. Evolving to a brand-centric viewpoint has been their challenge over the past two years. It started with building new marketing teams, which included experts in strategy, creative, production, consumer insights, and research — and most of these roles hadn’t existed at Playtika two years ago.
“We have the performance people and the brand people, and sometimes it’s like speaking a different language,” she said. “You need to find the right bridge for the brand people to talk to the performance people. It’s like two sides of the brain. When they find the right match, the magic happens.”
But the main challenge, usually, when doing brand activity, is how you measure it, she said. Moving from a very accurate measurement in performance marketing to a more holistic business view meant they needed to redefine their KPIs, and look at it from a larger picture approach. That included evaluating it in terms of revenue from every category of users, what kind of lift they’re getting in search, in brand awareness, and more.
“It sounds easy, but it’s really hard to crack the measurement objectives, to understand how we’re choosing the right media mix for our campaigns, where it will be the best to put the extra dollars in our campaigns,” Keren said. “I feel like we have a dream job. In an industry that’s exploding and growing all the time, as marketers, it’s an amazing opportunity. If we can dream it, we can do it. There are no boundaries. I feel very lucky.”
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