If you visit the Progressive website from your mobile device, tablet, or computer, you can waste hours playing free video games instead of shopping for insurance. One, called RocketCat, lets you fly a feline with a jet-pack through an animated underwriters' office, blowing Progressive “P” logos out of the air.
The car insurance company is just one of many major brands that are increasingly using gaming apps as marketing tools. Unlikely as it seems, they’re succeeding in getting customers to spend 5, 10, even 20 minutes at a time playing their branded video games—and presumably developing warm, fuzzy feelings for their logos.
The online trade publication Mobile Marketer reported last month: “Brands and marketers have been rolling out fun mobile games to engage consumers and increase brand awareness.” The article described a new Sports Jeopardy game app from Sony Pictures Television, a game from the NFL and the American Heart Association that encourages users to get active, and one from a North Carolina bank designed to promote its community service efforts. All three companies distributed the games via Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
But Rob Grossberg, co-founder and CEO of a New York company that creates and distributes mobile games and apps, says you don’t need the deep pockets of a Progressive or Sony to create a captivating game to promote your business. And you don’t need to get your game into the app stores, either. In fact, Grossberg’s company, TreSensa—and the investors who’ve pumped $3.5 million into the startup since July 2012—bet that your app will get better play the way Progressive's games do: via web browsers.
Grossberg says a company can spend a couple hundred thousand dollars to build what is known as a “native app” for iOS or Android, which consumers download from Apple’s App Store or Google Play to their phone or tablet. The trouble with making your mobile game available through the app stores, however, is that users need to find it there. “There are 250,000 other games in there with yours,” he says. “The Apple App Store only shows the top 250 games in any category, and really, to get found you have to be in the top 25.” When the game itself is supposed to be a marketing vehicle, Grossberg points out, marketers don’t want to spend even more of their budget on a campaign to help customers find it.
What’s more, with the overwhelming number of apps available, consumers are increasingly picky about which ones they’ll install on their devices. Grossberg says there’s a big mental hurdle for someone to get over before they’ll add, say, a laundry detergent brand’s app to their iPhone. The game might be fun, but consumers know it’s advertising.
Still, there’s little doubt games can be fantastic vehicles for marketing and advertising. Grossberg cites stats that indicate use of gaming content represents one-third of the time people spend on their mobile devices and two-thirds of tablet usage time. But hawking games via the app stores is an “untenable solution for brands,” he argues.
He points to a game that TreSensa developed for HBO to excite fans about the upcoming True Blood season. The show already had 10 million Facebook followers and a half million Twitter followers. TreSensa developed the game within 8 weeks for under $100,000 and translated it into 23 languages. HBO marketing teams around the world were able to share localized games via social media and their websites to promote the show to their specific audiences.
On the small business side, TreSensa created a game for a bar in Queens, New York, that lets players help an old-timey bartender catch beer bottles before they fall off the bar. And a brewery in Australia paid to put a new skin on an app it saw on the Mobile Web Arcade, where TreSensa showcases games it has developed.
Another recent game app from TreSensa for Warner Brothers and the WWE promotes a forthcoming Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania movie. When the game ends, players can watch the movie trailer and click through the buy the DVD. "In the app store you can’t tie in a purchase,” Grossberg notes. But with browser-based games, advertisers can build in an upsell.
“There’s this whole mentality that the app store is the only place for games, but we’re showing what is possible,” he says. Bringing in new business must be a big part of what’s possible: Progressive is about to launch the fifth game in two years that it has had built on the TreSensa platform.