If like me, you have an interest in tech business and marketing in general, then the name of Scott Galloway is probably familiar to you. he is the guy who gave an excellent talk called the four horsemen and also another brilliant one about the death of the industrial advertising complex. The way he sees things (and he is pretty well informed), brands are essentially on the way out, taking advertising with them. the reason? user-reviews and review-aggregation by platforms such as amazon (and more relevantly to me: steam) means that the value of a brand is no longer what it was. Advertising to build a brand is essentially pointless in an age where you can bypass the PR spin and look at the real data about what customers think of your product.

I find thinking about this to be very interesting indeed.

Essentially you advertise for two reasons. 1) To inform the potential customer about your product and 2) To build up positive associations about your product. I would suggest that 2) is totally dead, but 1) remains viable. There are reasons why 2) can still work, if you are associated with external signalling, in other words your target market for the ad is actually not the customer.

That might sound weird, but its commonplace. Its a phenomena associated with luxury brands. You might occasionally see advertising for a luxury brand you cannot possibly afford, and wonder how the hell it can be targeted so badly. The first possibility is that they are building long term value by hoping that 1 in 20,000 viewers of that porsche ad will one day buy a porsche. that’s true, but they also get indirect value from the other 19,999 viewers of the ad, because they perpetuate the belief that a porsche is driven by winners. When someone buys a porsche, they get a relatively low performance expensive to run and unsafe, expensive to insure car (compared to a tesla :D), but what they are really buying is status, and a projection of jealousy/admiration onto others. This has real value.

Porsche aren’t really selling cars at all. neither are Rolls Royce or Rolex. they sell status and luxury. These things cannot easily be quantified in a user review, so the ‘brand’ still has value. What they are selling is the knowledge that everyone knows you can afford the expensive product. In a way, by buying a branded luxury product you are a time-share owner of a PR team that tells the world how successful you are. its outsourcing of bragging and status.

Thats perfectly reasonable in some ways, I sound snarky but I’m actually not. I have a stupidly flash car myself. Humans are humans, and success is something people like to have recognized. Most scientists *do* collect their nobel prize, most successful business people *do* buy a flash car, most athletes *do* put the medal on the mantelpiece.

When it comes to something like a video game, we can’t really sell luxury and status and bragging rights, although top-tier kick-starter rewards and ‘premium’ accounts do their best. I notice that buying ‘premium’ so I get the DLC for battlefield one puts a little ‘p’ next to my name. I don’t give a fuck, but that P is there because some people will. In this case, you are advertising WITHIN the game. The ‘premium’ feature is so you feel you have a higher status than the other players, but thats still within the ecosystem of already-paying customers. F2P does this really effectively only it includes non paying customers too.

For most game developers, making money from top tier kickstarter rewards and premium accounts isn’t really going to be your bread-and-butter, so is advertising still an option for us?

Absolutely, but you have to be aware of what you are doing. Essentially your advertising exists (and so do appearances at shows, youtubers etc) purely to announce to players that your game exists. You are essentially buying name-recognition, logo-recognition and shelf space. Logo recognition is a valuable thing. lets pause for a word from our sponsors…

…and were back.

Where Scott Galloway is absolutely right, is that for non luxury near-commodity goods, advertising that builds brands is now pointless. Do I buy a Sony TV next or a Samsung? or LG? I don’t give a fuck, and nor should you. I can look at the reviews on amazon/other stores and pick the top rated one. The products are similar enough that I really don’t care. As long as the TV is available, and listed on the store, and *has some decent reviews* it will get my money. In other words, its 100% about the quality of the product. he has interesting points about voice-ordering on alexa that relate to this topic too.

To some extent this is true on steam as well. if I search for indie strategy games, then as long as production line has top tier reviews, and is a quality product, I should do well. The only problem here is that there are a LOT of indie strategy games, and a LOT of them have high reviews. I am hoping to *not only* get some sales from people generally browsing steam, but also from people who actively search for my game by name. Not only that, but I want my name/logo to pop out to people as some game they have heard of, so my game gets clicked on, when other games do not.

Basically, you are either hoping for traffic ‘within the store’ by having a decent product, or you are hoping for additional traffic *to* the store because you have established yourself as a name. I’m trying to drive traffic *to* my game, and am prepared to spend some marketing $ to get people there. Five years ago, steam was sparse enough to make a living from ‘just being there’ but now…not so much. Now you have to drive some traffic that way.

Conclusion? Advertising is changing, a lot. but it might not be changing for you. as a game developer.

 

One Response to “Brands, reviews and the death of marketing”

  1. Hugo Cardoso says:

    Howdy Cliff, What is your strategy for advertising? Do you use just AdWords? Twitter, Reddit, Facebook?
    Do you drive traffic directly to the game website or to Steam? Have you found it’s better to get a massive amount of clicks in a very short period of time or spread them out more?
    I’ve been experimenting with advertising lately but it seems very hard to actually detect if it has any effect, would be great if Steam allowed tracking links.
    Cheers!

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