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Can Wireless Games Build Brands?
Can Wireless Games Build Brands?

Wireless game playing is already a big business. Combined with company branding to a targeted audience, the potential for wireless ad campaigns skyrockets. PespsiCo has been one of the first international companies to get the ball rolling.

I can remember, as a child, playing video games on the now-ancient Intellivision TV game system. I'm amazed at how far games have come since then, with most gamers today expecting near cinematic-quality effects and lots of action. The evolution of games to wireless was inevitable even though the quality isn't quite like a Spielberg epic.

Wireless game companies have sprouted up around the world, encouraging people to spend more and more time glued to their phones and, hence, running up their download and airtime fees. Of course, with companies ever eager to find new marketing avenues that will get people's attention in a cluttered ad environment, many are turning to games. Some are even doing so with simple, SMS-based games as a way to spread the word.

That's exactly what PepsiCo is attempting with its "Pepsi Foot" game launched in Finland in May. Basically, it works like this: someone sees or hears a Pepsi ad, which promotes the game and its site (www.pepsifoot.com) on TV, outdoor, and radio. The player goes to the site and can challenge a friend to the mobile football game (the equivalent of soccer in the United States) on his or her WAP- or SMS-enabled phone.

The friend receives a message stating that he or she has been challenged to a game of Pepsi Foot, and is then prompted to type key words to respond. The exchanges can last up to 10 minutes, during which three or four messages are typically sent. Players increase their chances of winning by collecting skill codes during the game, and also from bottle labels. A periodic, random drawing of all the players is held for a trip to a Manchester United match and other brand products.

Lars Aikala, spokesperson for Small Planet, the company that developed the game, says branding is the campaign's main objective, although the only use of the Pepsi name (via mobile) is in the messages people get when they're challenged to a game. He points out that the uniqueness of the game has brought Pepsi extra media attention, which has only helped spread the word. While carriers collect about 70¢ per game played, he says Pepsi is not concerned with getting a portion; they're more focused on branding. He adds that the campaign has been very successful thus far, with the top player having played over 750 times and spending over $500 as of mid-June, and each of the next top five players having played over 200 times. Of course, the branding impact is difficult to quantify.

"Pepsi is on the leading edge of wireless advertising," states senior eMarketer analyst Jonathan Jackson. "It's not solely an ad. Pepsi is using a game to build good will for the brand." He notes the higher penetration of cell phones in Finland, and that a similar campaign could work in the United States if done correctly, mainly by targeting teens, as in this case. He also stresses the importance of using other media to support wireless campaigns, as with the standard Web.

IDC analyst Kevin Burden points to a potential pitfall that exists with any viral campaign such as this. "It's a bit intrusive for message recipients. You don't want to distract from a good user experience. It's best to deliver great content and link the brand to the value delivered," he explains. He adds that this is one way to get a name out there, but sees wireless games as more of a fad, since people still use their mobile phones mostly for voice. However, given that Finns are much heavier wireless gamers than their American counterparts, the campaign seems practical and compelling.

So would I challenge a friend to a game of Pepsi Foot, given the opportunity? Probably not, but then again, I'm used to blazing color and graphics that don't often disappoint.

About David Cotriss
David Cotriss is a freelance writer covering e-commerce and new media topics for many local and national publications. He specializes in wireless and interactive television marketing and advertising.

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