There is a risk vs. reward scenario that we all play out when deciding to interact with an online ad or a website. With online ads and websites for games, there is a delicate dance to be had between publisher and gamer—one that isn't always done so delicately. As game marketers, our online marketing tools need to inspire excitement, passion, trust and commitment in the people we are marketing to. These emotions play into aspects of psychological interaction.
Is there a psychology to online advertising? If so, how does online advertising for games play into this psychology?
Disclaimer—I am not a psychologist. A little psycho, perhaps. A psychologist, definitely not. Seriously, I'm no more qualified to analyze human behavior than any other marketing guy. And yet, I've been a student of behavioral interaction ever since I started in this business. Still, take these comments and observations as they are intended—as a layman's (or lame man's) opinion and not medical fact.
We all want to evoke emotional responses to our online marketing devices. There are dozens of emotions we can feel when we see an ad or a website, some of which I noted above. Suffice it to say, these emotions can be a powerful ally in compelling the web surfer to click. What can we do in creating these online tools to heighten some of these emotional responses?
To get to the bottom of this, we need to understand what compels us to click, or interact. I've narrowed down the reasons why we click into five main categories:
1. Trust—When a web user decides to click on an ad or navigate a website, they make several assessments in the blink of an eye—Will this be a waste of time? Will the site I click to be safe? Will the information I seek be relevant? Will I get what I need efficiently? Web users need to feel a sense of reliability and trust in what they are doing when they decide to interact. When they do, they are more likely to interact with a sense of purpose.
2. Curiosity—Many web users click because they are simply curious about what they have seen and want to see what's to come. The trouble with curiosity clicks is that person clicking lacks the intent needed to enter into the sales cycle—which is the whole point of advertising for video games. This brings conversions way down and the ROI can suffer.
3. Gain—We all act and interact motivated by gain. This is hardly a dynamic that exists exclusively online. Whether it is financial gain, increased intelligence or bragging rights, often times we find ourselves interacting because it means something better for us and our lives.
4. Fantasy—The great thing about the web is that it allows us to live out alternative lives with the click of a mouse. The infinite amount of information and content the web contains allows us to be transported into lifestyles and situations we would never dream possible. Web users often daydream by navigating the web. Within minutes they can be at a first class island resort sipping cocktails with the celebrity du jour—all without leaving their desktop.
5. Error—Various studies have shown web users click ads in error upwards of 17% of the time. Clicks in error on websites is part of the standard protocol of navigation. Why do we click in error so much? As bandwidth increases, the speed of the web has made it such that we simply aren't navigating based on what we read so much as what we see and feel. The more intuitive an ad or website is, the less clicks in error are made. This is a very important dynamic as you will read below.
Now that we know why we click, how can we use this to our advantage to increase interaction with our online ads and websites for video games? The great thing about marketing video games online is the rich storytelling that can be leveraged. With effective use of graphics, copy and interactivity, we can hit the triggers and avoid the pitfalls of some of the reasons why we click.
Let's look at these three factors individually:
Graphics—Graphics can clearly evoke emotion in the viewer. Video game publishers understand how important a role graphics play in the success of a video game. Graphics play an equally important role in an online ad. Most game marketers pack their online ads with rich, eye-catching graphics thinking this is the best way to bring the viewer into the marketing cycle. Not true.
The overuse of graphics can alienate your viewers and lead to them tuning out the other aspects of your ad. As an online culture, we have learned to ignore ads and bombarding viewers with graphic intensity does more harm than good. Balance is key here. Let the imagery sell the game, but don't let it sell the click. Let copy and interactivity hook the user with the graphics acting as the bait.
"Graphic authenticity" is a term that is not often used in our world. I suspect it is probably used quite often in game development. With online creative for games, I use the term to describe the balance between what we see on the monitor in an ad or a website and what we see in the game itself. It's tempting to overstate the graphic features of a video game. We sometimes see this done with game trailers. With online, we see a tremendous drop off in website interaction when the game graphics are marginal and the ads supporting it are far superior. Try to strike a balance between reality and fantasy when building your graphic web creative.
Copy—In his book, The Psychology of Advertising, noted Psychologist Walter Dill Scott points out the lack of attention being paid to copy. He writes: "One of the great weaknesses of the present day advertising is found in the fact that the writer of the advertisement fails to appeal thus indirectly to the senses. How many advertisers describe a piano so vividly that the reader can hear it?"
Sound familiar? This book was published in 1908 and yet it still rings true today. Good copy is hard to write, especially for online advertising. The space is very limited and the goal of compelling a person to click is often time focused on click-through. But clicking-through with little to no motivation often leads to massive losses in conversions. This drives down ROI and makes online media spending even more difficult to justify in the minds of game advertisers.
Effective copy is not only copy that immerses the reader into a visceral experience as Walter Dill Scott points out, but also it is copy that leads us to take a step forward in clicking with intent—the intent to engage with the website as a precursor to purchasing the game.
Make your copy focused and specific to your goals. Clever taglines are important, but not more than substantive information, especially where online ads are concerned. What advertising our Internet culture has not learned to ignore, they have learned to suspect. Your copy can be clever and even a bit disruptive, but it should also be clear and straightforward in what it is asking the viewer to do. Calls to action should be obvious without pandering. Bottom line: Ask for the click and you are more likely to get it.
Interactivity—Many interactive media and creative folks think that the job ends once the consumer clicks through to the website. They see the banner as a transportation device—a means to get the consumer from here (publisher site) to there (product site). If you've read any of my articles, you know that I prize interactivity in online creative.
Today's technology has leveled the playing field for game marketers who want to capture and hold attention (and intention) before losing it to…pretty much anything else available online. With the use of rich media, widgets and expandable ads, we can pack a ton of content into a very small space. We can use this content to draw the viewer in and deepen their commitment to clicking through to your website with the intention of making a purchasing decision.
Give the viewer options in your ads that allow them to view and share two or more pieces of content (video, audio and images). Any functionality that you can add that will allow users to customize the content will heighten the user's desire to share that content with peers.
With websites, the sky is the limit. Nearly all of the content on your site should be viral. Integration of content with the major social networks is now part of standard operating procedure. Widgets and other apps should be part of your content plan. Traffic is finite. You have a limited amount of people coming to your website for a limited amount of time. Take advantage of that and pack as much interactivity into the site as you can.
These three components represent the core building blocks of most online advertising creative. The next time you are working with your creative team in building your online ads and websites for your games, check in with the some of the reasons why we click and balance them against these three core components to achieve maximum results for your next online marketing campaign.