Where have you spent your advertising dollars?

Started by Adam Riemenschneider, April 28, 2008, 05:03:02 PM

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Adam Riemenschneider

I'm considering spending some dough for advertising, but would like to hear about your experiences in doing so. I'm open to either Print or Internet based campaigns. Which publications, newsletters, or banner ads have you used? How would you describe the response, and how were each company to work with?

Thanks in advance.

Creator and Publisher of Other Court Games.

Eero Tuovinen

I'm very frugal with the advertising dollar, so I guess this kind of an anti-post to your topic. This comes from some pretty long-term experience in cultural hobbies and therefore learning what works and what doesn't. For example, I've pretty much given up on strategically placed posters and media advertisements as a specialty advertisement tool (not speaking of brand awareness and other high-end stuff) after seeing the technique perform insignificantly for many, many conventions and other hobby projects. This experience is pretty applicable to much of indie publishing, as an indie publisher operates pretty much on the same level as a local convention organizer or fanzine publisher or whatever: he wants some people to check out his product.

I imagine that the situation might be different if you have a notably specialized audience segment in mind, and you think you're offering selling points that grab folks by the lapels simply by being told about the product's existence. Or if you're willing to go for shock tactics in marketing, I guess. But if those do not apply, then I'd personally be very sceptical of the benefits of getting "eyeballs"; the average consumer, you and me included, passes by literally hundreds of advertisements daily - we're schooled to ignore them, that's part of the media reading skill set. You don't want to pay comparatively significant money to be a small drop in that marketing message ocean, unless your product shots out of the page in an outrageous manner. And that is, generally speaking, achieved either by having a grabby product (marketing to a specialized audience segment that does not currently have its needs met, in other words) or by having a grabby advert (using shock tactics, in other words). The former is something you can't necessarily affect, the latter can be expensive (in that a good shock marketing campaign might require anything from four-color posters to moving pictures to get across).

The situation being as it is, I recommend spending the marketing dollar with deliberation, which you're doing, of course. The following are all indie marketing methods I've personally found or strongly suspect to be useful:

  • Have people talk about the product to other people. Works at conventions, especially. Play the game with people, even. The tricky part in this one is that while it works, it's very expensive; too much so to pay for, in fact, leaving you to do it yourself with friends who want to help for curiousity's sake. The best bet is to provoke people to talk about the product, instead of paying them to do so, which is of course much of what guerrilla marketing is about.
  • Writing about the game is a lot like talking about it - too expensive to pay somebody to do it, so hopefully you might use some other techniques to provoke people to do it for you, instead. Meanwhile, you really pretty much have to do it yourself, which sucks, as at least I don't seem to be that interested in writing about my game instead of writing something new. Just about the most boring topic imaginable, my game, after having spent so long writing it.
  • A good website (or a web nimbus, as the best indie games have; their most important web presence is often not on the relatively moderate main site, but on forums and such) is a crucial in-depth marketing tool, as most rpg customers are specialized enough to not care to buy your game without in-depth knowledge. Thus your marketing plan is actually two-step: first you gain a consumer for your web presence by other menas, and hopefully that consumer, having consumed your web presence, is sold enough on the product to place an order. There are people who require more or less show to make the call, of course; my brother, for example, having plenty of discretionary income and a habit of buying stuff, has a pretty low threshold for placing that order. Most roleplayers I know are stingy and skeptical, and need to basically read around 20-40 pages of different kinds of content (actual play reports, condensed descriptions, free adventures, creator's blog, etc.) before they feel confident enough in a new product sphere to invest a single dollar. And, there's also a point in here: consider investing that marketing money on your web presence. Buy yourself something nice as a reward for making the site better than before, for example.
  • Distributing the game for free in a smart manner might have interesting effects. For this you'd want to analyze the information flow and pick alpha consumers who have an audience but also room for your product. It's a fine balance, as an established community leader will only endorse your product if it appeals to him strongly. If you can manage it, giving a free copy of the game to somebody who likes it, tells their friends, plays it, writes a review and three actual play reports is probably just about the best return you might hope for in terms of marketing. Finding that special individual is, of course, tricky, as a person who wants a free game might not have much interest in the product in the first place. Also note an important point: retailers belong in the group of alpha consumers, although they behave and advertise your product a bit differently.
  • Special advertisement deals have an interesting effect as well. By "special" I mean advertising in venues that do not normally accept advertising. The problem here is, again, that it's difficult to buy this kind of privilege with money. A good example of the results, however, is how the indie brand is attached by association between products that cross-advertise in each other. This one works especially well on committed brand followers: have your own game advertised in another indie game, so that when the customer of that game comes across your game, they already know that it belongs in the same brand as guaranteed by the publisher of that other indie game they already bought. This is just about the only sensible brand awareness marketing technique I've seen employed for indie games. (Discounting Luke Crane, who works hard to develop his single game line as a brand in itself; and Sorcerer, which is a brand due to being so venerable.)
  • If I absolutely needed to spend money in advertising, most of the above would be a bit problematic. (This, to me, speaks of an empty niche in the indie publishing culture, as nobody seems to be selling effective marketing.) The one technique that I might use to spend money, apart from spending money on free copies of the game to give away, would be to cover the expenses of special product deals and marketing-oriented events I might arrange; this would be largely product-dependent, but something like a Valentine's Day special offer for a romantic game would fall in this category: spend the money on raffle prices, covering customer postages, gift chocolate, charity publication print costs or such little perks. The benefit here is not only the hypothetical goodwill you might gain from such endeavours, but also the fact that doing such events is much easier than putting out new products, but doing it justifies making press releases and/or chatting it up on the forums anyway. In other words, you gain attention by doing wacky stuff, which is marketing; the wacky stuff justifies talking about yourself and gives others motivation to accept your message as content-full instead of content-less, which is the destiny of marketing messages that just tell to buy, buy, buy my product. All this of course requires you to be inventive and product-appropriate, mind; it's no use to do something like this if it doesn't make sense - and the consumer, the blighty bastard, surely has an uncanny way of smelling it if you're not being genuinely humorous about your wacky hijinks.

Hmm... I guess my short answer is that I wouldn't spend the marketing budget on print or internet advertising, but I'd rather make a list of people who need to get a copy of my game, after which I'd put the rest of the money aside and wait for inspiration to strike. Then I'd waste it on balloons for a convention booth or whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. Keep it real, in other words.

As for your actual question, I fear that my practical experience has been with Finnish media - gaming magazines and such - which probably isn't that relevant to you. I recommend the Roolipelaaja magazine as a venue if you feel like advertising in Finland - it's got an excellent coverage and lots of publicity in the roleplayer audience segment (over a 1000 Finnish roleplayers reading it now, I understand), and it has practically nill advertisement percentages at this point, being almost entirely subscription driven - in other words, it's easy to surprise the reader, gain attention and get a reaction with pretty moderate shock tactics in there. Easy to get journalistic attention from them as well.
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