The Mash-up Of Games And Cause Marketing

Almost everyone in the workforce today, excepting the oldest of the Boomers, grew up playing some kind of video or computer game on a console/computer, handheld device, or old-school video games at the arcade. That’s basically all or part of three generations. The global video game business is worth more than $56 billion, according to a study from PricewaterhouseCoopers, and is headed toward $82 billion by 2015. Add another $2 billion or so for the fantasy sports leagues (U.S.) and you have the makings of a monster business.

The Entertainment Software Association reports that 72% of American households play computer/video games. And it’s not just teens and preteens. The average game player is age 37. And while video/computer game players are more likely to be male than female, across the board 42% of players are female.

And gamers are fans like no one else. When the game Black Ops was released in November 2011, it zoomed to $750 million in sales in just five days. By contrast, the fastest- selling film of all time, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2,” did $169 million in its opening weekend. 

Now we’re seeing the leading edge of the mash-up between cause marketing and games:

  • Cause marketing has already been successfully undertaken by Zynga, maker of FarmVille and Mafia Wars, on behalf of the victims of the Haiti earthquake of 2010. In 2011, it did another relief effort on behalf the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
  • Last year at this time, Diet Coke produced a “Capture the Flag” game that generated funds for the American Heart Association’s Heart Truth effort.
  • GamesThatGive.net, among others, enables you to play common video games like Solitaire, Sudoku, and Blackjack for free, while making a sliver of a donation to one of a number of nonprofit charities.
  • General Mills fruit snacks brands had a game that allowed you to donate a free XO laptop computer to school children in Africa based on performance in a game associated with the promotion.
  • Even Second Life has flirted with different causes and charity elements.

Mashing up causes and games is a natural, not the least of all because gamers are people. And people repeatedly express their favor of cause marketing, both in principle and in fact.

Games are a form of media and, as do most media, they have a discreet audience. Just as not every person with a TV watches the Oprah Network, not everyone with a game platform plays Duke Nuke’m (now in its 21st year).

By the same token, just as darn near everyone is on Facebook, there are some games that transcend almost all boundaries. Who hasn’t whiled away some time playing FarmVille or Mafia Wars or Angry Birds?

The first cause marketing efforts in gaming have a familiar provenance. When Zynga did its relief efforts for Haiti and Japan, they sold stuff; white corn in FarmVille, a Haiti fish in FishVille, a Haitian drum in Mafia Wars, a chip package in Zynga Poker. All that virtual merchandise came to a cool 1.5 million in real dollars.

Even if it was virtual stuff, that’s not so different than what dozens of real products did for earthquake relief in Japan and Haiti both.

But certainly other kinds of cause marketing are possible with games.

And because more than 35% of Americans have smartphones, according to Pew Internet research, that means games are as close as our pockets. What’s more, given the concomitant rise in what Pew calls “impulse giving” made easy by smartphones it’s easy to imagine that cause marketing with games will not only grow more complex, but more common.

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