Why Aren't Casual Ads Stepping Up?

First of all, I'd like to note that two weeks ago when I said it was only a matter of time until a brand used DLC to push retail product, I hadn't expected it would only be a week.  The" Star Wars" Third Season Blu-Ray includes an exclusive T-shirt for the upcoming "Star Wars" MMO.  But seeing this got me thinking: Why haven't we seen more innovative ad formats become standard practice in casual gaming?


Core gaming is a tough nut to crack for advertising.  The audience is shelling out major media dollars to play the games, the frameworks in which the games are played don't necessarily lend themselves to advertising, and connecting the ad to the point of purchase requires some genius-level problem solving.  But casual is a different story entirely.

I want to make clear that I'm talking about the larger spectrum of ad-fueled casual games.  There are numerous exceptions.  McDonald's has run Monopoly casual games that were tied directly to product sales.  WildTangent has done some really clever stuff with suspension of disbelief and branded quests.  But the successes in thinking outside the box are somehow the exception, not the norm.  Ad formats for casual games are still primarily display ads, with potentially a video interstitial during a level load.  And these ads are typically repurposed TV spots or generic banner ads.  Why?

Yes, yes, creative costs money, and production of a specialized unit isn't nearly as easy a sale as "put your banner here."  But we're not talking the creative costs that dog core games; one of the advantages of casual games is that they cost significantly less to make content for.  And the issue is much deeper than just the creative. Casual has integrated social networking, most notably Facebook, to a much greater degree than core has yet done.  Most ads aren't really taking advantage of this synergy.  And don't even get me started about extending the ads to the point of purchase or tracking back ROI.

Again, there are definitely exceptions.  And vendors that want to post or discuss case studies of those exceptions in the comments are welcome.  But I'm looking most specifically at the boomer targeted games, as well as the titles/portals that have the greatest scale. 

The golden standard for casual game executions is still just display.  I'd like to see some of the other successful formats become more popular.  I want to see newer, more intelligent formats appear.  Alternate Reality Game (ARG) case studies read like a cross-media marketer's dream, and have evolved to the point that national brands are buying placement into another brand's ARG.  The casual games industry needs to step it up.

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