One of the more curious phenomena of the last six months or so is the proliferation of app advertising beyond the bounds of its longstanding place in banners and relentless native ad units in feeds. Nothing speaks to the lucrative nature of mobile gaming more than the arrival of TV advertising for diminutive mobile games. Personally, I find most of the app ads I have seen in video and on TV underwhelming. Most of it seems to be flat-footed awareness campaigning that does little to distinguish the game experience from countless others. And for some reason the biggest marketing budgets are getting behind only the most cartoonish and color-saturated of titles, leaving the impression that mobile gaming is mired in a sense of play that is more underdeveloped and derivative than innovative.
I admit to being befuddled by the "Candy Crush" game. It plays to me like scores of titles that came before it, and it only makes me want to brush my teeth or rest my eyes when I finish a session. I think I am missing the “Saga” part of the experience or something. No matter. So throwing “Soda” into the creative mix (unless Mentos are involved) is not doing much for me either. But its star developer King.com is pushing the sequel to "Candy Crush Soda Saga" in a costly cross-platform campaign.
In recent days it has been choking the Facebook feed with video spots that are only passingly interesting because of their use of some self-aware wit. A doomsayer with a sandwich-board (“Everything is Doomed”) and a bullhorn finds himself and his city street corner besieged by falling cartoon candy pieces that plop onto people’s heads and transform their pets into peppermint sticks. Its use of the The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy” theme is trite, but the warning that mobile users are about to get obsessed once again is a nice little trope.
Well, according to King.com and Facebook, the video is one of the recent success stories of the social network’s newish video ad program. The companies claim the video has reached over 100 million Facebook users in their feed in seven countries. More than 70% of viewers were viewing it on a mobile device, which means they were able to take immediate action to download if they wanted.
This is part of an even larger launch that includes a giant 20-foot candy bear floating through Times Square with candy-headed people. There was also a purple soda fountain gushing up under London Bridge.
The push and the sheer recognition factor of the Candy Crush franchise (like Angry Birds before it) speaks to the cultural penetration of the mobile gaming genre as it becomes something resembling a mass media now. Interactive gaming continues to be in my mind perhaps the greatest media entertainment innovation of the digital era, yet it continues to be under-appreciated as such by other media and marketers. It behaves so differently from the mass media that preceded it, and it challenges advertisers to leverage it in ways other than the interruptive formats tradition dictates. Sure, rewards-based marketing, sponsorships and advergaming have all emerged as interesting ways of jerry-rigging the gaming experience into a routine platform for advertisers, but it still seems to me marketing is stuck on the introductory levels of a game with tremendous potential.