by Christina Couch
The Virginia advertising industry does more than create branding campaigns. Some companies are pioneering new interactive ways to engage the target audience.
Get in the game
Company: Ravenchase Adventures, Richmond
Marketing weapon: Advergames
Forget one-way advertising, where advertisers make their pitch to potential customers and hope for the best. Ravenchase provides advergaming experiences that transform audiences from passive listeners into active gamers. Services range from small scavenger hunts centered on a specific product or location to national multimedia campaigns where participants can follow clues to a reality adventure in several cities.
To explain the concept, CEO Joshua Czarda talked about a current effort. “Right now we’re working on a national campaign geared around a television show.“ Typically, phase one consists of creating a mystery tagalong to the show and an elaborate back story. Then the company works that into different blogs. “Fans out there pick up the buzz and start finding various blogs, dummy Web sites and other online communities we’ve created about this mystery,“ he explains.
During phase two, the buzz will continue to build until Ravenchase reveals real-world locations with specific dates and times. “Eventually people will go out and meet planted actors and things that we’ve left out for them in the real world,“ Czarda explains. The real-world component is being planned for eight locations across the country, which will be hand-picked by the client according to the product’s marketing demographics.
Though Czarda won’t reveal the company’s advergaming revenues, he says Ravenchase has achieved success on local and national levels. In its nearly two years of operation, Ravenchase has grown to a staff of 13 full-time employees and added 10 branches, including soon-to-be international branches in London and Sydney. The company operates more than 1,000 events annually, which draw anywhere from a dozen to thousands of would-be detectives.
Beyond the company’s success, what makes Advergaming so promising is that it can be custom-tailored to fit any budget. “We love doing the national stuff,“ says Czarda, “but we also think that there’s a real market for the restaurants and bars that want to promote themselves in a unique way and build buzz.“
Because they’re highly customized, Czarda says advergaming campaigns can cost anywhere from $30,000 for a small national campaign, or a few hundred dollars for a small local event, to a million dollars and up for more complex campaigns. He says Ravenchase has completed projects for two private clients, although Czarda won’t reveal their names.
The company also has run corporate scavenger hunts for Philip Morris, Capital One and other Virginia-based companies.
It’s the advergaming, though, that Ravenchase wants to pursue. “We really want to be a pioneer in the market to merge the online gaming with the real world through all types of different technologies like cell phones that have GPS capabilities,“ says Czarda. “I’m sure it sounds pretty nebulous, but it’s almost like having a completely blank slate in terms of marketing that’s only limited by your imagination.“
Company: Play, Richmond
Marketing weapon: Brand EUKs
Part creative consultants, part branding strategy experts, the business gurus of Play specialize in creating campaigns that define and build brand identity. The first step, says Play founder Andy Stefanovich, is identifying the personality of the company through a process known as Brand EUK. Short for Experience, Understanding and Knowledge, Brand EUKs are custom designed to help executives determine their target demographic, the lifestyle of the demographic, and how the company can appeal to these people on the most basic of levels.
An example of an effective EUK, says Stefanovich, is Play’s campaign with the U.S. Olympic Committee. “We wanted to understand the Olympic brand relevancy as it resonates with 18- to 34-year-olds, so we took a group of executives and athletes to New York City.“ The executive committee toured the apartments of 18- to 25- year-olds, watched television with them and got a feel for how they live their lives.
One of the things Play discovered was that the target demographic was especially attuned to reality shows, with “Dancing with the Stars” being a favorite. To raise brand awareness, Play created a strategy to get an Olympic athlete on the show. Last season speed skater Apolo Ohno not only appeared but won, turning waves of reality television fans into Olympic supporters. “Having Apolo on the show said, ‘We’re listening to you, we’re a part of you,“ says Stefanovich, branding the Olympics intersects with the needs of that audience.
Another EUK focused on customer service. Play took a financial services client to two computer stores, CompUSA store and an Apple store, to observe customer service there.Then the client asked its customers about the level of service they received at the financial services company. What it heard was mixed reviews accompanied by a wealth of constructive criticism directly from the mouths of people affected most by the firm’s line of products.
The feedback, say Stefanovich, inspired the financial services firm to launch a new addition to its product line, one that directly serves the recently discovered needs of the company’s target demographic. The product is currently generating revenue for the company, he adds.
“When people ask about branding and marketing, I’ll ask them, ‘Are you really asking yourself the right questions? Are you really connecting with your clients?‘“ says Stefanovich. “It turned out that the CEO had never asked a customer how they used its products. That was a very radical moment for them.“
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