The Maturing Market For Brand Integration With Social Games: Part One

Brand engagement through social games covers a wide range of efforts from labeled in-game items to entire games built around a recognizable name. As we see more brands entering the space by signing partnerships with major social game developers and publishers, we break down the different types of brand and levels of engagement to see where successful brand engagement is more likely.


Social games represent a number of potential opportunities for marketing brands by offering a deeper level of engagement than any print, television, or radio ad medium. By integrating a brand with an existing social game, advertisers can have exposure to a ready-made audience that potentially represents a new set of consumers. By creating a game specifically for an existing brand, an advertiser can provide support and viral growth to existing brand customers.

Brand integration can also bring game developers and their customers and added value. Through brand integration, a developer can receive significant funding from the advertiser, which in turn fuels development of new content for end users. The typical model for brand integration in a social games comes from a cost-per-engagement or impression interaction within the game. This makes the cost of brand integration in social games comparable to traditional media buys.

To give you an idea of how successful a brand campaign can be through a social game, consider our findings on a promotion for Disney’s recent film, Tron: Legacy within nightlife resource management social game, Nightclub City. This two-week event is credited with 120 million minutes of brand engagement between the number of times the film’s page was Liked, the number of times the trailer was viewed and the number of times the film’s Daft Punk theme song played in-game on a jukebox item. According to our analysis of the campaign in The Facebook Marketing Bible, over 3.1 million Tron virtual goods were consumed in-game during the campaign.

The catch is, developers must divert production resources from their games to make the brand integration happen. As developers hire more artists and become more agile in their development of specific objects, some of this opportunity cost dissolves; additionally, the payment from the advertiser can offset the worst of it. However, as more brands enter social games through integration, we are beginning to see new layers of integration develop that may change the nature of the opportunity cost and perhaps the payment dynamic between advertiser and game developer.


To begin, we break out degrees of integration into three tiers: light, medium, and deep. Light brand engagement in a social game takes the form of branded items for sale or in-game decorations featuring company logos. Medium brand engagement is a little more involved on the game mechanic level, usually involving a themed quest or storyline or a special character with whom players can interact that clearly bears an association to a brand. Deep brand engagement is the easiest to identify because in most cases the brand is the entire game.

Light brand integration is the most common form of engagement across both Facebook and mobile social games. In just the last week, we’ve heard of partnerships between Toyota and EA to bring a branded Prius item to Monopoly Millionaires and between ngmoco and Century 21 to feature branded buildings in We City.

These small-scale promotions are relatively easy to pull off because, at their most basic, they only require one or two pieces of artwork. We observe, however, that crafting branded artwork represents an opportunity cost to the developer whose artists probably have a list of permanent in-game items they could be working on as opposed to a branded item that only appears in the game for a limited time. We also observe that light integration may not be the best way to encourage brand engagement; light integration presents no click-through opportunities or real world rewards to kick-start player interaction.

Medium brand integration is less common, although notably developing over the last six months as brands have worked with games to build a more detailed player experience that fosters a higher level of engagement. Most recently, we saw the Rango film promotion in FrontierVille in the form of a branded quest with special item rewards. Medium integration represents more of an opportunity cost to developers because of its higher demands on the game design team to build a quest or write dialogue for a new character; however, it also seems to be a more structured campaign because this type of engagement usually only lasts for a short amount of time leading up to a real world even, like a film’s theatrical or DVD release.

Deep brand integration is familiar to Facebook and mobile social games, but so far not consistently successful. The most successful ones we can name are properties where the brand is somehow a game in itself, like game show games based on Wheel of Fortune or Family Feud. However, we also see sports brands like the National Football League and FIFA performing well in social games, even without a playable sport component. Additionally, we also see some social games like Jersey Shore or CrowdStar’s Old Navy game, It Girl, finding success even though the brands don’t exactly lend themselves to game mechanics. This is easily the most demanding form of integration on the game developer, but it also represents the biggest risk to the brand promoter because there’s no way to guarantee that people will actually come and play a new game no matter how familiar the brand might be to them.


Sorting brand integration into these three levels presents us with an interesting idea: not all brands are equal in social games. True, both Megamind and Tron are films — but are they both equally served by light integration into social games? Or does one property lend itself better to medium integration given the social game’s audience?

These questions will become increasingly important as more brands seek out integration through social games. For the moment, we see a large volume of brands coming from consumer products like the food and fashion industries as well as a significant portion of entertainment media brands like TV shows or board games and even other video games.

If there are some brands that lend themselves better to deep integration and some that can only use social games at the light level, then it’s useful to segment brand types to better understand which ones fit within which layers of integration. We’ll be addressing this part of the discussion through case study analysis within each of the three layers of integration in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.