All of this attention on gaming means that it’s time for marketers to explore new ways of making people aware of what makes their game special and fine-tune their strategies to embrace storytelling.
Typically, marketers focus on working with core gaming influencers to share in-game experiences, which essentially means helping gamers understand the cool new features of games. They are used to engaging with gaming influencers to leverage their existing followers, which mostly consist of fellow gamers. However, there are opportunities to break the mold, as our ongoing partnership to promote The Sims 4, EA’s highly customizable and creativity-driven “lifestyle simulator” series, shows.
A wider variety of influencers = a wider range of content
In The Sims 4, which is available on PC and modern consoles, players create Sims – AI-controlled characters that represent alter egos, families, and entire communities – and manage their lives by placing them in situations ranging from mundane to absurd. The Sims 4 is a testament to the potential for games to spur the imagination and to entertain a variety of players, which is the biggest reason why the game has maintained a passionate fanbase and continues to add new content and expansions more than six years after the base version’s release.
The Sims series has an uncommonly broad market demographic, with strong representation among players of all ages and genders, many of whom would not call themselves gamers. This uncommonly broad appeal offers unique opportunities for campaign creativity, as we have been able to massively expand the range of social media influencers we seek to work with to those known for their passions for music, art, travel, pets, TV and film, and more. The selection of the right influencers is a critical aspect of the campaign, and marketers need to invest time in making the best possible selections. But once those influencers are found, it’s vital that marketers balance a desire for control with the creative freedom that influencers need to generate breakthrough content that earns attention. Of course, marketers must also maintain the ability to provide feedback to influencers in case a creative concept isn’t a good fit, but coming into influencer collaborations with an open mind is crucial.
The combination of clear guidelines and creative freedom is a recipe for success, and influencers appreciate the opportunity to create what they want, express themselves how they want, and present stories from their unique perspectives. We believe this creative freedom is the primary reason that, as Vero’s own research has shown, young people in Thailand (and much of Southeast Asia) often trust social media influencers above friends, family, and conventional celebrities.
Campaigns with creativity and freedom at their core
Once everyone agrees on the terms and guidelines, we lean on the influencers to do their jobs. After all, they are the experts in knowing what will resonate with their followers.
For example, we worked with one rapper for The Sims 4 who created dance moves in real life to match the ones her Sim did in the game. Her inspiration came from the monthly theme and guidance we provided, but the content creation was all hers. Among 2020’s most popular The Sims 4 campaigns was the Halloween-themed one in October, when we sought out influencers in the fashion industry to create costumes of their choice in The Sims 4 and then dress up as their Sims in real life. This taps into the essential appeal of influencers: that their audiences understand they have agency in the promotional process – they are guided, but not controlled.
There is a lot more that can go into new ways to promote games, such as when The Sims had a crossover with MAC, the global cosmetics company, in which influencers were given cosmetics sets that they used to recreate the looks from their Sims characters in real life. Or when we ran a campaign called “Play With Life at Home” that encouraged people to use The Sims 4 to enjoy their lives despite the pandemic-related social restrictions by having their Sim avatars do the things they couldn’t do in person.
These campaigns show how gaming industry PR contains so much room for creativity and new ideas. And with the right balance between guidance and freedom, marketers and influencers can spur creativity and inspire people to care about – and even engage with – brands they otherwise wouldn’t.
(Umaporn Whittaker-Thompson is the co-leader of Vero’s consumer PR and digital marketing practice group in Bangkok. She counsels leading consumer and lifestyle brands on creating campaigns that make an impact.)