Playing with gamers: Strategies to connect authentically
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Playing with gamers: Strategies to connect authenticallyOctober 2021
How Verizon harnessed a category pain point to send a powerful signal to gamers.
Sometimes cracking the audience is as important as cracking the creative idea. But where do you start when your audience is renowned for mocking brands that invade their subculture inauthentically? Madwell and Verizon share how they struck a chord with gamers, taking advantage of their presence on YouTube to speak to them in their own visual language.
Here Madwell Co-Founder and CCO Chris Sojka, Associate Creative Director Micky Treutlein, and Creative Director Ryan Howard, alongside Verizon’s Creative Marketing Manager Will Langenberg share some lessons they unlocked along the way.
1. Play where your audience plays
Speaking the language of your audience is important, but doing so in a place where they're listening raises the stakes even more. And with gaming making up a huge proportion of the content on YouTube, the team knew it was the perfect place to go big.
Chris Sojka, co-founder and CCO of Madwell, says of the initial mission, “We’re going to do something that blows everyone away, and we’re going to do it in a place where they naturally and organically consume content.”
Knowing they were in the right space for gamers meant the team not only had a captive audience, but the fun within the content could be tailored to their viewers.
2. Short scenes make a full-length story
It’s rare for a brief to ask for only one deliverable, so the versatility of assets is becoming a bigger focus for creative teams.
Sojka explains, “We conceptualised ‘The Reset’ as a modular ecosystem.” Ryan Howard, creative director at Madwell, adds, “We wanted to make this a very hardworking asset, so we could enter many conversations across the media buy.”
Creating a long-form film from a series of smaller scenes meant the content and messaging could flex in many ways. Leveraging shorter formats on YouTube meant Verizon was building connections with greater frequency.
3. Craft earns credit
Having permission to broach a subject with your audience often takes months or even years of priming, and even then you may be limited in what your brand can say. Knowing this, the team painstakingly crafted the film with dozens of Easter eggs and nuanced references to gaming culture.
Showing that Verizon understood the intricacies of gaming worlds gave them permission to speak to audiences about a specific pain point, the one solved by their 5G product: lag.
Getting an audience on your side will be an evergreen challenge for creatives and brands, especially as audiences become more aware of marketing messages. Which is why instead of just talking at your audience, getting down in the trenches with them can prove you understand what’s important to them. Doing so might just ensure that your brand equity doesn’t lag.
Will Langenberg: Gamers are savvy. We can't assume that gamers are going to kind of welcome us with open arms, no matter what we do. For us it was really important to establish a campaign to reach gamers where they are. One of the really key use cases for 5G is gaming.
Micky Treutlein: But then how do we sell that? How do we put it together in a creative format that actually speaks to gamers and doesn't come off as inauthentic?
Chris Sojka: To start that conversation with gamers, we needed to figure out a way to let them know what they've been putting up with unwittingly. So as the commercial progresses, a world gets increasingly degraded from poor internet connectivity, making real life a metaphor for subpar gaming experience. So the brief never actually hemmed us in with a creative idea. It was just, how do you empathetically communicate with an audience? And from there we've just made two decisions. We're going to do something that blows everyone away, and we're going to do it in a place that they naturally and organically consume content.
Sojka: I think it's not lost on us that so many amazing gamers now use YouTube as their platform to stream and communicate with their audience. Where else do you give me streaming, social behaviors like commenting and sharing, and the actual inclination to watch something full screen, high-def, and actually turn sound on and hear it. We conceptualized The Reset as a very modular ecosystem. So in the master film, which is 2-minutes long, there’s a very clear arc. The theory behind that master script was so that we would actually have a dozen or so unique vignettes that could be cut into 6-second or 15-second pieces of content, that could be a part of a gamers day on YouTube.
Ryan Howard: We really wanted to make sure that this was a really hardworking asset for Verizon, so we can enter many different conversations across the media buy. Researching the glitches was something that we took very seriously, we ended up calling it kind of like a ballet of chaos. There's 20 to 50 Easter eggs in the spot if you watched through it.
Treutlein: The greatest emotion that we wanted to get out of gamers when they see it is that, “No way! Wait, I know that!”
Langenberg: Culturally, the response to the spot blew us away, the millions of YouTube views, making the front page of Reddit, and just the really authentic conversation that we saw people saying “I can't believe this is a Verizon ad. As a gamer. I feel seen; I feel understood.”
Sojka: There are a bunch of comments on the video that blew me away, because, if we were to plant a comment strictly to impress people in case studies, we might write comments like some of these. “I find it so weird that I immediately associate everything going on here with video games, but there's absolutely nothing in the commercial itself signifying that, as if someone is using the language/literacy of video games to communicate with the rest of the world.” To read a comment like that on the video, it tells you that you did it right. You landed something that struck a chord, and you delivered it on the right platform in the right way.
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