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Just How Useful Is Interactivity?

interactivity“Contests work because people want to feel masterful,” Godin says. “They want to feel like they are doing something right, and they like to daydream about winning. Those two things put together get people to fill out the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes; they get people to play sweepstakes online. Most games crash computers or require too much bandwidth, but e-mail contests take only about a minute a day to play.”

Yoyodyne has designed over 100 different games or contests for clients such as MCI, American Express, Fox TV, and Rolling Stone. In addition to specific e-mail based games, Yoyodyne has also developed multi-sponsor sweepstakes such as Get Rich Click. Unlike the money-up-front set-up with banner ads, Get Rich Click sponsors only pay for the visitors who actually come to their sites, at a rate of 50 cents each. Yoyodyne typically charges about $20,000 for sweepstakes sponsorships to $200,000 a year for focused, customized work with a client.

The company’s latest invention, which debuted in June, is called Game Ticker. A small, Java-based applet, Game Ticker is installed on a Web server and offered to certain Web site visitors. Using the framing technology of Netscape 3.x and Internet Explorer 3.x, Game Ticker appears as a separate window where a game – resembling, for example, a slot machine – is played in real time. Every 60 seconds the window changes, allowing the visitor to play a new round, which increases their chances of winning. If the player gets a match, they must enter their e-mail address to be automatically entered into a drawing for prizes of up to $100,000. Each new round causes a new set of ads to appear at the bottom of the frame. One larger frame allows advertisers to provide a direct link to their Web site. If visitors get tired of playing, one click and Game Ticker is gone.

Fred Halfpap, director of online marketing at H&R Block, is a relatively new believer in contests on the Internet. Earlier this year, H&R Block ran a contest called “We’ll Pay Your Taxes,” designed by Yoyodyne to drive traffic to H&R Block’s Web site. Through a series of three weekly e-mail messages, players were directed

Even the scratch and win concept has been adapted for the Internet.

to the Web site for answers to questions. Each e-mail message also contained a brief product message from H&R Block. The game averaged 46,000 weekly players during its two-month run, registering more hits on the H&R Block Web site in just two weeks than in all of 1996.

To test its effectiveness as an advertising vehicle, Halfpap conducted a survey midway through the contest, asking questions that could only be answered by players who had read the product messages. Halfpap sent the survey to both the people who had played the game the previous week and those who hadn’t. Of the people who chose not to play, 31 percent answered the questions correctly, versus 51 percent among those who did play. In other words, even if participants chose not to play, they still read the product message.

“We were basically looking at trying to drive at least 1.5 million hits to our Web site during tax season, and we found that a contest would probably be the best way,” says Halfpap.

Halfpap was so impressed with online contests that he later worked with H&R Block’s ad agency to develop another game, H&R Rock, to lure the college market to H&R’s Web site. Halfpap signed up Polygram records to give away compact discs every day. The grand prize winner won a trip to San Francisco for a concert. The Web site featured a coupon for $10 off H&R Block’s tax services, which was downloaded by approximately 1,000 people.

Games Companies Play

As more and more start-ups try to make money on the Web, the line between ad-supported content and promotional ploy seems to be blurring. Take, for instance, Riddler a Web site that began offering word and trivia games in April 1995. Before you can access Riddler’s game content, a full-screen ad must be downloaded. This apparently doesn’t discourage visitors, who drop by the site at a rate of 65,000 per day.

The ads themselves range in price from 15 cents to 75 cents per click. Recent sponsors include Atlantic Records, MasterCard, Motorola, and Sega of America.

Even the concept of scratch and win cards has been adapted for the Internet. Last fall, RealTime Media – an Internet marketing and contest management company – joined with CyberCash Inc. – a developer of software offering secure online financial transaction – to offer the CyberCash Scratch & Win Sweepstakes. The game was designed to promote shopping on the Internet by sending electronic “scratch and win” cards to shoppers who made purchases with CyberCash’s Wallet software. Using Java technology, the shopper “scratched off” six boxes, revealing prizes ranging from small amounts of instant cash to a grand prize of $10,000. If three matching boxes were uncovered, the cardholder won that prize.

“If you look at the Internet, there are two objectives that a Web site has,” says RealTime CEO Chuck Seidman. “One is to build traffic. And if it’s a commerce site, the goal is to take that traffic and convert it into a sale. So, as far as affinity-type programs or promotional programs, I would say that Web sites are always going to be looking for some type of promotional tool that will best serve them the traffic and the sales.”

Next up for RealTime is a site simply called Scratch-N-Win.com. The site will feature a game based on the scratch and win concept, supported by advertisers who pay $3,950 for a three-month sponsorship or 100,000 game plays. After three months, sponsors can renew for $950 per month. Players are only permitted one entry per day.

Pong is only a banner ad, but it’s a creative way to integrate gaming and advertising.

Traditional games are also finding a home on the Net. Hooked on bingo? The Bingo Zone runs interactive bingo games 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, courtesy of the many sponsors whose banner ads download before the game begins. The games are free to registered players. Game winners receive prizes of $2 to $8.

Remember Pong? Now you can play the original computer game at Hewlett-Packard’s Web site. The Shockwave-enabled banner ad pits you against a computer. Sure, it’s only a banner, but it’s also a creative way to integrate gaming and advertising – a concept we may begin to see more of.

“I think more and more marketers are now moving more and more often toward a behaviorist perspective,” says Jerry Shereshewsky, Yoyodyne’s vice president of marketing and business development. “This is a trend, not just on the Web. If you look at the historical trends in mass market advertising for supermarket stuff, consumer brand advertising is declining and sales promotion as a percentage of total spending is increasing.”

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