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Can’t Buy Me Love

I am almost comforted when I read this article about why THQ is floundering. I actually rather like the company. They’ve been the publisher of some of my favorite games, and hold the rights to at least one series I wish they’d continue. But their recent troubles point to the limits of marketing, and that’s a positive lesson for every industry.

To start with the very obvious: in order to sell anything from art work to zoology degrees, people have to have heard about the product. There are several ways to do this. A company might put up billboards around a town- though this works best if those displays are mistaken for bombs and cause a police panic. Alternately, one could release a video which packs a major emotional punch, and uses some advanced storytelling techniques to good effect. Those are examples of “viral” marketing strategies. They’re (generally) low cost, and low success rate. They rely on creating infectious memes that other people will cheerfully spread.

At the other end, there’s the Superbowl ad buy. At least one company spent $4 million for 30 seconds of air. This sort of high-visibility, non-targeted broadcast ad can be very successful in letting potential customers know about your products– assuming they didn’t use the bathroom, get a call, change the channel, or (as often happens at my place) have a cat jump in front of their face.

Most companies target their ads towards the sorts of people they think are most likely to be potential customers. This is why General Dynamics Land Systems advertises Stryker craft at the Pentagon metro stop. Seriously guys, the Pentagon has some of the best billboards ever.

Time, money, an interesting creative approach, correct targeting, and proper use of an Oxford Comma can all serve to pique consumer interest in peaking at your product. Once it’s released, it’s the product’s job to sell itself. Ross Perot’s money got him into the 1992 presidential debates, which allowed Ross Perot’s craziness unsuitability for office to shine.

When a company or industry has AAA marketing for mediocre products, we should expect an explosion of initial sales, followed by sharply diminishing follow on sales. Those sharply diminished sales are the market’s way of making prepubescent retching noises. Those noises may not always be deserved, but customers have plenty of things to spend money on. If a game, book, movie, or kitty toy is merely average, people will stop talking about it once something newer and shinier catches their eye. If it’s actively bad… well. There is too such a thing as bad press.

Even the best spin, as told by a master, only gets you so far. Just ask Baghdad Bob.

Kotaku link via Brandon Cackowski-Schnell at No High Scores.

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