Mass market perspective

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Jun 162008
 

I don’t know if you have seen the McDonald’s Line Rider commercial, but it caught me by surprise while watching some show with my kids (it was old hat to them, of course).

Very cool that a little indie game has made it to a commercial, and it follows on the heels of other game-based commercials like the Coke parody of GTA and the WoW truck commercial. But does Line Rider seem like an odd choice for the ad, given that it hardly has the mass market penetration that something like Grand Theft Auto has? Perhaps we might think that it isn’t something that the average non-gamer is going to have heard about.

I think this perception is upside-down. I think the non-gamer (meaning, core game industry gamer) is more likely to bump into Line Rider than into many of the industry’s mainstream products (GTA and WoW are not fair comparisons, given that they’re at the hyper-top end of popularity and mass market penetration).

Consider:

  • The Linerider.org forums have 50k registered members – and it’s an unofficial site. From that, a conservative estimate would at the very least extrapolate 500,000 people touching Line Rider – and I bet that is low by a lot.
  • The downloadable version has been grabbed 116,000 times from CNet alone. At the low end we can extrapolate at least 10x that in web-based tries, and again that’s conservative.
  • The official site claims 16 million views of the web-based version.

I’d be stunned if the popular reach of Line Rider in terms of mindshare wasn’t well over 1 million. It was one of the top ten rising keywords on Google a couple of years ago (meaning, the penetration zone of keywords like “Heroes” and “YouTube”). For comparison, a hit album these days hits #1 by moving 100-250k units, and most of cable TV is happy to get a weekly viewership of 0.5 to 2m, though the picture is a bit better on broadcast networks. CSI got 6.5m last week for example.

So, if you have a Line Rider McDonalds’ ad airing during, say, a typical show on Cartoon Network (which is where I think I saw it), it may well be that Line Rider is better known than the TV show during which it airs.

  30 Responses to “Mass market perspective”

  1. A commercial that riffs on GTA or WoW is effective as parody — it’s funny if you get the reference, but not particularly meaningful otherwise. Even if you don’t know about Line Rider per se, though, you can appreciate the niftiness of a little sled sliding around some hand-drawn fast food. It’s context-free entertainment.

  2. You know, when I started reading this post, I thought I was going to have to comment that I would be surprised if Line Rider didn’t have a fairly large audience penetration, considering that its a fairly popular, casual, and easy to run across little web-based application/game.

    Of course, if I had to post that, then this blog post would be fairly out of place on this site… 🙂

    I also agree with Joshlee and that was the second thing that came to my mind. It is pretty much context-free. If you see WoW or GTA, you will basically need to know the reference to get much of anything out of the commercial, due to the nature of those games. Now, both of them have pretty high penetration, and considering the audience for those types of commercials, it isn’t a bad bet… People are likely to have heard of those games. Yet, line rider is somewhat more universal, I would say. I’m sure most people would have never even seen or heard of line rider before. But what does it matter? To them, there is no reference to get. Its really is just “a little sled sliding around some hand-drawn fast food.”

    … And that’s just neat, different, and it would stand out. If you do get the reference, however, then it stands out even more. Heck, I want to check out YouTube just to see it now.

    (Marketing is fun!)

  3. They are always targetting kids, hence using a cute free game that isn’t associated with any other big brand… Nasty!

  4. Imagine if they did the commercial with something like Bejeweled… well, it would probably be fairly boring, but it would have even more penetration than Line Rider.

    That said, I wonder if this is one of those signs that the games industry is heading the way of the comics industry? Small, accessible, stand-alone apps (ie: Bejeweled, Line Rider in games; vs. 300 or Sin City in the comics world) get large coverage outside of the core demographic, while the icons which are considered to be big players within the industry (GTA 4, WoW; vs. X Men or Spiderman) are known outside the industry, but only from a superficial and often wrong perspective.

    Of course, like statistics, almost 85% of comparisons between already-similar industries can be imagined on the spot and made to fit whatever point you’re trying to make…

  5. They are always targetting kids, hence using a cute free game that isn’t associated with any other big brand… Nasty!

    Because only kids play games, right? *sigh*

  6. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know you could *do* that with Line Rider until reading this article (and seeing the ad, and the many other Line Rider videos it linked to…). Very cool.

    It’s always hard to say whether a really interesting ad like that is the result of genuine inspiration and/or interest by someone in advertising or just plain shrewdness of the same, isn’t it? I’m cynical enough to pretty much always bet on the latter, and sometimes, in a case like this, realizing I’m cynical kinda bothers me.

  7. Because only kids play games, right? *sigh*

    In this case, I don’t think that is the reason behind their choice. Rather, because they target kids, they didn’t choose something like, say, GTA. They picked something kids would be able to identify better with and/or would appeal to kids just do to its general aesthetic. I think Line Rider would likely fit that bill.

  8. Rather, because they target kids, they didn’t choose something like, say, GTA.

    Oh, because everyone who plays games, except kids, are trained killers, right? Yeah, because children can’t be violent or criminal

    People who attack marketing in the name of defending children always get their facts wrong. Take the people in that article for examples.

  9. Well, I don’t at all see it as an attempt to appeal to kids, as much as an attempt to appeal to “family”. In the sense that they’re trying to project a “family friendly” image. GTA is not a “family friendly” image. Even remotely. Makes about as much sense as using films like Se7en, Kill Bill, or Eastern Promises (to use some random examples) as the basis for the ad. Says nothing about their relative value, it just doesn’t fit the values that the ads are trying to project.

    And seriously, the kids don’t matter so much beyond the initial hook. You need to get the parents on board since they’re the ones that actually have the cash to spend. GTA wouldn’t be a good way to do that in this case. Might be great for other stuff, but I just don’t see “family friendly” fast food restuarant chain as being something it’s ideally suited to.

  10. Oh, because everyone who plays games, except kids, are trained killers, right?

    … Actually, I was thinking more along the lines because it has that “Mature” rating, it would have less market penetration from their audience. Basically, like Eolirin stated, a Line Rider appeals to a family. A GTA commercial wouldn’t do that. The GTA commercial would target the 18-25ish crowd more than anything else, which is usually not what you’d go after if you’re targeting children/parents. Not to mention, if you’re pushing a family friendly image, GTA isn’t going to be the first thing to pop into mind. That isn’t saying that GTA is bad, nor am I saying anything political about it. It just like using a violent movie to sell a family friendly image. It just doesn’t make much sense and it won’t make sense in the eyes of the consumer – that’s what is important.

    … Also, I was serious when I said marketing is fun; that wasn’t a sarcastic statement. 🙂

  11. […] Pick — Can “Line Rider” be more successful than “GTA”?: Raph Koster wonders if people aren’t thinking about the potential of the mass market in the […]

  12. Because only kids play games, right? *sigh*

    Only kids lack money, so they play all the “free” games that are cool…

    Anyway. I meant to say that McDonalds always target kids, hence they picked a cute game that doesn’t upset their parents and makes them look cool to the kids. Sane adults only eat their sugar-sweet junk when they are in a hurry, kids want to have their birthday-party at that cool McDonald’s place. Kids are the most effective and gullible target.

  13. Sane adults only eat their sugar-sweet junk when they are in a hurry

    Three cheers for pseudopsychology…

    Kids are the most effective and gullible target.

    …because kids are so rich that they can afford to eat at McDonald’s, right?

    There’s nothing inherently wrong, morally or ethically, with creating products for kids and marketing products to kids. The real problem rests with the parents who are subservient to their children.

  14. There’s nothing inherently wrong, morally or ethically, with creating products for kids and marketing products to kids.

    Are you working with marketing? In other countries there are laws… you know. So your non-argument is fucked on all accounts.

  15. In other countries there are laws… you know.

    Oh, puh-leez. The United States was founded as a nation of laws.

    So your non-argument is fucked on all accounts.

    Because you say so, right? All hail the pseudoscientist…

  16. Morgan’s right, there’s nothing inherently wrong with marketing a product to kids, as long as said product is indeed created for kids. Toys are okay, fully functional and loaded hand guns no so much. 😛 But there are good and bad ways to market stuff, and some of that does in fact have regulatory stuff built up around it.

    And as far as I know… there are no laws that say you can’t market products appropriate for children to children… anywhere. Any legislation that does exist talks soley about *how* they can advertise to them. Again, there’s no inherent problem with the marketing, just in implementation of said.

    But why are we off on this tangent to begin with really? The Line Rider commercials hardly fall afoul of the sort of the sort of thing that’d cause a regulatory issue, even in the EU where this sort of thing is much more controlled.

  17. But there are good and bad ways to market stuff, and some of that does in fact have regulatory stuff built up around it.

    Right, but even then, I disagree. Regulating marketing is akin to regulating game development. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with either practice, whether you’re marketing to children or developing violent games.

    That doesn’t mean producers shouldn’t strive to be socially responsible; however, that does mean regulation doesn’t solve the real problems. Regulation is a safety blanket. Regulation pulls the wool over your eyes.

    I don’t subscribe to any method of controlling freedom in the name of defending the free. If you want to “protect the children,” gradually introduce them to the commercial environment, educating them about the conduct of business.

    Don’t just give them a few bucks and send them on their way. Don’t even tell them what they should buy. Train them to identify and prioritize their needs and wants. Assist them with becoming informed consumers. Before parents can be that responsible though, they need to become informed consumers, too.

    Look at that! A marketer advocating the need for better informed consumers. I’m a walking contradiction! 🙄

  18. Because you say so, right? All hail the pseudoscientist…

    Yet another non-argument… All hail Morgen, the ad hominem specialist.

  19. Eolirin, I think you missed my point. My point is that McDonalds are pointing their brainwasher at kids because kids are easier to influence when what you sell is rock-bottom crappy (in terms of health, quality and atmosphere). They want kids to become habitually mcdonalidified. What is legal is irrelevant for what is ethical and morally acceptable. Their customers are both adults and kids, but they aim at the kids. And their food is not healthy.

    Regarding marketing and laws, some countries do (or did) require relevance in marketing. Is Line Rider relevant for fastfood? They are not using it because it is relevant and informative, are they? They are after the irrelevant association effect. The fact that some countries regulate marketing towards kids because the people of these countries find it highly problematic. That means, they think it might be morally unacceptable. That’s obvious. Isn’t it??? Not to Morgan, of course… 😛

  20. @Morgan, eh… that’s mostly fine… except in this case. Kids simply are not equiped and cannot be equiped to deal with certain things. With TV you can’t exactly filter the commercials the kids are seeing when they’re watching shows that are genuinely appropriate. A 5 year old is not mentally developed enough to be able to make sophisticated judgements about things, and no amount of eductaion can advance their biology to the point that they can. Until they’ve gone through the proper developmental stages putting things that are manipulative in areas where they can’t be filtered appropriately *is* a problem. A young enough kid will not sufficiently question the statement that if you don’t buy this product all the other kids will laugh at you behind your back. They’re just as likely to accept it as fact as to question that it may not be true. The only real way to deal with this is to stop them from watching TV *at all*, which isn’t much of a solution really, since other than the occasional ad, the stuff they’re watching is fine.

    But for clarity: What you’re saying is absolutely accurate above a certain age level, and absolutely impossible below it.

    @Ola, eh, no. McDonalds services just as many child-less adults in need of quick food. Sorry, doesn’t wash. They want the kids eating there too obviously, but by no means do they need to rely on them. They’re doing kiddy ads because dark edgy ads don’t wash with their image. Driving parents away by making ads that don’t bleed family would be really stupid, but they wouldn’t suddenly stop turning huge profits if they lost most of their child market.

  21. Eolirin wrote:

    Kids simply are not equiped and cannot be equiped to deal with certain things.

    Going back to the study I mentioned, the study’s author argues the same thing. He says that because children are unaware of the persuasive intent of marketing, that children as a market segment are an “unfair playing field.”

    Like I said, people who attack marketing in the name of defending children always get their facts wrong. They get their facts wrong because they don’t understand marketing and they don’t understand consumer psychology.

    The consumer, regardless of age, is supposed to be unaware of the persuasive intent of marketing. If they were aware, marketing would be useless in the same way that knowing how a magician performs his tricks would ruin the performance. Great marketing is subtle. Consumers are oblivious to great marketing.

    A young enough kid will not sufficiently question the statement that if you don’t buy this product all the other kids will laugh at you behind your back.

    Adults are funny in that they believe themselves to be superior to children. Using social stigmas in marketing isn’t a tactic reserved for children. As Made to Stick authors Chip and Dan Heath recently pointed out in Fast Company, even soap and shampoo manufacturers use social stigmas to sell their wares. Children are people, and because they are people, they behave like people, like adults.

    @Ola, eh, no. McDonalds services just as many child-less adults in need of quick food. Sorry, doesn’t wash.

    You’re not going to get anywhere with someone who thinks business is greed and marketing is pure evil. In some countries, the McDonald’s brand is so powerful that some natives think that McDonald’s is undermining their way of life.

  22. Morgan, meh, it’s got little to do with them being unaware of it, as that it’s harmful to the development process that they go through.

    You’ve got a personality that hasn’t yet settled, one that has a harder time differentiating fantasy from reality, and one that tends to believe what adults and other authority figures tell them. The fact that certain methods are applied to adults as well is irrelevant, it has a different effect on a child. Kids are not the same as adults, they don’t think the same way as adults, and they haven’t developed the same tools and contexts that adults have. Something that an adult can brush off or even be affected by but that doesn’t shift their view of the world all that much can be a huge shift for a child. They haven’t been so deeply imprinted that they’ve got the ability to deal with certain things without it *changing* them to a much greater level. Social stimga advertisment is more *harmful* to a kid than it is to an adult.

    And it’s not that they’re inferior, or that adults are superior, that’s bull. It’s that they’re inexperienced and not fully developed. Their brains haven’t even fully finished developing. You can’t treat them as if they can brush off the same stuff. They aren’t the same.

  23. as that it’s harmful to the development process that they go through.

    The commercial environment is probably the most significant aspect of life. Failing to introduce children to commerce, and educate them about business and consumption, is a major failure in child development on behalf of parents and society.

    Kids are not the same as adults, they don’t think the same way as adults

    Children and adults behave exactly the same. They might speak differently, concern themselves with different interests, but ultimately, adulthood doesn’t change our core behaviors. We’re still fearful of loud noises. We’re still fearful of darkness. We still beat each other over the head with some sort of toy when we don’t get our way. We’re still brats. We’re still cranky when we’re hungry. We still want to have fun. We’re still boastful. We still gossip. We’re still tattle-tales. We still cry when we’re sad, smile when we’re happy, ashamed when we’re bad. I could go on…

    Their brains haven’t even fully finished developing.

    You assume that because the brains of children are still developing that they don’t possess the same or even greater level of intelligence than adults.

    Guess what: scientists don’t know much about higher cognition. We don’t know where intelligence comes from. We’re not very knowledgeable in this area. And I say that as the son, nephew, and grandson of scientists.

    You can’t guess here. You have to observe. When you look carefully at the patterns of behavior of adults and children, once you peel back the fluff of adulthood, you see that they’re exactly the same. You see that nobody ever really grows up. And this actually makes a lot of sense when you consider our primal nature and how we’re nurtured, how we learn by imitation, observation, and experimentation.

  24. @eolirin: that’s irrelevant for my point… They want going to mcdonalds to be a habit. Kids are the perfect target. Period.

  25. They want going to mcdonalds to be a habit.

    Of course they do. Blizzard wants consumers to make subscribing to World of Warcraft a habit, too. That “habit” starts out as repeat purchases and gradually becomes what’s called brand loyalty.

    Kids are the perfect target. Period.

    Oh, I see. Kids are the perfect target because they work 9-to-5 jobs and drive, are individuals with the freedom to travel alone, and have sufficient disposable income to spend on fuel to make regular trips to McDonald’s and to spend on the expensive food and drink items. Perfect! They are just so…. perfect! 🙄

  26. I’m nor too convinced kids are just mini-adults. Brain development studies don’t support that. For example frontal lobes aren’t fully developed until almost the end of the twenties. Experience is acquired differently with mediated experience (think TV, literature, conversation or in other words fantasy and second-hand information) making up a much larger part of the young’s repetoire of comparison. But the comment that we don’t understand cognition perfectly is apt. One thing we don’t understand is how cycling at long and short frequencies works but we do know that nostalgia sells cars.

    First hand, something I discovered is the tendancy as I age to return to mediated events as a source of inspiration. For example my tastes in music were set by early folk and folk rock. Right now I’m going through a Judith Durham phase (Judith was the little chestnut haired singer for The Seekers). I teethed musically on the Seekers, Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, Gordon Lightfoot, etc. A difference now is whereas my parents would have trolled old sheet music, I can go to YouTube and watch the videos of my childhood heros when they were twenty somethings themselves. There is a marvelous quality to the sound when people actually had to be able to step up in front of two live mics and just do it at the level of quality broadcasts required.

    That feeds back into the skills I have today and the results are quite a bit better and still magical.

    Mass markets have very long cycles at different coupling strengths. That is one critical difference between selling to kids and selling to adults.

  27. Blizzard wants consumers to make subscribing to World of Warcraft a habit, too.

    It shouldn’t come as a suprise to you that I don’t find subscription based time-sinks that treat people as rats in cages particularly ethical either. In fact, I’ve canceled a research project on player motivation on the realisation that primarily companies would benefit, not the players.

  28. len wrote:

    Brain development studies don’t support that. For example frontal lobes aren’t fully developed until almost the end of the twenties.

    I’m well-aware of the neurobiological research. Yet, there’s no evidence that supports that assertion that people begin life as cocooned butterflies.

    Experience is acquired differently with mediated experience …

    I’m referring to similarities between core behaviors. Experience is fluff. Many children have experienced more than many adults can imagine. If experience determines adulthood, then age is irrelevant.

    Ola Fosheim Grøstad wrote:

    It shouldn’t come as a suprise to you that I don’t find subscription based time-sinks that treat people as rats in cages particularly ethical either.

    Subscription ≠ prescription.

  29. In fact, I’ve canceled a research project on player motivation on the realisation that primarily companies would benefit, not the players.

    You’d be pretty hard-pressed to find any research that benefits players more than companies. Companies are inherently more organized, research-savvy, and resourceful than players.

    If you want to “benefit” players, then you should start an advocacy group to take any and all research and use it as ammunition to assert player rights. Not that you’ll be thanked. Players will hate you for it, naturally.

  30. @Micheal: Oh, I am not a player rights advocate in the Terranova-sense. I was interested in design, not law and culture. It was a matter of conscience… However, you can approach the player perspective in the more philosophical sense, like Raph and Richard Bartle have done in their game-design books (not that one has to agree with their philosophical stance, of course ;-).

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