No, this is not ‘yet another’ article about product placement in video games. However, I will warn you that I am writing a multi-part article about using ARGs as product placement vehicles. More on that later. (I’m such a tease….)
What initially triggered the following thoughts was a discussion that I had with a friend a few weeks ago in New York. My friend is the CEO of a rather well known software company that makes a web hosted application. This particular application is very popular with institutions of higher learning. However, as you may know, institutions of higher learning often have limited budgets or worse, whatever cutting edge technology you may be selling has yet to emerge as a line item on anyone’s budget.
(Oh, it’s lonely on the edge) The College crowd is a demographic that can be hard to get in front of and companies with goods and services to sell to this crowd are constantly seeking new ways to put themselves in the mix. Part of the problem with this demographic is that they are trend hoppers and tend to show loyalty in streaks. Therefore, if you’re selling enduring products that are not specifically trend oriented (foodstuffs, cars, etc.) you are constantly scrambling to re-brand and re-message so you can stay in the mix. By now, we’ve all heard how dicey and fickle the MySpace arena can be. So, what is a strategy that may provide longer term exposure?
Enter the ‘sponsored application’.
Ok, this is not an entirely new concept. My old friend Tod Collart made a company out of branding web interfaces for large media properties with his company Interactual (now owned by Sonic). Anyone reading this who has dealt with a company in the fortune 5000 range knows that style guides and branding rule the day when messaging vehicles are in question. ‘Skinning’, as the practice is generically known, is often overlooked as a revenue source.
What am I talking about? Ok, let’s put the pieces together. My friend who owns a company that sells web hosted applications to institutes of higher learning—but shall remain nameless for now–has some areas of market penetration that are being denied to him simply because his technology, while being recognized as beneficial to the learning and research process, is also too new to have a line item on traditional budgets. In the professional social networking arena, in which I participate, I often hear the same thing. “We’d love to have what you offer, we see the value, but we just don’t have the budget this year.” This happens. This hump will eventually dissolve if your technology is worthy.
However, you need to get over this hump until that occurs. Meanwhile, you’ve got companies that are trying to figure out who to get in front of specific target audiences and agencies that are trying to figure out how to get them there. Voila, Social software application sponsorship. Now, when I say social software, I don’t ONLY mean social networking applications. I mean any networked software that is used by a group or groups of people. Like a digital library application, or a social bulletin board system (think university-oriented Craigslist type apps), distance learning platforms, the list goes on.