Play to Win

Game promos drive Web traffic

Americans are in a big hurry to win. Need proof? U.S. sales of "instant- win" lottery tickets reached $15.6 billion in 2000, according to La Fleurs Magazine, a lottery industry trade publication.

Its only natural, then, that marketers would find a way to give people that same rush of instant gratification on the Internet, a medium that already offers instant news, instant purchasing and instant messaging. Players in this specialized field include and RealTime Media — two companies whose customized instant-win online games can help acquire and retain customers, and build a database of consumer data.

Secret Message

Webdecoder has a client list that includes Eddie Bauer, Ford Motor, Gap and Verizon Communications. The companys namesake decoders use transparent plastic film, which contains hidden messages revealing whether or not the consumer is a prize winner. Advertisers embed the plastic film into card stock, which can take the form of a direct mail piece, an insert in a magazine or a giveaway at an entertainment venue. To discover the answer, consumers must take two steps they may never otherwise do: Visit the advertisers Web site, and then enter personal data such as their name, address and whether theyd like to receive product information. Only then does an appropriately colored box appear to decode the message.

WebDecoder founders Donnie Causey and Matt Montesi, who started the suburban Atlanta company in June 1998, say they circulated more than 40 million decoders in 2000 and pulled in revenue that exceeded $5 million for the year.

"People like the visual stimulation," Causey says. He tells prospective clients: "No ones going to visit your site unless you give them a reason to visit."

With WebDecoders games, consumers have an incentive to submit real information because prizes are delivered to the name and address provided — consumers wouldnt want to enter a neighbors information and risk seeing their prize delivered next door. Because of this, WebDecoder says, companies will get a "cleaner," more accurate database of customer data than they might through other techniques.

Ford used WebDecoders to promote its Focus model, which it markets to 18- to 35-year-old drivers. In the fall of 2000, ads with the decoders ran in 17 magazines that mapped to the Focus target demographic, including Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. All told, Ford distributed 14 million decoders and had close to 500,000 people register to see whether they had won anything, according to the companys ad agency, J. Walter Thompson. From its registration results, the car company also learned whether or not a respondent was in the market for a new car.

Ford plans to send subsequent promotional offers to those who opted-in to receive more information. Paul Hallas, brand account supervisor for the Ford Focus at J. Walter Thompson, would not disclose how much the WebDecoder campaign cost, but he says it was a very cost-effective program.

"It got a much stronger response rate than most forms [of advertising]," Hallas says. "Its a lot more engaging, and really connected with our target."

RealTimes games also drive consumers to sites they might not normally visit. The Wynnewood, Pa., company creates virtual scratch-and-win cards for clients such as America Online, Maybelline and the National Football League.

Consumers are usually directed to the advertisers site by in-store or print promotions, and are required to provide information about themselves on the site. To play, users run their mouse cursors over a card to "scratch off" the instant-win message — accompanied, most helpfully, by scratching noises. Charles Ruderman, RealTimes vice president of sales, says people come back an average of 21 times to play during a promotion, which typically lasts eight to 12 weeks.

Most of RealTimes clients include the scratch-and-win game as one component of a larger promotional campaign. Online shopping site StoreRunner Network, for instance, coupled the scratch-and-win game with a sweepstakes for a car in its recent "Win a [Toyota] 4-Runner from StoreRunner" promotion. StoreRunner says the games helped accomplish its goals: to stimulate customer enrollment and to lure consumers to its site.

Neither WebDecoder nor RealTime work on the creative design or distribution of a promotion. Instead, they focus on developing the tools to drive customers to sites, a task that buttons and ad banners continue to have trouble accomplishing. Marketers that have tapped into instant-win Web games seem to be instantly hooked.

"[The WebDecoder] breaks through to younger people," Hallas says. "Its not the type of thing they throw away."