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Get in with the Gamers
Nerds no more, today's video game fanatics are an increasingly influential consumer group.
KFC offers Guitar Hero meal.

Remember when the words "video gamer" conjured images of socially awkward, bespectacled basement dwellers?

Not anymore. Today's gamers, are confident, socially connected early adopters who are fast becoming a coveted target audience for marketers.

"There's definitely been a coming-out-of-the-basement-type evolution that has taken place with gamers," says Keith Kane, co-founder and senior vice president of advertising and marketing for online media company Giant Realm. "Video games have evolved significantly, and gamers have evolved as well."

Gamers now account for around 70 percent of the highly sought after male 18–34-year-old demographic and as much as 90 percent of the male 18–24-year-old segment, Kane says.

"For years, marketers have aligned themselves with sports to get to those males," he says. "More recently they've moved into music and entertainment. These were things millions of young men could relate to; gaming now represents the same thing."

The gamer demographic is especially attractive to marketers in the quick-service space because of gamers' on-the-go lifestyle, aversion to cooking at home, and affinity for cheap, fast eats.

"I think these are the guys who really have been pretty loyal to fast-food restaurants," Kane says. "They love to eat, they want to eat, but they want to do it quick. These guys like sugar and caffeine as well as meals of convenience. Dollar menus and late hours are very appealing to the gaming audience."

Kane also suggests that restaurants tailor some offerings specifically for the gamer crowd.

"I think a late night menu, served after 11 and promoted to gaming audiences, would do well," he says. "Tell them they can come in and get half price or buy a special item and be entered into a sweepstakes for an advance copy of a new game."

KFC is one chain already espousing that strategy.

This past summer the chain teamed up with Activision in a partnership that coincided with the launch of the newest installment in the video game developer's popular Guitar Hero series.

KFC began offering a Guitar Hero Fully Loaded Box Meal, featuring an array of the chain's menu items in a branded Guitar Hero box, along with an assortment of collectible cups. Included with the box was a coupon entitling users to $5 off the Guitar Hero World Tour game at retailer Best Buy, and peel-offs on the cups gave customers the chance to win in-store discounts instantly or a shot at winning the ultimate game room package if they entered a code online at www.KFCrocks.com.

Matthew McCartin, senior director of advertising for KFC, says gamers are a loyal fan base, similar to NASCAR or NFL fans, and the launch of a new game, such as Guitar Hero World Tour, is akin to the playoffs for them.

Need proof? Look at the launch of video games like Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto IV or Microsoft's Halo 3, which had fans waiting in line outside of retailers for days and sold millions of copies in the first 24 hours after their release.

"These were bigger than some of the biggest movie releases," Kane says.

KFC ran 30- and 15-second television ads in conjunction with the promotion, but McCartin admits that television isn't always the best way to reach a gamer audience.

"My philosophy is to go where the fish go," he says.

To that end, KFC has also established a presence inside the Guitar Hero universe. When players choose the game's Times Square background, KFC ads appear on the jumbotron screens; when the venue takes a fraternity house theme, there are KFC buckets on the pool table.

In-game advertising, says Cassandra Nuttall, head of marketing for video game engineering firm Massive, allows companies to get their message across to gamers in a way other media do not allow.

"I think one of the key reasons why they target these gamers [with in-game advertising] is because of engagement," Nuttall says. "They are 100 percent engaged; there are no distractions coming through."

Massive's research shows that it works, too. In a recent study on the effectiveness of in-game advertising the firm did on behalf of Subway, gamers who saw the ads were 9 percent more likely than the control group to recommend the brand to others and 20 percent more likely to visit the restaurant.

I think a late night menu, served after 11 and promoted to gaming audiences, would do well.”

Another way to reach gamers is on the Internet, but they don't necessarily congregate at the same Web sites other demographics visit.

"They've basically disappeared from traditional media platforms," Kane says, adding that they don't typically frequent large online portals, such as Yahoo.com. Instead, core gamers, those who typically have the most influence over the demographic, gravitate to gaming-specific sites, such as IGN.com.

But just any old banner ad placed on the sites they use won't do the trick, Kane says. Speaking directly to their interests in an authentic voice while providing them with some value is the way to win their business. McDonald's, for example, partnered with IGN.com to offer the site's "gaming guides" free for a year. The guides share the screen with ads promoting McDonald's Dollar Menu.

Overall, though, Kane and McCartin agree that the key to reaching this audience is to be authentic.

"Just having your logo up there, people don't care about that anymore," McCartin says. "I think you have to show that you really have an understanding of what they love."

Jamie Hartford is a regular contributor to QSRmagazine.com.