“It’s Not Advertising For Heinz”: Game Trailer Creators Share Marketing Realities

Video game trailers stoke the frenzied passion of fans in a way the advertising world can only jealously watch. But what can creatives learn from their distant colleagues in the land of the pixel?

The Drum speaks to some of the greatest creators who in another lifetime would run commercials for fried chicken, German cars, or beans, rather than the world’s most exciting entertainment medium.

The TrailerFarm, Fire Without Smoke, and Maverick Media tell us about the realities of the business – the ups and downs, the demands and rewards, and the future evolution of space.

The Roulotte Farm

Ben Lavery, studio head of creative video production house The TrailerFarm, developed trailers for the Fall Guys and So Happy Together for Borderlands 3. His favorite trailer is a satirical, hyper-violent nine-minute preview. of the carnage you might expect from the Nazi-stomper Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

On his job, he said: “This is The advertisement. We design, we pitch, we deliver solutions. There are production complexities when advertising a game in development, but otherwise the process is the same.

Much of the team has worked in advertising agencies before. They use the same briefing formats and study audiences, market positioning and points of difference “as they would with any product. It’s just that video games are a lot more fun to advertise.

The format of the campaigns differs, of course. There is a typical course of action for content – from trailer to announcement, launch to gameplay trailer, and then to the accolades trailer. The order and volume will differ depending on many variables. For example, is the security an upcoming early withdrawal or a new IP address? Is there any innovative gameplay feature to show? Or next-gen graphics you have to let breathe? Did fans react negatively to a previous trailer or just failed to generate the expected buzz? The plan can change on the move – if you have the budget.

Studios like Lavery’s must be adaptable. Game resources and project scope can change with a single click. Maybe Epic secures distribution rights at the last minute, and you need to edit all of your documents to get people to the right distribution point. Or maybe the targeted testing indicates that people prefer the multiplayer element and the marketing needs to increase the buzz around that. Perhaps the studio was just acquired mid-cycle and the launch date has been pushed back – or more worryingly, brought forward.

And then there are the “truly mind-blowing turnaround times”. It’s a quick job. In the fragmented world of social media and global versions, automated systems could cut up to 150 files per trailer to accommodate different formats and languages. Lavery is relieved to have a good tool for this.

But there is no room for error. “Our audience can be very passionate – they’re huge fans of the content, so they’ll jump very vocally on anything they don’t like or think is inauthentic. Our advertising must faithfully represent the true promise of the game.

To accomplish this, the company only works by using cutscenes built into the engine – if the game can render it faithfully, it succeeds. Too many times players have been burned with deceptive GFX storefronts. It gets especially difficult when trying to render trailers for new games on upcoming consoles, like they did for Godfall on PS5.

Smokeless fire

Sam Passmore, Creative Director of Creative Studio Fire Without Smoke, recently worked on Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed, and Death Stranding. The studio “only works in games. We are proud of it ”.

He thinks trailers are at their best “when they swing for the fences.” For his Watch Dogs: Legion push, he piled up references to Nike’s famous “Nothing Beats a Londoner” ad.

Where game releases differ from films is the interactivity of the medium. Another cog in the hype machine to consider is the game’s demo, now easily distributed in digital stores. And every tool is needed.

Passmore thinks the audience has matured (he’s literally aged). They are more sophisticated in their tastes. “They don’t get enough credit. You can’t sell a game just on the graphics or the styling. A good trailer now needs to have heart.

But for the publicist, the passionate audience is a double-edged sword. Passion can drive your product to the top of the charts – or destroy one that isn’t quite up to the mark. “You have to get the right content. Avid gamers can spot inconsistencies within a mile and a half.

Games are now mass media and a cornerstone of culture. There are broader considerations: “How do you make a video game look like a lifestyle brand?” We really needed to nail the style through the music, the beat and the visuals.

Maverick media

Seamus Masterson, Executive Creative Director of Maverick Media, has worked with clients such as EA, Sega and Capcom. He’s been involved in huge fantasy genre launches like Totar War: Warhammer and The Witcher 2.

He’s been in the industry for 25 years and he’s noticed that things are picking up speed. “It used to take an average of about a year to market a game, with teasers, announcements, gameplay, character trailers and storylines as the key beats. Now things seem to be compressed a lot more in six or even three months, with an increasing trend for concurrent ad / launch campaigns.

“This key feature that you based the campaign on is no longer in the game, so we need a new campaign by Friday – which doesn’t happen when you advertise Heinz beans.”

Developers want their games to be released faster and to make money. Patches can, and often are, applied after launch to smooth out wrinkles. Or at least some of them.

The focus of these campaigns has also changed. “The focus has shifted a lot to defining the gaming experience as opposed to the promise of how it looks / plays.” If you do it right, audiences will find and share the content wherever you post it, he thinks.

But commerce is cyclical, even as the technology that speaks is advancing. “I saw a huge trailer last week that brought up some of the ideas we worked on for the same client early on in the console – reminded me right away, it’s done.”

To look forward

  • Lavery: “With mobile games, instant load playable game previews in a 30-second video ad placement are now very sophisticated and can be effective. I expect to see cloud streaming games also preview more on consoles. My favorite place to watch a badass game trailer is in a pre-show commercial, with big sound and a giant screen. This is the treatment that games deserve.

  • Passmore: “The future of game trailers is intrinsically linked to the future of game distribution. Instant streaming means you can start watching a trailer, think, “hey, that sounds fun,” and with the push of a button, start playing where the trailer left off. “

  • Masterson: “AR will be huge in delivering in situ and contextual messages. I also believe that games and brands will increasingly find ways to fit into the gaming experience in less advertising ways and more as valid contextual and experiential communications in the same way that advertisers have shifted from advertisements. to branded content).

To learn more about what the pandemic-propelled popularity of the gaming industry means for marketers, head over to The Drum’s gaming hub.


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