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Industry Insights: From The Industry Side

A Note About Creating a Good Promotional Campaign

by Ken Whitman
October 12, 2001

Ken currently runs Games Unplugged, the independent RPG/Game magazine that aims to be the 'Variety' for this industry. This tidbit was sent out to a private list of his, and he graciously granted us permission to make it public here. Given that Ken taught me 1/3rd of what I know about marketing (which is around 1/50th of what he knows), and RPGnet now reaches several hundred thousand people, it's certainly worth listening to him.


Top-of-the-Mind Awareness

When a gamer walks into a store determined to buy a product, several things affect his decision: a demo, a sales pitch from the retailer, a product's packaging, etc. When he finally makes a decision, however, he relies mostly on the first game line or game manufacturer that comes to mind.

Ask any gamer to name five games and most likely you will hear Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, and Vampire. Why? Because their makers have created T.O.M.A (Top-of-the-Mind Awareness). Call it luck, great promotional programs, or longevity-- these products continue to sell because the consumers think of them FIRST!

Promoting head to head against well-established companies is nearly impossible. They have more clout, more money, and a successful track record under their belt. Any company who says it is going to sell Magic: The Gathering numbers is, well, crazy. It takes a LOT of money and a LOT of luck to get that kind of consumer awareness.

If you want to fight the good promotions fight, you need to take baby steps.. Try to corner a source category. Break up the gaming industry into genres and niches, go after the "weak" areas or even create new ones. Who's the current top dog in the cyberpunk genre? Who has the Hard Sci-Fi market locked up now? Take time to research the field and make smart choices when competing with other companies offering products in that category. Do you really want to go up against Dream Pod 9, Palladium, and Wiz Kids in pushing a Giant Robot game? Not the smartest choice when so many other avenues are less traveled or waiting to be discovered.

FREQUENCY is a Strategic Part of Creating T.O.M.A.

Every day, consumers are bombarded by manufacturers trying to get them to buy a product. Coca-Cola understands if you don't buy its red cans of soda, at least you got the message... and if you get the message 50 more times today than Pepsi's message, you will choose Coke over Pepsi.

How many times do gamers hear about Magic: The Gathering in a single day? How many times do gamers hear about D&D in a single day? How many times do gamers hear about your product in a single day? If the answer is 1000 to 1 (or not at all), you can see why your sales are not meeting expectations.

When you create a promotional campaign, the key is to mention your company and product to as many people per day as possible. Sometimes you spend money on advertising, sometimes you work to increase traffic on your web site, sometimes you go out and promote to fans at a convention. But the more consumers you reach each day, the better your chances of them remembering your product the next time they have $20 to spend.

Creating a Promotional Campaign

In the gaming industry, companies tend to spend between 7% and 9% of yearly earnings on promotions. Some promotions could be a toll-free number, product giveaways, convention presence, fliers, demo-kits, advertising, etc., etc.

If you are not spending this money, you are SERIOUSLY hindering your chances of success. You cannot expect to beat out competitors in your chosen field if they have an active promotional campaign, while you are rely on your great game designing skills and personal charisma. You are going to lose.

You may say you don't have the money to create a decent promotional campaign. Yeah right! So you have to do it the grass roots way: word of mouth, demos, giving away samples to excited consumers, and so on. However, when you start making cash, you'd better take this campaign to the next level! Why? Because your competitor will!

Make a Plan of Attack

Sit down and figure out what you are going to do. Which conventions will you go to? Will you buy advertising? How will you support yourself on the web? It's hard to beat your competitors without a plan. When you sit down to play a game, do you try to read your opponents, try to anticipate their next move, try to out-think them every step of the way-- all in the name of winning? So why are you not doing that in real life?!? Think of a promotional campaign as a big game and the winner is the company that makes consumers think about their products most often!

Become Aware of Your Strengths

Each of us possesses different skills that we can take advantage of when creating a good promotional campaign. If you can design web sites well, focus a campaign around that. If you are a showman, go to more conventions and retail stores. If your spouse works for a game distributor, use that as a way to learn how the distribution chain works. The more you play to your strengths, the better the chance and faster you will succeed.


A common complaint among game company owners has always been, "I just don't advertise in magazines because I don't see any (or enough) returns from the ads we placed!"

But you MUST remember that a successful ad campaign is trying to create T.O.M.A. for your company and products. This CANNOT be achieved by one "strategically placed" full-page ad. To be successful, an ad campaign must be long-term AND supported by other creative promotions.

If you have a choice of one full page color ad, or twelve 1/10-page ads, always choose frequency! Once again, use T.O.M.A. as your ultimate goal and eventually you can upgrade to full-page ads. Be patient.

Don't expect to see "immediate" returns on an ad campaign. You have to give it time to work. This means a consumer must see your ad or name several times before he starts recognizing you and your product.

An ad campaign should be one of your many tools to increase T.O.M.A. If it happens to increase sales immediately, that's just icing on the cake!

Is Your Campaign Working

Once you create a promotional campaign, stick to it for four months to a year. Don't second-guess yourself. Stick to your guns. Make changes slowly and keep your focus. Creating T.O.M.A. takes time. On average, it takes two to four years to establish a firm T.O.M.A. for your game company and products.

In Closing

Figure out your yearly budget. Aim to cultivate the highest level of consumer awareness for the buck. Use an arsenal of promotion programs, not just one! Be Patient. Take Small steps. And keep in mind, the winner is the company that gets thought of first!

Ken Whitman
Sales & Marketing
Games Unplugged Magazine
Ph: 262-749-8851
FAX: 262-249-9705
www.gamesunplugged.com TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

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All Industry Insights

  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews China Mieville, April 24, 2002
  • lizard's Condensation of All Game Fiction, April 18, 2002
  • Sandy's "God or Whore?" GTS'02, March 26, 2002
  • Allan Sugarbaker with GAMA Trade Show '02: An Inside Report, March 22, 2002
  • Aldo of Impressions on the GamePlay CD, January 3, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Ken Hite, February 8, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Tim Powers, January 18, 2002
  • Aldo Ghoizzi on Inside the Making of GamePlay, January 3, 2002
  • The RPGnet Awards Cabal presents the RPGnet 2001 Awards Results!, December 5, 2001
  • Ken Whitman teaches us with A Note About Creating a Good Promotional Campaign, October 12, 2001
  • Sean Jaffe on The Fallout, September 27, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • Sean Jaffe on Interesting Times, September 21, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • GodLike: Dennis Detwiler and Greg Stolze, September 14, 2001
  • Jared Nielsen on Tribe Gamer, August 31, 2001
  • Mark Bruno teaches about Copy Editing, August 16, 2001
  • Ratings not just kid's stuff for RPG industry, reported by Matt Snyder, August 9, 2001
  • GenCon '01 News, reported by Matt Snyder, August 3, 2001
  • Origins Report: Would you send your mother to buy from them?, part 4 of 4
  • Origins Report: Booth Babes, part 3 of 4
  • Origins Report: Overview, part 2 of 4
  • The Origins Awards, part 1 of 4, reported by Jason Paul McCartan
  • Gary Gygax Interview, part 1 of 3, by Scott Lynch
  • Why I Write Gaming Materials by Greg Stolze, November 16, 1999
  • Blowing out the Nostalgia Candle by John Wick, October 19, 1999
  • Interview with Sean Pat Fannon, Shards October 5, 1999
  • Portuguese is not Spanish! by Thad Blanchette, September 14, 1999
  • Intuition and Surprise by M. J. Young, July 27, 1999
  • Fear and Loathing in the Wizards of the Coast Game Center by John Tynes, January 26, 1999
  • Breaking In,, on how to break into writing for RPGs, by Steve Kenson, December 22, 1998
  • ALT.RPG, first of a series looking deeply at what gaming is all about, by Matt Miller, September 1, 1998
  • The Night They Tore Old Mecca Down, GenCon report by Randy Porter, August 20, 1998
  • GenCon Fun: con, city, and even housing tips from Randy Porter, June 30, 1998
  • GenCon Lore Vol 3: Program Books, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 23, 1998
  • The Missing and the Dead, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 2, 1998
  • The Definitive Count on who is and isn't attending GenCon 98, by Randy Porter, April 28, 1998
  • How to Scam Games Part II by Steve Johnson, March 24, 1998
  • The Perils of Penniless Publishing by Aaron Rosenberg, February 3, 1998
  • Polyhedral Dice & Mirror Shades, by Greg Costikyan (or, the death of paper).
  • Ken Whitman: A Love Hate Relationship by (of course) Ken Whitman
  • Interview with Sean Punch, GURPS line editor, by Bob Portnell, October 1997
  • YOU DID WHAT? Perspectives On Becoming A Full-Time Writer In The RPG Industry, by Steven Long, September 1997
  • A Resurgence of Role Playing, by Gary Gygax, August 1997

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