ARGs and Marketing Strategy (When To Use Them)

“Hi Nathalie,

I came across your site a few days ago, and was intrigued by your involvement with ARG Marketing campaigns. Like you, I think ARGs are a great way to bring attention and eyeballs to a product, event etc. I have an app in development right now and am trying to determine the media mix to achieve inclusion on apple app store top 25 lists.

Now Im not sure how deep your expertise lies in this topic; from your resume, it seems like you are very well rounded, and multi skilled in various disciplines. That being said, Im interested in speaking with you about ARGs, your experiences with them, and whether or not it may be a good fit for my project…”

I get asked the above often by agencies, and studios in regards to when ARGs are best suited and where in the marketing world they fit in.
I’ve received the above often enough, that I thought I would post my now classic response:

” Your question is one more in terms of what marketing strategy best suits an app. ARGs are better applied to advertising products that are entertainment related, where there is already a strong story world surrounding them. Such as movies or games. ARGs tell a story in a “detective” way where a community grows around “solving”. Participants are rewarded by being given pieces, or hints as to what is being advertised (screenshots, story bits, footage, etc…), and content is withheld until progress is made with the overall experience. This raises a climax, and at the end the advertised product is revealed.

If you take the ARG approach by advertising an app (which does not have a story IP, but serves a “functional” purpose), then you will have to build a story world from scratch around the app. This convolutes the product, because the marketing campaign becomes marketing for the sake of marketing, and not marketing for the sake of a product. I would advise against using the “solving” and “withholding” technique for this reason, and for the reason that you will aggravate or irritate your possible user base. If people are looking for functionality (an app) then you may want to present it as “usable” and not “mysterious” (like an ARG is). You will give them the impression that the product is not usable.

Off the top of my head… A possible solution in your case would be to make developer videos of the app being created (if it is still in production) with plenty of information and best practices techniques for development (code and geek stuff — this is the “reward” content). These would be hosted on your company youtube channel, and posted on a site that takes the form of a blog (here it is important to make plenty of mention as to the “key features” of your app). The blog could be updated frequently with these “programer how to videos” causing people to subscribe to your RSS feed to be updated with more informative content. This would cause your audience to steadily grow. This will potentially attract an audience of developers who are rewarded by a learning experience of seeing an app in production. This would build suspense in watching the app “grow”.
Once the app is released you can announce where to buy it and (with an existing audience) you would have your first customers. Once released THIS is where you would launch another marketing campaign featuring the app (a campaign that takes the form of a classic one — an excellent website, banners hosted and distributed by a quality service, etc).

I’ve seen ARG’s before that where created for non-entertainment marketing, and they often (if not consistently) failed because of lack of community interest.
You will have to target your potential user base in your marketing decisions and build your strategy around their needs.
Marketing is about building a community of potential consumers. You have to understand what community you are targeting in order to create the right type of consumer base (who do you want to draw in). If it is entertainment then target your audience in an entertainment fashion and they will be sure to purchase your entertainment. If it is functional then make sure you attract the crowd looking for functionality. If you advertise your functionality as a game (ARG) you will likely have a small base of people playing it and then not caring about the app because “that’s no fun”. ”

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