Promoting Controversy: The Buzz and the Backlash Surrounding Grand Theft Auto V

Steal cars, drive fast, beat up and kill both men and women, and get 4,539,711 “likes” on your Facebook page. That’s what Grand Theft Auto V has accomplished. We aren’t promoting the violent video game, but we are going to show you how you can steal some marketing ideas from this controversial video game franchise and take advantage of the promotional methods used by the big video game companies.

Grand Theft Auto V Buyer

Image source: Enjin.com

Grand Theft Auto V is the fifteenth title in the series created by Rockstar Games. It was released on September 17, 2013, to record sales. Yes, the graphics are spectacular, and apparently the story line is good, but the game isn’t for children, pacifists, or anyone who abhors violence. As a purely technical creation, it’s a marvel; as something that has an impact on our culture, it could be considered destructive.

Things Worth Less Than What Grand Theft Auto V Made in One Day

Image source: Dorkly.com

Grand Theft Auto V is the biggest selling digital release of all time for PlayStation. It’s also at the top of Xbox’s list. This isn’t a review of the game and we aren’t going to go into detail about the action. We aren’t even going to show you any of the promotional videos — it was difficult enough finding a screen shot that wasn’t potentially offensive to some people. However, obviously the game is fun to play or it wouldn’t have all those followers, and it’s sales speak for themselves. So the question is… how did they achieve this success?

What role does marketing play in the success of a popular video game?

Know your Target Market

Rockstar Games and other video companies know their target market and they cater to them in a big way. While you would think that the demographic for this kind of game would be teenage boys who are feeling their testosterone, Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and similar games attract a small percentage of female players, despite the misogynist activities taking place, and quite a few older males.

Creating Buzz and Building Anticipation

Rockstar built up the hype over a two year period. They announced the game release back in October, 2011. Over those two years, the company used the drip marketing method and released information and trailers over time to raise excitement and anticipation. We’re not putting down gamers, but when you are someone who likes to spend time in an alternate universe, you probably also like dreaming about the next alternate universe and talking about it with your friends. Gamers are as dedicated to their favorite game series as people are to their sports team.

Using Your Customers To Do The Work For You

This writer isn’t a gamer, although I have played the odd one with my sons. I found out about the game on the day of its release when I was visiting my 32-year-old son. My other son, who is 30, dropped by and they started talking Grand Theft Auto. They had purchased the game the moment it went on sale. Two of their friends came to visit and they had also bought the game that same day. We stepped outside to walk the dog and a neighbor came over and started talking Grand Theft Auto. That’s powerful networking and that’s just a small segment of the buyers who lined up to purchase the game on release day.

Social Media Magic

Gamers are often big social media users and they spend a lot of time on their mobile phones, so these forms of marketing are going to be highly successful. Four and a half million Facebook “likes” is impressive. Have you heard of unboxing YouTube videos? You know you have a hit product on your hands when people post videos of themselves opening a box or package, as in the video below. Sounds silly, but there are dozens of unboxing videos online for everything from the latest iPhone to the newest movie or game release. This is customer love and you need that kind of madness to achieve this level of success.

Controversy isn’t Always a Bad Thing

This latest release has renewed the controversy, and while it’s still up for debate whether or not video games cause violent behavior any more than watching a movie or reading a book (should all of us literary types reading Cormac McCarthy be taking our fingers off the keyboard and taking up arms?), most users claim they know the difference between real and pretend violence. Of course, there are some people who have mental health issues and they may have been influenced by this type of game, and additionally, it’s inappropriate for children to play this game. But how does this controversy add up to high sales?

According to a number of news articles, when the first GTA game hit the market, the creators hired high-profile publicist Max Clifford to promote the more controversial aspects of the game by planting stories in the media. Whether people checked out the product due to curiosity or because some people are drawn to violent action, it worked. Once the public was hooked, the outcry over the senseless violence just fueled the fire and made it more popular. “Succès de scandale” or  “success by scandal” has been a popular marketing concept since the days of the Belle Époque. Negative publicity doesn’t seem to have an impact on sales because their customers know what they want and don’t care what people think.

Screen Shot Grand Theft Auto V

Image source: Canoe.ca

Back To the Business of Marketing: How You Can Promote Your Video Game

Rockstar makes the big bucks, so they can afford to put a lot of money into a huge marketing campaign, but there are many techies out there with budding dreams of developing a successful game franchise such as Grand Theft Auto. While there are video games for children and some softer games that are made to attract women, the top selling games are of the same ilk as GTA.

If you’re marketing a new game, build up anticipation by leaking small bits of information at a time. Try using trailers that don’t disclose too much at one time. The gaming community hasn’t fallen into into the same trap as the movie business. Movie trailers today give away almost the entire plot line. People complain about this, but the trailer is still the motivating factor in seeing the film. Game trailers do the same thing, but don’t give everything away. Surprises sell. The build-up to the release could also include special offers such as branded clothing and collectibles. A heavy social media campaign should also include contests.

Email marketing is also a great way to inspire followers of your game, so that you can become a franchise.  Gamers read reviews, just like movie goers. There are dozens of gaming websites and blogs. Sharing your news through a secure email message is the best way to get the information out there, especially if you are providing reviewers with advance information that you don’t want leaked to the public . Connect all your marketing channels through your email campaign. Take advantage of the good and bad press. Controversy sells, but be respectful of the people who have concerns about your product and don’t be afraid to address those issues.

Is your video game marketing campaign falling flat? iPost provides on-demand connected digital marketing solutions to help you create and implement effective email marketing, social media and mobile campaigns. The experts at iPost have over a decade of experience providing integrated B2B and eCommerce marketing solutions. Contact us for an analysis of your email campaign.

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