Guitar Hero Helps Marketers Understand Product Relevancy


Swivel Media's Erik Hauser explores the interest in previously unknown music Guitar Hero can spawn as an analogy for marketers and agencies working together to create product relevancy for audiences who no longer know a particular product or to create interest in a new product.

It seems to be the mother of all challenges. It's the one that prospective clients call ad agency offices with daily - sometimes hourly when things are brisk. "How do we increase relevancy within a particular market segment, and more importantly convert that new found relevancy into sales," they often say. "How can we drive purchase and purchase consideration by our intended audience - an audience that currently doesn't even know that we exist?" Both, by the way, are very good questions that brand managers are faced with on an hourly basis.

Walk through any ad agency and you'll see the creative teams addressing these questions that are posed every day by their clients. Often, agencies don't seem to land on the correct answer. That may explain why the business so often resembles a revolving door - old ones out - new ones in. However, every once in a while an agency finds a way to shift perceptions to drive purchase. I'd love to tell you that even those stories end well, but more times than not the agency is still shown the door. The sustainable agency/client relationships that last are built on a foundation of mutual respect and trust. When that foundation exists and great work is produced, the relationship only becomes stronger. I am proud to say that our key clients have been with us for years. That's the agency's goal and one of the things I value most.

OK, so by this point you're asking what the heck does this have to do with Guitar Hero? If you're not asking this question then you've read some of my stuff before. I have a tendency to draw correlations between some pretty strange things and approach things from highly unusual angles. My point is simple actually.

Guitar Hero is a perfect example of how you can get an audience interested in anything if you utilize a clever engagement mechanism that stimulates customer involvement.

I'm not referring to the game sales. Clearly, it's an amazing game. I have it set up in our house with multiple guitars and everyone still fights for their turn to play. The game sells itself - you have to look inside of it to see what I am referring to, because by inside the game I am referring to the playlists. These, by the way, will soon have every song ever made, but for now the current offerings are what I am talking about.

It's a fair statement to say, for the most part, that the USA has resided in a hip-hop nation for a number of years. There are absolutely great artists that fall outside of hip-hop, but if I look back over the last few years I see charts dominated by the genre. Only recently have we seen the reemergence of the singer songwriter. As a quick side note - I love all genres, but I have been the biggest REM fan since the age of 11. I am what most people would refer to as a lyrics person. I find songs that truly resonate with me tend to be about world issues, personal experiences etc. They're a little less about how much the singer's car cost, or how many diamonds they have in their watchband. Having written that, I love great beats, and I love to jump on the dance floor to become fully involved with the music. OK, time for me to get back on track - blame the A.D.D.

One thing is for certain - Classic rock hasn't been dominating the airwaves. It certainly hasn't been flying off the record shelves. Or, for that matter, it isn't even being illegally downloaded frequently by today's younger generation. This all leads up to one very important question that was asked to me by a 9, that's right 9-year-old boy. What was the question?

"Erik, can you take me to Best Buy to get a Lynard Skynard CD?" Now, at this point there are several reasons I almost hit the floor. One is that I grew up in the southeast and live with the running joke of someone screaming Freebird at any concert I've ever attended. It didn't matter if it was an REM concert or Lenny Kravitz - some yahoo was always screaming Freebird.

The fundamental question was why is a 9-year-old asking me to by him a Skynard album? Guitar Hero had presented a 9-year-old an opportunity to relate to, and connect with, a song from another generation. The game allowed him to put his own slant on the anthem, and had engaged him with something that he normally would never have even heard in his universe. Actually, I did ask the question why Skynard?- he had never heard of Skynard, but I was so intrigued by what had just unfolded in front of me, I had to ask. This initial request was soon followed by requests for Santana albums, ZZ Top and Pearl Jam. OK then.

The lesson here is simple. Something was introduced to a 9-year-old using a clever mechanism that engaged his interest and attention and also allowed him to take partial ownership of the sound that was exiting the speakers at an extremely loud volume. Result - album sales for artists the kid never knew existed. We have a winner!

What engagement techniques are you using to make your client's products/services relevant to their new, desired audience? We should all be thinking about it while I head out to Best Buy to go grab a 9-year-old his latest request - Heart's last album.

by Erik Hauser    Feb-21-08   Click to Comment   
Topic: Agencies, Opinion, Trends and Culture   

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Yes, I am glad someone is writing about this. These games, the Guitar Hero franchise and especially the fantastic multiplayer platform Rock Band, are keeping these dinosaur bands alive and most importantly making them relevant. It's interesting because Rock Band has introduced my kids to the music of the Monkees, yet they couldn't tell you one song by the Beatles. Anyone else see the irony here? A fake band making a real name with consumers in a game playing fake instruments. Yet the "real band" (the Beatles) means nothing to these young consumers. It makes we wonder how long it will take before more of these groups realize that ending up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and riding on your laurels of the halcyon days of dozens of top ten hits will mean nothing if you are not connecting to a new audience in a relvant and meaningful way.

Brilliant commentary. I love to see these trends as an avid gamer and as a self-professed, bitter ad geek.

Posted by: Len on February 21, 2008 2:52 PM

Also interesting that you're actually heading out in the wintry mix to an actual bricks-and-mortar store.

I'm not much of an iPodder, even on my iPhone, but in our house we even buy our CDs from iTunes and burn them ourselves.

Posted by: Mary Baum on February 21, 2008 3:05 PM

I like where you're starting to with this Erik. I think Guitar Hero is a great example, not only for the music, but for the product placement.

Say that same 9 year old wants to start playing guitar as a result of the game. Gibson is all they've seen really, and Line 6 is what they want to plug that Gibson into.

On a final note, I'm a bit of a music aficionado (particularly classic rock) "A's" in Lynyrd Skynyrd. Great perspective nonetheless - keep it up!

Posted by: Jake on February 21, 2008 3:32 PM

Billboard had a good article about this recently, too. I think Guitar Hero is demonstrating to the ailing music industry that if they get creative with their comprehension of what their product is and where their audiences are, they'll be able to maintain their place in the world despite the advent of digital media-- maybe even because of it.

Posted by: Leona on February 22, 2008 5:52 AM