Why Is Kate Upton the Biggest Gaming Star on Earth?

Every time I turned on NCAA basketball tournament games, she was there.

I also see her during timeouts of the current Stanley Cup playoff hockey games. And fittingly, as the girlfriend of a baseball mega-star, I also see her in between innings of MLB games.

Kate Upton is everywhere in sports right now. And while she’s a fan who often turns-up in the stands (and luxury suites) at games, I’m really only seeing her on-screen for “Game of War” ads.

Will you be my marketing hero?

Look, you don’t have to be a behavioral scientist to figure out why a supermodel is promoting a freemium game. Guys really like Kate Upton. They love sports. And evidently, they’re the target audience for “Game of War”. That equals instant interest when Miss Upton hits the screen. For further upside, Upton has cross-over potential to women gamers, as well.

This is how game developers like Machine Zone—maker of “Game of War”— grab the public’s attention. It’s not as if the company can drop point-of-sale displays into GameStop locations and hope for the best. You can’t find “Game of War” at brick-and-mortar shops; it’s bought and played in the mobile world.

A top-of-the-funnel campaign is where developers generate awareness and interest. In the case of Machine Zone, $80 million went toward TV airtime, according to iSpot.tv. It apparently has been money well spent, since “Game of War” briefly passed Supercell’s “Clash of Clans” in February as the top revenue-generating game on mobile. (If you’re keeping score, it reportedly is making more than a million dollars per day.)

It only starts with TV

To be really effective with a target audience that’s clearly weaning itself from broadcast TV, a marketing campaign has to extend beyond television. So in addition to the cleavage-heavy TV spots featuring Kate Upton, there are the (also cleavage-heavy) Sponsored Tweets and Facebook mobile app install ads to drive home the message.

Game of War - Fire Age Twitter Game Install Ad with Kate Upton

Game of War – Fire Age

And the “Let’s hire a celebrity to break through the noise” marketing tactic seems to be popular; Supercell put actor Liam Neeson into a “Clash of Clans” spot that ran during the Super Bowl. It received good reviews, but it has done extraordinarily well beyond its television run, racking-up nearly 52 million views on YouTube!

A face in the App Store crowd

Just like a waiter in West Hollywood could be an Oscar winner if he’d just get the right break, a cool game in the App Store or Google Play could rocket up the charts without a massive ad budget. Sure, sometimes serendipity strikes and a game like “Flappy Bird” captures our far-too-brief attention spans.

But for games like “Clash of Clans” and “Game of War”, there’s just too much money at stake—they cost big bucks to develop. So just like a Hollywood studio that pours money into a summer blockbuster, the marketing budget at gaming companies needs to get the product to the finish line.

As it turns out, Supercell spares no expense in that regard; it reportedly spent $440 million in marketing in 2014. That helped to generate $1.7 billion in 2014 revenue—more than double what Supercell made in 2013.

YouTube ad tactics

As we have documented with the Liam Neeson “Clash of Clans” commercial, lots of people go to YouTube to watch ads. But many others use the platform as a research tool to unlock secrets to gaming success. Just search the title for any popular game, and you’ll find dozens of videos detailing the best ways to win.

So naturally, it’s also a good place to generate interest and installs for games—either the one featured in the video/ad, or a competitor’s offering. Take a look at the screen shot below: a click on the small banner on the lower left side of the frame takes visitors from the “Game of War” TV ad on YouTube to a landing page. Smart marketing, right?

Game of War - Fire Age video with Kate Upton

Game of War – Fire Age video with Kate Upton

The big picture and small screens

As the animated battles play out on phone screens, game developers are waging war for the hearts, minds and in-game purchases of players. That begins with awareness campaigns that might encourage an install the next time a user sees the opportunity to download the game app. It’s a strategy that seems to be paying off for the largest developers in the world; they, and Kate Upton, appreciate your support.

About the Author

Paul Calento

Paul Calento is the co-founder of TriVu Media and a vice president of the channel. He's a veteran of the digital world and has a degree in marketing from Boston University. He's a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan who still doesn't acknowledge the existence of Bucky Dent. Paul is based at Adknowledge's New York City office.

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