The gaming industry should be every marketer’s dream: According to the Entertainment Software Association, consumers spent $30.4 billion on video games and products in 2016.
As fertile as the territory may be, it’s not always the easiest to navigate as a brand. Unlike, say, film or TV, there’s an inherently deeper level of engagement in gaming, which makes branding strategies far from one-size-fits-all–and which places tripleclix in a unique position as a video game-centric creative agency.
“If you love Star Wars, you’ll probably see it in theaters twice, and then buy the DVD and spend a couple of hours with it. But when Call of Duty or Gears of War comes out, you’re going to spend up to 200 hours on it. So getting brands into the space in a very authentic way is tough,” says Chris Erb, founder and managing partner of tripleclix. “You have to understand the consumers and understand the space. That’s why we built tripleclix.”
Erb is a gaming industry veteran who’s spent more than a decade on the brand and marketing side of companies including Wizards of the Coast and EA Sports. In 2013, Erb had a brief stint in film as EVP of marketing for Legendary Entertainment where he realized two things: how frequently agencies engaged in partnership marketing and how much he missed the gaming space. A year later, tripleclix was born.
“When you get into gaming, you need to make a decision: are you going to build relationships with gamers or are you going to just advertise to them?” Erb says. “Instead of saying ‘buy this beverage’ in the game, what you want to do is say, ‘I’m going to reward you with content if you buy this beverage.’ The industry right now is built on micro-transactions, selling individual content to games. Instead of charging consumers for that content, how can you give it to them for free through products they already love and buy so they feel like they’re getting something for free that they would have paid for anyway?”
As it stands, tripleclix is an extremely lean operation (they currently have just three full-time employees). But that hasn’t stopped the agency from landing Xbox as one of their clients.
Aaron Greenberg, general manager of Xbox Games marketing, was looking to rethink the marketing strategy around Xbox’s titles. During the year Erb formed tripleclix, Greenberg ran into him at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Given Xbox’s status in the gaming community, it would have seemed prudent to continue working with huge creative agencies. Yet, having known Erb for years through his work in the gaming industry, Greenberg wasn’t looking for size–he was looking for knowledge.
“We bet on the small boutique specialized guy that really knew the gaming space and had the relationships–and it’s been a huge success,” Greenberg says. “A lot of people have great ideas and there are people who are daring enough to take those ideas and figure out how can to actually bring them to life. When you go down that funnel from dreaming to daring to doing, you get a much smaller number of people that make it all the way through. Chris can execute, which is part of his super power.”
One of the major campaigns tripleclix engineered for Xbox was a massive partnership between Xbox’s Gears of War 4 and rap duo Run the Jewels. Erb detected some overlap in the music world with the Gears of War franchise, in the sense that bands like Megadeath and Body Count have contributed songs to games in the past. As opposed to just reaching out to Run the Jewels and licensing one of their tracks for the game or an ad, Erb and his team at tripleclix went all-in in every direction. There was limited edition clothing, making Killer Mike and El-P playable characters, merging elements of the game into Run the Jewels’s iconic logo, using a trailer for the game to preview an exclusive track for Run the Jewels’ album, etc.
“There’s so much competition for people’s mind share and their time. You can stand out by spending more money, but you can also do it by being smarter, more creative, and more engaging,” Greenberg says. “[Erb] understands our games all the way from the development teams building them to how the game will resonate with consumers. And he can bridge that to the right type creative execution. What makes that unique is ultimately he’ll build programs that we’ll go, ‘oh my god this totally makes sense but it’s never been done before.’”