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Marketers Find Fun And Games Works Wonders On Web Sites

March 3, 2003 -- RICHMOND TIMES DISPATCH McGregor McCance -- My daughter loves the catchy games and activities at

Not even 2, she doesn't know what a Web site is, but her enthusiasm for what's on this site shows the power of "advergaming."

The term refers to the combination of advertising, games and the Internet. An advergame may be as simple as an online trivia game about a TV show, or engaging Internet puzzles and activities.

The idea is that games might keep you at a Web site longer than you may have stayed otherwise. And that's more time for your brain to absorb the site's message.

"People who go to a Web site might spend a few minutes. But they'll play games for a half-hour or hour or more," said Jack D. Smith, president of People-Space, an advergaming specialist in Charlottesville. "The whole time, they're being reinforced with a brand."

Smith's company has created advergames for Sesame Street, the Lifetime cable TV channel and even

"It's tastefully done, of course," Smith said.

More importantly, the average play time for the Playboy game is more than 40 minutes per session.

His most recent projects include "PuckShuffle," a game created for the National Hockey League's site,, and a collection of games for, a site geared to that industry.

In "Dental Defense," the player moves a tube of toothpaste from left to right, squirting falling sweets such as cookies as they descend toward a row of teeth.

Cheesy? Of course. Catchy? Sure. The game play resembles the arcade classic "Space Invaders."

"The primary goal is to make a fun, entertaining game that people enjoy playing over and over. Once you have a good game, you work on the branding and advertising angle," Smith said.

Advergaming represents just another part of marketing, advertising and branding that plays within a different set of rules online.

David Austin, a partner with freeRadical LLC, a Richmond interactive advertising agency, said advertisers are exploring different ways to get a message across online.

The days are numbered for the old standby, static banner ads. In their place, online ads that look more like TV advertising and games are showing promise.

"You have to have a way to draw people's attention," Austin said. "Games are a good way to do it online."

Smith's company has eight employees. He gets new clients mostly by word of mouth.

He and his developers use Flash, Shockwave and Java to create the games. The key to a successful game, Smith said, is to make it challenging, but not so hard that it becomes frustrating.

"A lot of advergames fail because they just aren't fun to play," he said.

Once players consider a game worthwhile, the branding and marketing are free to flow.

"If you can get people engaged, they accept the advertising as a reasonable 'price,' " he said.

Even better, they may buy something based on that experience.

The games at don't affect me directly, though some are cute. But they've hooked my kid. And if we ever see merchandise tied to that site, I'm sure she'll make the connection.

Then it's game over.