Indie games Undertale, Doki Doki Literature Club, offer advertising lessons
Those in the gaming community may have heard of several indie game hits such as Doki Doki Literature Club and Undertale. These games have been downloaded by millions on Steam, a computer gaming marketplace. For context, developers released 7,672 games on Steam during 2017 alone. These games had to be doing something right to be successful in that crowded marketplace, especially games as niche as the anime-style visual novel Doki Doki Literature Club and the NES style Undertale. Advertisers can learn key lessons from these games to craft better "stories" for their audiences.
Both Doki Doki Literature Club and Undertale subvert audience expectations in key ways. I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum but here's the gist.
Doki Doki Literature Club starts off as basic romance game where a character joins a literature club at his school and can grow closer to one of the three female characters. However, the game quickly subverts this theme by causing the characters to go insane and throws in strange glitches into the game play to disorientate the player. The game also begins to explore mental health in an interesting and realistic manner.
In Undertale, likewise, the player believes the game is a traditional RPG where they need to "kill monsters" to level up. The game later subverts that expectation by showing players that they can play without killing any monsters, and that their actions have real consequences on the game.
This ability to subvert audience expectations can improve more traditional communication tools, such as advertising. For example, Whirlpool was able to subvert audience's expectations by deploying a VR experience that turned going to the laundromat into a nightmarish experience.
Focus on building long term brand equity, not just short term sales
While Undertale has certainly made a lot of money, Doki Doki Literature Club is a free game. In fact, the only thing players can buy is a fan package with extra artwork and the soundtrack. This sounds like a wasted opportunity to make a sale right?
However, Team Salvato, which created Doki Doki Literature Club, has built up a significant brand name for themselves. Using this brand equity, they can almost ensure their next game will be a success, even if they charge a pretty penny for it.
Advertisers can learn from this example. Let's say you have to choose between a few different advertisements for your displays. One simply pushes customers to purchase a product, where another one delivers an inspiring message with your brand. The latter message may not translate into direct sales at first, but it will help built up brand awareness and loyalty. You want to attract customers that will return, not just ones who will make a split second purchase.
Find brand advocates
One reason games like Doki Doki Literature Club and Undertale soared in popularity is that popular Youtubers began to do "Let's play" videos of them. Youtube stars would play the video games, while adding humorous or interesting commentary. This in turn spread the word about these games among their viewers, who were more likely to go download the games.
Retailers and other businesses should also consider bringing in key brand advocates as well. For example, perhaps you could get a key restaurant blogger to write about your startup? Or you could get a toy enthusiast to view your latest action figure? You could then take these advocates' commentary and use it for advertising with your digital signage or Web site.
Be careful with this tool, however, because it can backfire. Viewers are naturally suspicious and if they get a sense that their favorite blogger or Youtuber is being paid by you, they will turn on both your company and the advocate.
If it makes sense to have an advocate, try to go about it in a relevant organic way. For example, you could send a free sample to a potential advocate without being pushy.
Focus on telling a story
Stories make an impact, and video game stories are no exception. You can also tap into the power of storytelling with your advertising.
Ask yourself: What will my customer take away from this? How will it enrich their lives? You don't need to be the next novelist, but you do need to consider how your brand's story will speak to your customer.
Nike, for a well-known example, weaves the concept of perseverance, athleticism and the human spirit into its messages. It tries to live up the original meaning of the Greek word, which means victory.
Selling is of the utmost importance, but if you don't grab your audience's imagination, they likely won't stick around.
Image via Team Salvato. Reused with permission.
Bradley Cooper is a Technology Editor for DigitalSignageToday.com. His background is in information technology, advertising, and writing.www