National insurer State Farm Insurance is capitalizing on the popularity of games within social networks with a months-long campaign that will give players in-game rewards for safe virtual driving.
Car Town, built by Cie Games, lets registered players collect and customize virtual cars, build their dream garages, and help their friends to do the same. Launched on the Facebook platform last July, it currently has a reported 7.2 million active users.
Beginning last December, State Farm began introducing a promotion within Car Town that offered players virtual rewards for completing a series of consecutive challenges. The first, launched last month, challenged players to complete 10 full-passenger road trips within the game with accidents. Those who did so were awarded two blue points, virtual currency redeemable within the Car Town game world, and credits usually purchased by game players.
This month and until May, other State Farm challenges within Car Town will promote multi-car ownership and “good neighbor” behavior—a natural fit, since like many Facebook games Car Town lets players ask each other for help with their chores.
As in Farmville and many other Facebook games, Car Town starts players off with a small plot of land—in this case a garage—and a small amount of virtual currency with which to buy and trick out their first car. Players can earn more currency by completing tasks such as winning races, working on other cars and delivering pizzas. They can also post results to their Facebook walls and invite friends to compete in races or join them on cross-country outings.
While State Farm has done in-game branding in video games for years, this is the first time the brand has engaged to offer rewards for game play. “We’ve been involved with video games for years,” says advertising director Ed Gold. “Our initial foray was aligning ourselves with sports properties that we’ve been official partners with, such as MLB Baseball from Y2K Sports.” Those display ads were hard-coded into the games and were available both to console and online players but were not changeable to suit particular campaigns.
“As social gaming has exploded, we’ve been on the lookout for the right opportunity, to make sure that State Farm is integrated into a game in the appropriate way,” Gold says. “It’s not just about slapping our logo on something. State Farm is about cars. So if you’ve got a car game that isn’t just a crash-‘em-up, that is about living the car life, that’s how we want to be involved.”
The challenges involved in the State Farm virtual promotion in Car Town are organically related to products and brand associations State Farm wants to emphasize in the real world, gold points out. “If you’re a safe driver, we give you a discount on your auto insurance. We also give you a discount across multiple cars that you insure with us.”
The branding in Car Town is still very light. “It’s not a hard sell,” Gold says. “We want to be part of the game but still provide a valuable service to the players.” The State Farm logo appears as a clickable icon when players log into the game, and the brand is also present in billboard signage along some of the routes. A State Farm agent is also incorporated into the game as an avatar guiding players through the challenges.
The only link contained within Car Town links back to the State Farm Nation page on Facebook, a brand page aimed at younger audiences. Current elements on the State Farm Nation page include weekly clips from popular video blogger Phil DeFranco, a vote contest to choose alternate endings to a broadcast commercial with host Bob Barker, and a gallery of photos from last fall’s State Farm-sponsored Weezer tour. The page also promotes the State Farm Car Town challenges.
While the State Farm brand has appeared on display ads in a small handful of the large number of racing video games available, the company has been careful to stay away from games that emphasize reckless driving or motoring mayhem—game elements that work against the brand image for safety. In that sense, integration into Car Town is ironic, since players can’t collide or get involved in real automobile accidents in the game.
Still, Gold says, State Farm felt taking part in Car Town was an important step in introducing itself to an audience of young new and soon-to-be drivers, many of whom are not reachable by broadcast messaging.
For its part, Car Town is using the State Farm challenges to introduce another new feature that should heighten the viral spread of the game. When players publish a post to their Facebook walls saying “I completed a State Farm challenge,” the first of their friends to click on that post will also receive a blue point for use within Car Town.
“With such a creative approach to engaging consumers in online social settings like Facebook, State Farm is showing what’s possible for big advertisers,” Cie Games president and CEO Justin Choi said in a release. “State Farm is adding value to the game player and more fun to the game.”