‘Meet Frank’ brought a virtual character into the real world in a campaign that used the engaged gaming community to its advantage for the Pringles brand. Here, Gil Caldwell-Dunn, Strategy Director at Grey London, shares his lessons from working on the campaign.

The battle for attention isn’t just an advertising problem. We often forget there are lessons to be learnt elsewhere.

It’s easy for effectiveness in advertising to focus on decades of ad-land case studies and best-in-class comms principles built up over time. But what we often miss are the lessons we can learn from the cultural spaces we want to be a part of, and the content outside of advertising that we often compete with for attention. How can we apply these mechanics to advertising? Not the other way around.

Gaming is a great example.

For years advertising waded into gaming with typical advertising approaches: branded games like the 90’s Pepsiman, in-game ads (dating all the way back to 1974), and even advertising pseudo- gaming products to help gamers game better. As an industry, we viewed gaming as another media platform to add to our ‘omnichannel’ strategy. But as gaming expanded into much more than just the game, the effectiveness of these approaches wore off, and brands found themselves having to dig deeper.

Gaming has become its own culture across many platforms, focused on much more than just solo play. From watching streams on Twitch, to chatting to gamers on Discord or forming gaming communities on Twitter – one in-game media opportunity soon became a constant battle for attention across many platforms. As the gaming cultural landscape expands, advertising needs to think beyond its own arsenal of tactics if it’s going to engage with this community in an effective way.

When we worked on our Pringles-loving zombie campaign Meet Frank, this was the approach we took that helped us achieve our Euro Effie Grand Prix. What if we borrowed from how effectively the world of gaming keeps its gamers engaged, rather than assuming we know best?

There were three big lessons in how gaming effectively captures attention that made us challenge our own approach to advertising:

#1: Fewer ad benchmarks, more consumer benchmarks

Most advertising benchmarks itself against other ads. It’s what we know and it’s how much of testing works. But gaming is a different beast. It takes creativity and innovation to new heights.

Recently, students painstakingly rebuilt entire monuments in Minecraft to allow others to study structures that were lost in conflict. Pretty impressive. This is an audience who regularly parachute into battle-royales within dramatic virtual landscapes. They are part of a world where anything is possible, so the bar is high. If we want to impress gamers, we can’t benchmark ourselves against the latest Christmas ads.

For Meet Frank, we had to create something truly novel – a world-first in the virtual and real world that could go head-to-head with the epic unbounded experiences gaming had to offer. Our benchmark was the attention-grabbing gaming world, not other gamer-targeted ads. Could we be more interesting than the games themselves? This helped us become more watched than Overwatch and Call of Duty on Twitch.

#2: Fewer influencers, more hero characters

At the heart of the best videogames is what’s called gaming ‘lore’ – the interactive storyline that takes players on a journey with their character and adds depth and richness to the game, from the main story to the subplots, missions and interactions between characters. Just look at The Last of Us – a lore so strong a dramatic hit TV series could be made around it.

It’s this depth that advertising tends to miss with its own influencer strategies. We have a tendency to put products in influential hands and capture footage, but influencers could be so much more than an inauthentic #ad. Our zombie influencer Frank went beyond a simple product demo – we made him the hero character of an engaging lore. He had a unique story; he went on a journey, breaking out of his game and learning about the real world; he became more sociable, crossed different gamer platforms, interacted with gamers along the way; and eventually went back into his game for good as a more friendly helpful zombie (he is still there to this day). He created a rich interactive story consumers could be a part of, and the Frank/Pringles fan-art that followed proved him very effective.

 #3: Less ‘social’, more shared experiences

Gaming has become a social space, but it’s one that goes beyond the traditional idea of ‘social’ as platform to document our lives and comment on others’, or the traditional advertising approach to seek out individual interactions and ‘engagement’. Gamers are united together through shared experiences – whether it’s literally playing as an in-game team in battle-royale mode, bonding over strategies, attending Fortnite concerts or sharing livestream moments.

If you want your brand to be at the heart of the social fabric of gaming, you need to create shared experiences that gamers can connect through. For Pringles, this meant putting a world-first live event and story at the heart of our comms plan. Rather than leading with broadcast, we created a moment in time and a character plot that gave gamers the shared experience they craved, with ample opportunities to connect over it. Gaming moved on the definition of ‘social’ and our advertising needed to follow that.

It's easy to get sucked into the advertising bubble – much like the cultural spaces we play in, we have our own language, rules and hierarchies. But sometimes it helps to lift our head out of the advertising sand and take a look around – because when it comes to attention, effectiveness isn’t just an advertising problem.

The world is full of innovative effectiveness lessons from other spaces. Fashion taught us the power of unexpected collaborations. Sports taught us how to leverage the power of fandom and tribalism. Music marketing today has become a unique guide in how to market yourself from the bottom up.

There is a whole world out there, and advertising is just one part of it.

Lessons from the 2023 Effective 100

This article is part of WARC’s Lessons from the Effective 100 report, which examines the strategies and approaches of some of the world’s most awarded campaigns for effectiveness.

Read the full report here.