PopCap’s zombies are polite: building a world for your brand

18 Jul

PopCap's Zombie Letter

Geekwire recently shared a note that Seattle-based PopCap Games wrote to its new owner Electronic Arts. If you’re not familiar with the company, it might be…confusing?

PopCap makes the popular game Plants vs. Zombies, and in this note the company spokespersons are the zombies that march relentlessly through your yard, attempting to eat your brains.

PopCap’s doing an interesting thing here from a copywriting perspective: it is presenting an alternate, fictional world in which the characters in its games are PopCap employees. The zombies are aware of the company’s acquisition, and when they got the news they felt that a friendly note to their new “Zomboss” was in order.

It’s not as if PopCap has any trouble being funny without speaking through a character: just see the list of changes that the company announced once the news became public. But by letting the zombies speak, PopCap as a company was able to benefit from the fictional elements that make their games compelling. (As well as make jokes about eating their new owner’s brains, a type of humor that’s hard to pull off if you’re not a zombie.)

A frequent problem game companies face is that their audiences shower their games with love but don’t care much about the company. This is natural: games have engaging characters, catchy music, and worlds that you want to visit again and again. They are designed to beat the pleasure centers of the brain repeatedly with a Wiffle Ball bat. They exist  to be loved.

One way to transfer some of that love from the game brand to the company brand is to overlap the game and real worlds, as PopCap does in this example. People who play games would love to believe that your offices are wondrous places where amazing things happen all the time. Social media in particular is a good place to bring that idea to life, and make your company news more entertaining by building a consistent brand fiction that incorporates your game fictions.

Maybe your headquarters is in Culver City; but maybe you also have an office that’s in orbit around Saturn, with the attendant problems in sharing people and resources. Perhaps the ferocious little critters that eat everything in sight  in your new game have run amuck, and your employees are frantically sealing the exits and rounding them up.

This works best if done sparingly: overdoing the fiction can backfire, and create a gulf of unbelief between you and your audience.

It also works best with humorous characters such as PopCap’s zombies. If your game is full of tragically beautiful people mourning the loss of their homeworld, you’ll want to think hard about how you’ll treat them if you incorporate them into your company’s alternate-world mythology.

And finally, it works best if you have some measure of consistency and continuity. When you finally rounded up the critters, where did you imprison them? Is there a massive vault under your building? Where did it come from — did you build it, or did you find it there when you moved in? If you found it, what else might you need it for later on? Will the original owners come back for something they left behind? (Maybe they’re the villains in another game you’re launching.)

With the right characters and the right tone, used appropriately, this type of brand world-building can liven up your news and inspire new types of content across your channels.

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