ARGs and the Economy: Part 2 of 3

Like it or not, the worlds of advertising, marketing, and the ARG are tightly braided together. We've already discussed the ARG's utility in marketing movies, but that relationship also reaches to other products like automobiles, video games, TV shows, and even perfume. Many of us are actively exploring the possibilities for making a living by making ARGs with our own intellectual property; but even some of those rely on marketing dollars to succeed -- as the flip side of the ad coin: the main event content, and not just a lead-in to something else. 

So it's fair to say that the fortunes of the ARG are vulnerable to the same invisible forces that turn the tides of the ad world. But how do those fortunes do in bad times, traditionally? How have they been doing, and how are they projected to do?

Well, if we look backwards, what we get are bad news. Typically during a recession, ad and marketing budgets are the first cuts a company makes (despite the questionable wisdom of making cuts like that -- hey, a business is only as rational as the people who run it). And that's exactly what's happening right now. I won't sugar-coat this: It's ugly out there.

Or is it? It turns out this is one of those topics where experts can't seem to agree on what's going on, or how bad it is. The Economist has a fairly rosy take on the future of online advertising, considering the gloom and doom found in other industries:

This week eMarketer, a market-research firm, predicted that online-advertising spending in America, which makes up about half the global total, will increase by 8.9% in 2009, rather than the 14.5% it had forecast in August. The firm thinks search advertising will grow by 14.9% and rich-media ads by 7.5%, whereas display ads will grow by 6.6%. In short, online advertising will continue to expand in the recession—just not as quickly as previously expected.

That doesn't sound too bad at all. But let's not forget that "online-advertising spending" can cover a lot of categories that have not a whole lot to do with ARGs: banner ads, Flash microsites, search engine optimization. The Wall Street Journal digs a little deeper and tells us:

Areas like mobile, virtual worlds and widgets are expected to be hit particularly hard, as it remains unclear what kind of impact ads in these media have. These campaigns often reach a small number of people, and standard measurement systems have yet to be developed.

Ouch. That's the truth, folks, and boy, does it hurt. So what's the takeaway here for the ARG studio or the budding ARG developer (and, of course, for freelancers like me)? The studio will have to fight a little harder and talk a little louder to get a piece of marketing budgets, for one thing. As for me -- do I need to sell my house or go back to school to get my DBA certification? Is the well dry?

My answer: Don't panic. There's still hope for us in the ARG world. But it isn't going to come at the hand of juicy marketing budgets. If we want to thrive in this risky financial climate, it's clear we're going to have to forge a path for ourselves away from that comfortable marketing symbiosis. Let's look on the bright side; the golden handcuffs have broken off and we've been set free to find our rightful place in the world. Next up: Video games, another close cousin and maybe -- just maybe -- our role model for salvation.

This is the second part of a three-part series. Part 1. Part 3.

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