Being the resident car guy at the Lab, I recently came across the Volvo S60 concept car online; A nice looking car with decent lines. Volvo has been experimenting with interactive experiences on their website for some time, previously with their Rush game. Now, they were offering a free S60 racing game. Initially, it looked like a cool way to promote consumer engagement.
While games are not new, and racing games are everywhere (Forza rocks), that an automobile manufacturer might create one around a concept car seemed unique and worthy of a try. And I didn’t expect it from Volvo. They make nice cars, but plays in the video game space?
Excited to play and to learn about the car, I set out on a long path of disappointments. Navigating the site to find the download was a pain in the rear decklid. Waiting for it to download and get set up seemed to take an eternity. Nothing about this install process was easy or smooth. Once those hurdles were cleared I actually got to the game and killed the entire affair before ever reaching the first right handed turn. I spent the balance of the day remembering what a terrible experience that was–but why?
Why did this unpleasant experience resonate with me to the extent that it did? Was it because as a participant in this experience I was viewing this game through the eyes of a consumer? Could it be that my Lab senses were sending out marketing warning signals?
Probably all of the above.
Games are an expensive proposition. Racing games (did I mention Forza rocks?) played on my Xbox offer an amazing experience. For better or worse, this game will be compared by many users to their high end console racing games. The bar is set high for racing games, so the question is whether these kinds of promotional games make sense at all. (Honda recently created a flash game for their 2009 Fit model for their site and while it’s a better user experience than the S60 game, it feels very ad message heavy which is a bit of a turn off).
I applaud Volvo for making the effort, but did the car maker think about the competition? Consumers have expectations and they demand as robust an experience as they have through other platforms. Efforts like this will always revolve around the consumer experience and benefits to brand identity/affinity.
I am still a big fan of Volvo and this evolution will have had a minimal impact on my perception. I appreciate their cars and their support of SCCA Pro Racing in Speed World Challenge. But others might not be so forgiving. For brands considering these kinds of plays, consider this as a cautionary tale: Remember to look both ways at the intersection of “consumer expectations boulevard” and “brand identity street.” We wouldn’t want you to get run over.