When "Move That Dope," the latest single from Epic Records rapper Future, was released in March, its drug-chase music video received a warm reception on YouTube and Vevo. But Epic's real marketing coup was a retro-styled Internet video game that put players behind the wheel of a car, a la "Grand Theft Auto," and challenged them to move their own dope while evading the police.
In its first 10 days, the free "Move That Dope" game, created by a firm called The Uprising Creative, ignited on Twitter and in the blogosphere. The game racked up 38,000 unique views and, through a link where players download the single, helped fuel 11,000 sales, according to Nielsen SoundScan (a gain of 83 percent from the previous week). More importantly for Epic, which is trying to broaden Future's audience, "Move That Dope" earned positive mainstream media coverage, despite its subject matter.
"With hundreds of music videos getting blasted to fans every day, the question is: How do you differentiate yourself?" says Epic vp digital marketing David Bell, who commissioned the Move That Dope game.
The success of the game was even more significant for The Uprising Creative, an 8-year-old digital studio and video production company that made the so-called "advergame," a marketing tool that combines gaming and advertising. Based in Chicago and Los Angeles, the 29-person shop has been carving out a niche for itself in the music business by custom-building interactive campaigns to create buzz and clicks for clients like Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Shakira.
The Uprising Creative was behind rapper Juicy J's strip-club game that rewarded high-scorers with a pre-release stream of his 2013 album, "Stay Trippy." In its first week, the game drew 140,000 views - traction that helped spur the project toward a No. 4 debut on the Billboard 200. For the A&E network, The Uprising Creative developed a holiday-themed riff on the Super Nintendo game "Duck Hunt" to promote a 2013 Christmas album by members of the Duck Dynasty reality-show clan. That album, "Duck the Halls," also debuted at No. 4.
For artists and labels, a game like "Move That Dope" can raise a song's profile at a fraction of the cost of an official music video or traditional digital campaign. Epic's Bell spent between $20,000 and $30,000 on the game, which got a 3 percent click-through rate to download the song on iTunes in its first week - one-third cheaper cost per-click than a more standard digital ad. "We wanted to branch out from just building your standard artist website or banner ad, which is basically useless," says Brian Schopfel, partner/head of business development at The Uprising Creative. "When was the last time you heard someone say 'Oh man, did you see that banner ad?!'"
The Uprising Creative declined to discuss revenue, but Schopfel says the recent hits have fueled new business. The company made 20 games in 2013 and now has more than 50 active clients, an increase of between 20 percent and 30 percent over 2012, estimates Schopfel. Current projects include campaigns for alt-rock band Bleachers, rapper Sage The Gemini and the Lollapalooza festival.
The gambit is a smart one, an extension of a music and gaming relationship that echoes "Guitar Hero" and "Just Dance," says Michael Cai, a market researcher. "As eyeballs have shifted to mobile and the Web," he says, "it makes sense for music companies to experiment with new ways of leveraging game media."