Museum advergame? Yes, at Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis

An old museum wants to increase its presence on the net, so it thinks to a viral project of art-marketing: an art advergame.

An advergame is an interactive game created by a firm in order to communicate a message. It is part of the viral marketing because its aim is to create buzz around the message and extend the audience without using paid media. Despite it can reach huge outcomes using a small budget, art marketing managers don’t seem to love it, maybe for the lack of awareness of its potential.

The most important advergame example in culture field comes from Netherlands and was put in place by Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, back in 2005.

The museum had just opened its new website and wanted to promote this investment. The goals were to increase the traffic of the website and the presence of the museum on the net, in addition to improving its image.

In order to achieve these results, the museum used conventional tools such as press releases or advertisements in the newspapers but also an advergame.

The advergame was designed around the permanent collection and was named the Gallery Game. It consisted in a number of paintings ‘embellished’ with a contemporary element. For example, Johannes Vermeer’s world-famous Girl with a pearl earring was given a piercing that many of her 21st-century counterparts wear. These types of anachronisms gave participants a different view of the museum. The humor and self-mockery prompted them to pass on the game or play it again.

Players of the game could win an all-inclusive VIP weekend in The Hague which included a visit to the Mauritshuis, of course. Players were shown five small images of paintings, one of these contained an anachronism or an oddity which didn’t belong to the painting. The less time it took players to detect the ‘error’, the more points they could win.

If players wanted to play the game again, they had to invite three friends. Once one of them had played, they would receive another invitation to play the game. This viral aspect was incorporated in the hope of increasing the buzz around the game (and the site). Then, in order to prevent abuses, the museum built in several anti-hacking systems so it was impossible to play the game several times under the same e-mail address.

The advergame was promoted using e-mail press release that was sent to the addresses of the PR database, but the museum also asked his employees to forward the e mail to people that may be interested to the game. Then it created a banner in his site that redirected to the advergame.

After 8 years we can see a lot of things that could be done better. For example the promotion of the advergame was too small in order to create the critical mass that is necessary to trigger the viral aspect. Moreover the period of activity of the game was very short (only 2 weeks) and the game itself was not very easy to use and understand.

But all in all outcomes were very satisfactory. Of the initial 5,250 e-mail addresses contacted and the people that forwarded the game, 68.6 % actually played the Gallery Game. Every player introduced 4.8 new players and the new site was visited twice as often as the old site was. After the game, visitor statistics still exceeded those of the old site, but were much lower than during the game period.

We can imagine that this pioneering experience might be imitated and improved by cultural organizations as it could allow to reach their goals with a small budget. This is a symptom of lack of awareness of more innovative art marketing tools in many cultural organizations.

*This case study was presented by Marthe de Vet in 2006 at Museums and the Web, the international conference for culture and heritage on-line.