Virtual Worlds Opening Up 7-Eleven's Route to Real Treasure

Last Updated Aug 26, 2010 2:30 PM EDT

Grabbing a piece of retail marketing Nirvana, 7-Eleven has entered into a promotional partnership with social network games developer Zynga that costs it nothing in discounts or giveaways and actually charges cash for some forms of participation.

Most consumer-oriented companies today are trying to figure out how to use social networks to marketing advantage. But no one in retail has figured out how to tie in a real store and virtual world as comprehensively as have 7-Eleven and Zynga, operator of the FarmVille, YoVille and Mafia Wars social network games.

The core deal demonstrates the beauty of the campaign, as it consists of giving away something that doesn't cost anything. For six weeks beginning on June 1, 7-Eleven will sell a range of products offering promotional codes that consumers can use for limited edition virtual merchandise used to play Zynga games on Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo and iPhones.The FarmVille Neapolitan Cow (pictured) already has emerged as a favorite.
The Zynga promotion won't be a one-off deal. Consumers redeem their awards -- or gifts, as 7-Eleven calls them -- through a website the retailer just developed, buyearnplay.com, that is ready to accommodate additional promotions.

Evan Brody, 7-Eleven marketing manager, said social network marketing is critical to the company's promotional future. Consumers are joining in droves, their game participation demonstrates emotional attachment and network interactions provide information marketers can tap to improve their initiatives.

"We are part of an experience people are doing every day, sometimes every hour," he said, adding that "65 to 75 million people pass through FarmVille every month."

The substantial benefits 7-Eleven enjoys demonstrate the intelligence of the Zynga promotion's structure. Besides the basic code awards, the promotion also offers "uber" rewards that consist of a bigger batch of game resources. To get the uber awards, consumers have to make at least six 7-Eleven purchases and complete one to three Zynga tasks, although buying Zynga merchandise including weapons wielded in Mafia Wars or cows raised in FarmVille may be an option.

One 7-Eleven product actually provides two credits toward an uber award, and that little item represents a big potential payoff. The retailer is selling prepaid cards in $10 and $25 denominations that allow holders to purchase virtual merchandise on the Zynga sites. The cards may serve as gifts in lieu of, say, a Best Buy (BBY) gift card. They also are convenient, a 7-Eleven spokesperson noted, for game players who don't have credit cards. As the promotion targets 16 to 24 year olds -- and yes, 7-Eleven will have FarmVille, YoVille and Mafia Wars themed Slurpees and Big Gulps (pictured) -- a card that facilitates game spending certainly will generate additional sales for the retailer and its partner.

In another opportunity for the retailer, 7-Eleven is distributing special versions of private label items themed to the promotion. The retailer is building on its 2007 Simpsons promotion, which also used a pop-culture phenomenon, The Simpson's Movie, as a driver. Where the Simpson's promotion had Buzz Cola, the Zynga promotion has FarmVille ice cream. That's not only a cute touch but also a way to generate trial of 7-Eleven private label products among game fans who might never have considered a purchase.

Certaintly 7-Eleven does have to bear some costs, including an advertising campaign to alert consumers to the promotion. But it enjoys advantages even in that regard. You can bet it's paying less for rights to partner Zynga than it did to Fox Entertainment (FOX) for the Simpsons promotion.

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