More Blimps and Sponsored Loot Coming as Zynga Ramps Up In-Game Advertising in 2011

More advertising and sponsorships will be inevitable this year in Zynga’s popular Facebook game titles, as the privately held company attempts to diversify its revenue stream.

Today, by far and away, most of Zynga’s revenues are generated from game players who elect to pay for items within games, ranging from new clothes for their avatar to seeds for their FarmVille farm.

But that’s likely to change this year as the San Francisco-based social gaming company ramps up conversations with advertising agencies and slips more campaigns into its game titles, including its latest hit, CityVille, which has attracted an audience of more than 100 million people in a little over a month.

So far, Zynga has executed a number of successful campaigns on behalf of big brands, like American Express, Nestle, McDonald’s, Farmers Insurance and Coke, among others.

In an interview, Manny Anekal, who was hired about a year ago to head up Zynga’s brand advertising, explained that because it’s the early days of advertising within social games, companies have to be a lot more creative, because they don’t have banner ads or room for commercials.

Recent campaigns include giving out free virtual goods, such as Cokes in Cafe World; Green Hornet-branded loot in Mafia Wars; and a Farmer’s Insurance airship in FarmVille.

The brands typically create incentives to make the integrations more valuable (and presumably less annoying). For instance, the insurance blimp kept a farmer’s crops from withering, and if you collected all of the Green Hornet loot within Mafia Wars, you received a Black Beauty car, as seen in the movie.

Anekal said there’s a learning curve with social media buys, because a successful campaign can’t be measured in click-through rates. Instead, he says, it’s measured by engagement, which is the amount of time people interacted with the brand, and the amount of social activity, or the number of times users sent friends within a game a message about the brand, or posted it to their wall.

Next up may include integrating advertising campaigns in games played on mobile devices, where monetization has been more difficult than on Facebook.

For example, you could earn additional energy in Mafia Wars for checking in to a particular store or location, or scan a product for a free virtual good. “We are looking at options to add to game play, and having those conversations right now,” he said.

What Zynga won’t likely do is create a name-brand game, like “Starbucks World” (instead of Cafe World). So far, the idea of branded games has been relatively controversial. Game developers don’t want to have to pay for the required licensing, and so far they’ve been able to get by without it since most games have generic titles.

For Zynga, it’s building a brand of its own, and it wouldn’t want to share the spotlight with others. “Half of the requests I get from agencies is for branded games,” Anekal said. “We may be moving forward, but it’s not in our plans….We want to focus on the Zynga brand.”

In the video below, Anekal discusses Zynga’s in-game advertising aspirations and how Megamind’s campaign on FarmVille was able to prompt 10 million people within FarmVille to interact with the brand in one day.

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