Digital Marketing

Hyperspace: 5 Surprising Marketing Lessons From ’80s Arcade Games

Video arcade filled with 1980s-era stand-up video game cabinets image.

Video arcade filled with 1980s-era stand-up video game cabinets image.

What can marketers in 2020 learn from the low-resolution stand-up video arcade games of the 1980s?

Here are five surprisingly-modern marketing lessons that we can learn from and implement today, with roots that come directly from vintage ‘80s arcade games.

Slap that fire button and let’s warp ahead and take a nostalgic look back at a simpler time in both video gaming and marketing, and then hyperspace ahead to today’s vastly different landscape.

1 — Defender: Fire & Forget for a Constant Content Cadence

Williams Defender Arcade GameWilliams Defender Arcade Game

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Williams Electronics’ Defender is my all-time favorite stand-up video arcade game, an insidiously difficult side-scrolling spaceship-protecting-the-world shooting match juggernaut from 1981 programmed by early video game legend Eugene Jarvis.

I played Defender so much that I eventually won a local video game competition, and can still almost feel where I had callouses on my hands from hour upon hour of game-play long ago.

Defender teaches marketers the importance of keeping up a steady cadence of publishing content. In the case of Defender, the entire universe depended on firing off never-ending shots to protect humanoid figures from a variety of swiftly-moving alien invaders, while for marketers our success depends on keeping our content marketing fire buttons active to stave off audience abandonment and ghosting.

Smart content marketing features a steady publication of relevant information and best-answer content, which may not save the universe, but when done right can hold your audience’s attention and gain new customers, fans and followers through engaging content.

2 — Robotron: Find Marketing Order in a Sea of Content Chaos

Officially Robotron: 2084, this 1982 Williams 2D multi-directional shooting game also primarily developed by Eugene Jarvis is my second-favorite video game, another intensely challenging dive into a strange alien world populated by a colorful array of 8-bit digital baddies.

Robotron teaches marketers the importance of perseverance in what can at first seem like a stormy sea of digital content chaos.

Robotron’s game-play involves protecting the last humans in the universe as an intimidating collection of serious alien killing machines try to do away with the humans and — especially — you.

Marketers similarly can easily feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of social media platforms, digital asset creation apps, and the vast amount of data surrounding the content being published.

Making sense of it all takes time and a concerted effort to learn what can at first seem to be an alien landscape, which can be done when you:

3 — Donkey Kong: Take Your Marketing to “Triple Elevators” Success

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An entirely different flavor of ‘80s arcade game is Nintendo’s 1981 hit Donkey Kong, a deceptively simple multi-level platform game with such staying power in our culture that it is still making news in 2020, as the game’s previous world record high-score holder Billy Mitchell — who featured prominently in the cult indie hit King of Kong documentary — has filed a defamation lawsuit.

In Donkey Kong, an angry gorilla hurls barrels of death and other colorful impediments in the path of your player Mario — a character who debuted here, originally called Mr. Video and later Jumpman. Screen after screen bring newfound challenges in the game, culminating with a stage featuring intricately-timed elevators and then a diabolical conveyor belt challenge.

Donkey Kong teaches marketers that successfully avoiding obstacles can take a brand from the humblest beginning to the loftiest heights, especially when it comes to social media marketing.

Unlike Defender and Robotron, which each have many random and free-form movement elements and options, Donkey Kong instead can teach marketers the value of learning a particular industry’s unique facts to drive success in a known social media environment.

Educate your marketing Mario by dedicating the time to learn the details of each social media platform your brand is using or plans to have a presence on. We’ve written a number of recent articles exploring the latest social media firm marketing features and platform maneuvers, including these:

“Successfully avoiding obstacles can take a brand from the humblest beginning to the loftiest heights.” — Lane R. Ellis @lanerellis Click To Tweet

4 — Crystal Castles: Gather Gems & Avoid Tone-Deaf Marketing

Atari’s 1983 arcade game Crystal Castles is another favorite filled with its own marketing lessons even all these years later.

Controlled by a trackball and jump buttons, Crystal Castles sees the player maneuvering a bear around towering castles while picking up enticing gems and avoiding evil trees and dangerous bees.

When released, its bright, colorful graphics and catchy sounds and music — along with level graphics that flew onto and off of the screen accompanied by a tune based on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite in a way never seen or heard before — enticed many including myself to repeatedly insert quarters and learn the peculiarities of each castle level.

Crystal Castles teaches content marketers to walk that fine and arduous line between picking up a trail of brand success gems and becoming overly confident and getting ensnared by nasty trees or dancing skeletons in the form of tone deaf marketing.

A while back for Content Marketing World we even published a retro game themed Ultimate Guide to Conquering Content Marketing.

5 — Black Widow: A Vector-Based Web of Influencer Marketing

Atari’s Black Widow hit the video arcade scene in 1982, and was among the first vector-graphic stand-up arcade cabinets.

Players control a black widow spider on its colorful web and during the game must ward off certain insects including mosquitoes, hornets, and beetles, while attracting others using the help of other insects, all the while working to prevent foes from laying eggs.

In 1982 a vector-graphics game stood out at the arcade due to the vast contrast between the darkest black pixels and the fine line-based graphics, offering a welcome escape from the standard bitmap imagery in the majority of arcade games.

Black Widow teaches marketers the importance of working together with others to achieve success beyond what can be attained alone, such as when implementing an always-on influencer marketing program.

Always-on influencer marketing is the practice of ongoing relationship-building, engagement and activation of a specified group of influencers to build community, content and brand advocacy.

In Black Widow the spider works with other insects to rid its web of enemies, and in marketing brands can find great success working with industry influencers on the web of 2020 to gain reach and engagement that can far exceed what a single marketer or team can achieve.

B2B influencer marketing is a specialty of TopRank Marketing, with several recent articles looking at this growing practice including these:

Going From Game Over To Setting Marketing High Scores

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The challenges today’s marketers face are vastly different from those when Defender, Robotron, Donkey Kong, Crystal Castles and Black Widow came out in the early ‘80s, however despite these difficulties there’s also never been a more opportunity-filled playing field, thanks to the vast online publishing possibilities of 2020.

Implementing a successful marketing program takes time, effort, and dedicated strategy, which leads many brands to use a top B2B influencer marketing agency such as TopRank Marketing, which was the only B2B marketing agency offering influencer marketing as a top capability in Forrester’s “B2B Marketing Agencies, North America” report.