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NONTRADITIONAL
Exhibitor: GOG Ltd.
Creative/Production: PJ Hummel & Co. Inc., Tacoma, WA, 253-272-6605, www.pjhummel.com
Production: Seattle's Convention
and Visitors Bureau, Seattle, 206-461-5800, www.visitseattle.org
Show: PAX Prime, 2011
Budget: $12,500
Goals:
 Attract a total of 7,000 attendees to the GOG Ltd. booth.
 Increase website traffic by 10 percent.
Results:
 Lured 20,000 visitors to its exhibit over the course of the three-day show.
 Experienced a 30-percent uptick in website traffic following the show.
ith the possible exception of Betty White, old ladies are not exactly synonymous with "cool" in the minds of millennials. So why would a Web-based computer-game company bank on a bevy of gray-haired septuagenarians to lure in attendees at the PAX Prime show? Because no one else did.

In the months leading up to the 2011 show, Good Old Games Ltd. (a subsidiary of Poland-based video-game maker CD Projekt SP Ltd.) was on the hunt for a promotional strategy that would allow the first-time exhibitor to compete with the likes of Microsoft Corp. and Capcom Entertainment Inc. "We had never been to PAX so our goals were simple," says Trevor Longino, head of public relations and marketing for GOG. "We wanted a lot of attention."

Longino and his team had another goal for the show, which caters to arcade-, video-, and computer-game makers and enthusiasts: to educate attendees about the company, which sells digital-rights management (DRM) free computer games via an online subscription-based service. "GOG is a digital-distribution platform for classic PC games that aren't copyright protected and are optimized to run on modern Windows systems," Longino says. That means today's gamers can purchase and play old-school greats like "Zork I" and "Darklands," among 350 other titles dating back to 1984, most of which carry a price tag of around $6 to $10. And lest you think the demand for such nostalgia can't be that great amid the explosive allure of series such as "Battlefield," "Call of Duty," and "Diablo," guess again: The site garners more than 1 million unique visitors every month, and has just bypassed the 6 million mark in terms of games downloaded since the site went live just three years ago.

Given the company's success across the pond, Longino wanted to increase GOG's fan base and introduce its service to the United States, and PAX Prime was the perfect venue at which to do so. There was just one glitch. The company's marketing budget for the show was $12,500, a far cry from the million-dollar coffers enjoyed by the gaming-industry gods with which it would have to compete. "Since we couldn't win the attention
game using their rules - bright lights, loud music, huge exhibits - we made our own game," Longino says. And that game included little old ladies.

Not Your Grandma's Strategy

Knowing it didn't have the budget to compete on the same playing field against the well-known companies that had exhibited at PAX for years, GOG sniffed out another strategy - scent marketing. "If you've been to a games show like PAX, you notice that every booth tries to be more visible than the other by showing trailers on huge screens, having hundreds of lights flashing and spinning, playing loud music, and hiring sexy booth babes," Longino says. "Only your sight and hearing are stimulated by these efforts, and the chaotic nature of the show makes it a very overwhelming experience. There are two ways to stand out from the pack in that environment: Be even louder and shinier, or look for a sense that isn't being used at all - in this case, the sense of smell - and target it."

And that's where the grannies come in. Sort of. The GOG team planned on luring in attendees with gamers' kryptonite: freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies. "It's hard to pick a scent that's universally appealing, but we figured everyone likes chocolate-chip cookies," Longino explains. However, the cookies by themselves would be just another lame giveaway, and would do little to engage visitors after the last crumb was consumed. So GOG devised a rather unusual delivery method - grandmothers. "We're known for doing things differently, and what's more different than elderly booth babes handing out cookies at a gaming show?" he says. "Once we settled on the idea of Good Old Grannies as a theme, the rest of the campaign kind of flowed from there."

With the staffers and giveaways figured out, Longino turned his attention to the 10-by-30-foot exhibit space, deciding rather quickly that he needed professional help. Thus, GOG teamed up with PJ Hummel & Co. Inc., an event-management company based in Tacoma, WA, to design a booth that married two distinct aesthetics: computer games and old ladies. "Our task was a daunting one," says Kelsey Huggins, former lead production manager at PJ Hummel. "We had to figure out how to merge the branding and identity of GOG with the Good Old Grannies theme, all with a décor budget of about $5,000." Adding to the challenge, GOG didn't have a physical exhibit property - just some show-provided pipe and drape marking off its space. Fortunately for Longino, however, PJ Hummel had a props department that would make Bob Crowley wet his pants. "We told PJ Hummel our idea for the booth was grannies giving away cookies and free video games," Longino says. "And then we pretty much told them to go crazy."

So in the weeks leading up to the show, Huggins and her crew scoured PJ Hummel's inventory, looking for decorations, accessories, furniture, and fabric that said "grandma's house" without taking away from GOG's techie ethos or breaking the company's social-security-sized budget. Starting with a gold and lime-green color scheme (GOG's corporate colors) and keying in on the '90s for inspiration, Huggins and her posse assembled a barrage of granny goodies that included drapery, Oriental rugs, a quilt rack, a mahogany bar, and two overstuffed embroidered armchairs. In addition to the pieces Huggins plucked from inventory, PJ Hummel also purchased several accessories specifically for the GOG booth, from afghans, lamps, knitting accoutrement, doilies, and quilts to a desk, bookshelves, entertainment center, and buffet.

And like a grandma insisting that you help yourself to seconds, Huggins and her team just kept going. "We gave GOG above and beyond the designated budget because we were so in love with the concept and the design," Huggins says. "We wanted attendees to feel like they stepped off the show floor and into their grandma's living room."

Old Folks' Home

When attendees arrived at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center for PAX Prime, they were undoubtedly bombarded with the loud music, blinking lights, and in-your-face graphics of big-budget booths that screamed "look at me!" It was an overwhelming experience, to be sure, but there was a familiar aroma wafting through the hall - the smell of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies - that seemed to dim the lights and dull the throbbing beat of techno music. Those that followed the hunger-inducing scent found themselves bypassing the blinking lights to the back of the exhibit hall, ultimately reaching the GOG exhibit.

Once visitors got over the sweet smell of chocolate-chip cookies, they saw a 300-square-foot space that looked much more suited to the set of "Murder, She Wrote" than a computer-gaming show. Gold and lime-green fabric panels hanging on the lone side wall provided a backdrop for a banner with the GOG logo and URL, and concealed the wall's pipe frame. Gold fabric also covered the length of the 30-foot back wall, which was divided into three sections, each layered with gold-and-burgundy brocade drapes. Each set of drapes framed a sign that contained GOG's key messaging and calls to action, such as "Sign up at GOG.com here," and "Get free cookies & PC classics."

Hungry attendees queued up at the mahogany bar for those free cookies, which were baked via an in-booth oven and served atop branded napkins by two elderly ladies (actors hired by PJ Hummel to play the part of "grandma") dressed in white blouses and ankle-skimming skirts. The granny booth babes were certainly an unusual sight on the trade show floor, and Sizzle Awards judges applauded the tactic. "You have to love this concept," one judge said. "Grannies! I mean, come on. The memorability factor had to be killer."

As visitors chatted up the grannies and noshed on their sweet treats, Longino invited them to test their gaming skills at one of two stations. In keeping with the living-room aesthetic, each of the gaming stations comprised a simple '90s-era desktop PC and monitor, a small wooden desk, and an antique wooden chair.The stations provided a place for attendees to make themselves at home and play some of the retro games in GOG's vast inventory. Those that liked the games and signed up for GOG.com on the spot received five free games as a thank-you gift.

In addition to the throwback computers, Longino placed dozens of mocked-up, old-school PC game boxes (versus the slim cases in which games come today) near the gaming stations and on the mahogany bookshelves throughout the exhibit. Each lime-green and gold box featured the GOG URL and logo, and since they were everywhere in the booth, they subtly reinforced the company's brand identity without clashing with the exhibit's décor.
But the attention to detail didn't end with the gaming stations and game boxes. This was an all-out grannypalooza, with every inch of the booth space covered in lace doilies, afghans, potted houseplants, and throw pillows. It was so homey, in fact, that in between serving cookies and chatting with attendees, the grannies rested comfortably in the overstuffed armchairs, knitting what one could only assume were booties for their grandchildren. Granted, those quiet moments were few and far between thanks to a strategy judges called, "perfection."

An Oldie But a Goodie

As any grandma will tell you, playing host to a few hungry young men and women is no easy task, but one most will happily oblige. Seeing to the needs of thousands of famished trade show attendees for three days, however, is enough to drive any well-meaning granny to an early grave. By the end of the show, the grannies had baked and served 20,000 chocolate-chip cookies at a rate of eight to 12 cookies a minute - almost triple the 7,000-cookie estimate Longino had prepped for.

"We didn't have any experience on the trade show floor before this, so when we planned the booth, we assumed we'd give away 7,000 cookies for an audience of about 70,000 attendees, or 10 percent of the total attendance," he says. "A 10-percent conversion rate is pretty respectable in online marketing, so I just stuck with that figure. As it turns out, we ran out of cookies two to three hours before the show ended each day." The cookies were such a draw that at times, Longino estimates upwards of 100 people were waiting in a line that stretched down the aisle.

That kind of crowding would ruffle more than a few feathers under normal circumstances, but in this case, neighboring exhibitors benefited from the glut of gamers. "The other exhibitors were very cool about it, at least in part because it gave them a chance to get the attention of people in line and talk to them about their own products and services," Longino says. "And by the second day, our booth was so popular that some exhibitors were tweeting out their booth location relative to 'the guys who are giving away free cookies.'"

In addition to at-show accolades, the Good Old Grannies booth generated another positive outcome - a roughly 30-percent spike in website traffic for the GOG site in the days following the show, as well as a moderate increase in the number of new members. "Everyone liked the exhibit, and by the end of the show, everyone - including attendees, other exhibitors, and gaming-industry media outlets - knew who we are and what we do," Longino says. "I expect that next year, every booth will offer freshly baked cookies, and then we'll give out the milk." E

Lena Valenty, managing editor; lvalenty@exhibitormagazine.com

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