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Supercell's marketing head Iwo Zakowski: "We need to make our games f**king famous and become part of pop culture"

68% of Clash players discover via word of mouth, Chess.com promotion drives 1M+ additional players and more insights from RovioCon 23
Supercell's marketing head Iwo Zakowski:
  • Live from RovioCon 23. Marketing lead Iwo Zakowski underlined the fresh spirit that's sweeping through the Finnish gaming giant with a very frank presentation
  • Their goal is very clear. To ensure their gaming brands make a bigger break into pop culture
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Speaking at RovioCon 23 in Helsinki, Iwo Zakowski, the company's new(ish) marketing lead (and Burger King's ex head of global marketing), underlined the fresh spirit that's sweeping through the Finnish gaming giant with a very frank presentation.

Of course Supercell's histrionic success in mobile needs no introduction with the Finnish studio producing five multi-billion dollar games (the Clash franchise alone pulling in over $10 billion) and delighting hundreds of millions of players every month. However, the mobile game has changed, and as CEO Ilkka Paananen shared in his annual blog post, Supercell needs to change with it.

While for other areas of the business this means stepping away from the small team structure to more generous staffing levels, when it comes to marketing, the goal is very clear - to ensure their gaming brands make a bigger break into pop culture!

Supercell's marketing masterplan

Zakowski's presentation began with some examples from his previous life talking about guerilla marketing tactics, such as a campaign showing the decomposition of a Whopper burger to highlight the drive to remove additives from the product and the need to think differently in order to better fight against competitors with four-to-six times the marketing budget.

He went on to underline how huge the games reach is and when paths crossed historically, such as when he undertook a Call of Duty campaign, skinning a Burger King restaurant, rigging kiosks in store in order to play COD and gifting unique skins. The campaign prompted fans in other countries to order food they could never receive just so that they could get the skin!

After listing iconic gaming brands Sonic, Angry Birds and Super Mario he went on to ask the question why Supercell's characters such as Barbarians and Brawl Stars heroes were not more culturally visible, despite the 200M monthly players.

This effectively then sets the agenda for him and his team. While the official internal marketing team mission statement is to "Make our games famous and measurable through player obsessed, fearless and frontrunning marketing efforts that drives positive business impact", Zakowski broke it down with a slightly more blunt and concise "We need to make out games f**king famous, and they need to become a part of pop culture".

How will they do it?

Obviously the ultimate KPIs remain focused around, "more players, more revenue and increased playtime, but if you don't have people wanting to talk about your games then it's all in vain," he explained. This was ably underlined with a graphic showing that 68% of Clash of Clans customers came via word of mouth and organic means as opposed to 15% direct through the app store.

Zakowski concluded his presentation with an insight into the difficulties of achieving integrated campaigns plus some data from the Chess.com collab. "In the burger industry we can literally shove the food down people’s throat through media, but it doesn’t work in the games industry. It's a much more complicated process. You need to find the right partners, make it big and give enough value back to the community."

When this is in place, as with Clash Royale's recent Chess.com Chess Clash partnership, the results can clearly be huge. Although it evidently took a LOT of work on the marketing and game design front and maybe took the teams outside of their comfort zone, a DAU chart of Clash Royale players showed on stage showed the growth in September from around 13M active players to 14M+ and growing through the Chess partnership.

What's more it also appears to have helped to turn around some negative player feedback. "We went from a frankly toxic community where everyone was shouting that we destroyed the game to people enjoying the game again," Zakowksi explained.

Obviously it doesn't work every time and especially not if the elements aren't fully knitted together. Zakowski also shared how the results for a lighter integration in Clash of Clans were less impactful. "If you don’t bring all the elements together properly you won’t get the results"

Checking the key moves

Zakowksi's talk came down to a few key learns:

Find the right theme (Chess's growth was a big trend), be relevant, find a good partner, make it big (don’t be stingy with budgets), offer cool gameplay and have a strong call to action. "The call to action is especially key. We forced people to do stuff they didn’t maybe want to do in order to get something which is where you make the connection work," he said.

While it's too early to say if the new bold, frank, open and more fully staffed Supercell will deliver them a sixth gaming unicorn, the early results are promising and we should all be watching this space.