The cake is a lie: putting gaming authenticity at the heart of the creative with EE
Saatchi & Saatchi ECD, Will John delves into the gaming world's hunger for sincerity, highlighting the consequences of brands failing to deliver on authenticity
02 November 2023
“The cake is a lie”. An odd phrase. One that I first stumbled across scrawled on the walls of the Aperture Laboratories, whilst playing Portal. It was a warning about the main character. She’s promised you a cake for finishing the tests - and she’s lying. Over time it has become part of gaming culture, an iconic catchphrase for when a gift you're making doesn't deliver. That it’s fictitious.
Noone wants a lie. A fake promise. They want the real deal. Which is a roundabout way of talking about what gamers want from brands when they turn up on their turf. They want real, credible and authentic experiences. What they don't want is an empty ‘cake’.
Authenticity from brands is key for a lot of consumers, but especially so for gamers. And yet when it comes to gaming - a consumer market valued at a staggering £7.05bn in the UK alone in 2022, up 17 per cent from pre-pandemic levels - authentic marketing has been slow to catch up. And that’s a problem, because the gaming industry is, as you’d expect, shaped by the community who invests in it. They want to see themselves and the worlds they inhabit authentically represented. If brands show up in the wrong way, they can be quickly found out and quickly dismissed. Gamers will turn their back on you, and there's no coming back. Inauthenticity can be irreparable. Instead of a brand getting a slice of the cake pie, they’ve face-planted into it and destroyed their chances of ever taking a bite.
When EE came to us with the ambition to become the number one destination for gaming, we thought it was a great challenge. But one that needed to be handled in the right way. After all, 64% of consumers didn’t previously see EE as a gaming brand.
It’s true that EE had little heritage in the world of gaming. But what EE did have were plans to launch a Game Store. A place with all the games, all the gear, all the connectivity, all in one place. A one-stop shop with some exclusive partnerships thrown in too. So there was a natural, real reason for the brand showing up with an ad made especially for gamers. They had a reason - and a value exchange. Something to offer them. We just needed to show them we’ve got it (all the games, all the gear) and we get it (their world of gaming).
We wanted to create experiences and comms that fitted into the games our audience are playing and operating in. We started work shortly after Epic Games' announcement of their new Unreal Editor for Fortnite (or 'Creative 2.0') which we used to build a custom EE Game Store in the game for our ‘Capture the Store’ activation. We leaned on the expertise of the prod company Super Awesome, and the influencers themselves - to create something that felt like a natural way for EE to be part of the game, while playing off a game mode that gamers are familiar with. Plus we gave them a great experience. Storm the store, take on an influencer who you'd never normally get to play against, and win some sweet prizes. There was reward, there was relevance, and when that's in place you can build something much stronger with your audience because of it.
At the same time we worked in Unreal with Collective World to make a series of gaming worlds or ‘vistas’ with an EE Store at their centre, based on some of the biggest gaming releases of the year. While game developers have been using this tech for a while, bringing it into the production of our ads felt like an exciting innovation for our industry. These ‘vistas’ acted as digital OOH and social, taking creative cues from the gaming community and the universe they live in.
This is a step change and a first of its kind for how creative agencies approach gaming, and a meaningful change for EE - which echoes their real commitment to becoming a leading gaming brand.
There was real substance in the experience. We used the real tech that games are made out of, too. To make a really credible and authentic entrance into the world of gaming. So whatever it is you're making, co-creating or promoting, make sure it feels genuine. And make sure your cake is not a lie.
Here at Saatchis, we want to create truly influential work for the real world that brings commercial value to our clients and changes their businesses for the better. And we’re just getting started.
Will John is an executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi