One member of our C3 team, David Edery here at MIT, has published a piece entitled "Games as Lifestyle Brands" on Next Generation on Tuesday.
In this piece, Edery discusses the disputed definitions of the lifestyle brand, which can mean a product that becomes a part of your life, a product that you make part of your self-identity, a marketing campaign launched around a narrowly defined product that expands to all aspects of one's life (such as the Harley), or myriad others. Edery is right in that it's something that we know when it works, but we don't quite know what it is. For instance, I would argue that Target is not (ironically) targeted enough to be a "lifestyle brand" because it's a large retail store that distributes the products of hundreds of companies. It has elements of a lifestyle brand but just is not that concentrated enough.
In Edery's piece, though, he extends this argument to video games, about whether there already is lifestyle brands among video game publishers or not. Is EA Sports or Harmonix a lifestyle brand? It's an interesting discussion to have, and Edery's piece is worth taking a look at.
My take is that it's going to be just as hard for video game publishers to truly be lifestyle brands, just as it seems hard to me for movie production companies to be lifestyle brands--their products are often not concentrated enough to be a single statement and are not immersive enough. Sure, Harmonix has elements of a lifestyle brand, just as you may argue Lion's Gate has a certain feel to its films, but there's a major difference between publishers that release various titles and a store you go to regularly (The New Yorker), or a television network (MTV).
Whether your agree or disagree with me, the point is not that this makes video games less desirable to market. After all, even though I don't see Target, Starbucks, or IKEA as fully being a lifestyle brand, they still have many elements of a lifestyle brand that they incorporate into their marketing strategy that is beneficial to both producers and consumers. And, as David mentions, not every brand is or should be a lifestyle brand.
But incorporating more elements of lifestyle branding for video game production certainly helps labels develop a following. EA Sports comes as close as any video game label I can think of in that their product line is sufficiently limited and has video games at its core but extends to all sorts of ancillary products. But how can other video game developers copy or even build on that success?