Heads Up! Game From Impending Shows How Branded Can Be Beautiful

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A new game today available for iOS devices called Heads Up! provides an entertaining experience you could only have with a smartphone, with a simple game mechanic and a video sharing feature that means the fun can last well beyond the initial play period. The game also features a big brand tie-in, as it was made by Clear app developer Impending for Ellen DeGeneres, and featured on her show. It’s a content marketing play, but one that’s extremely well-executed and features a light touch on the branding side of things.

The mechanics of Heads Up! are simple, and resemble the “who am I?” style party games where players put cards with a famous person’s name on their foreheads and have others act out who they are. The words appear on virtual cards in the smartphone version, and you hold the phone screen out on your forehead, while the other player acts out whatever term or phrase is displayed. Tilting your head up activates the phone’s gyroscopic sensor, skipping to the next card, and tilting it down moves to the next one when you get a correct guess. The camera captures that on video, too, and they can then share that video directly to the Ellen DeGeneres show, where they’re uploaded to the Heads Up! Facebook fan page.

I spoke to Impending co-founder Phill Ryu, who explained that with this app, the pieces just came together correctly to build something that’s both a great gaming experience on its own, and a great way for the Ellen Show to associate itself with a really fun, quality game that people truly enjoy playing. After a discussion with some of the show’s producers, Impending quickly prototyped a version and then pitched that to the Ellen team, who loved the game. It made sense then for the two to bring it to the public together. Ryu says that creating brand tie-in experiences is something Impending has found it does well.

“I think it’s something we are good at, in terms of expressing a brand as a mobile experience,” he said. It’s a kind of a jigsaw puzzle where they give you some pieces you need to use, and we like cutting out perfectly matching pieces to finish it up. But at the end of the day it’s not some strategy we’re pursuing either, we were just approached by cool partners with a project we found personally exciting. That’s the only pattern really in our projects, if it all lines up we tend to jump at it.”

For media brands that are potentially finding they need new ways to access and engage audiences that spend more time on mobile devices and less on traditional delivery vehicles like TVs, app-based content marketing is a promising new trend. What Ryu and Impending have achieved with Heads Up! is a pretty near perfect conception of how that should work, since it puts the experience first and ties in the brand component only organically where it fits, instead of plastering it all over the place like some kind of garish overcoat. That’s why even though the app is a paid one at $0.99, it doesn’t feel like you’re buying an ad as it can with some movie and TV show tie-in games. We’ll see if this starts a trend of more brands embracing a lighter touch with more lasting potential in favor of trying settling for a quick bump in visibility from a sloppy, more obvious approach.