Monday, February 25, 2013

Reinventing Pac-Man:

How to Create a Brand That Becomes Timeless

Remember the first real video game to make it big? It was Pac-Man. At a time when space shooter games like Space Invaders and Asteroids dominated the new video game arcade market, Pac-Man stood apart. Perhaps it was the fact that it was so simple—a little yellow circle character ate its way around a maze attempting to avoid four primary colored enemies: Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. Or maybe it’s because you could eat a white power dot and the tides would turn and you could attack. Or maybe it was the first arcade game to attract women as well as men equally.

But let’s delve deeper and ask ourselves what made the Pac-Man franchise so successful? And why after 30 years, is it still loved by millions?

The reason Pac-Man did so well as a game is because it had ever-increasing challenges that kept pace with the user. And as a brand, it kept reinventing itself according to the customer!


Invented by a young game designer named Toru Iwatani, Pac-Man was his attempt to design a game that wasn’t violent and appealed to bother genders. Released in the United States in October of 1980 sales took off…and an estimated 25 BILLION quarters were pumped into Pac-Man. Remember, this is the early 80s, this kind of money was unheard of for video games.

But what made Pac-Man and eventually Ms. Pac-Man such an iconic brand that is STILL in use today, is the fact that it did something completely different from everyone else—it captured the hearts and minds of gamers all over the world. 

Here are three rules to follow, whether developing a marketing campaign, or managing your best employees…let’s learn from Pac-Man.

1) Create a Criteria for Success 

Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man are simple. There is a maze, and dots you have to eat, and creatures to avoid, and even cooler stuff to eat — like pretzels, apples and oranges— which earns you even more points. It is so simple that there are no instructions on the game console. You can figure it out within one play.

The same with your marketing…keep it simple. When something is too complex, forget it, I’m walking away. Keep it simple. Sometimes intuitive is best.

Just look at all the devices out there today that rely on intuition to figure them out.  My iPhone has 5 buttons on it with no labels. There is no way my father's generation could figure this device out unless I showed him. But if I hand it to a 2 year old, they can use it in seconds. 

2) Continuously Increase the Pay-Off

There are only 4 levels in Ms. Pac-Man but no 2 games are ever the same. Each level goes faster, and as the risk becomes greater, so do the rewards, and with higher numbers from eating oranges, pretzels and cherries, you could really get higher scores the higher you go.

Brands that do not evolve or take no risks eventually lose our interest. Remember Starbucks Cafe restaurants? Of course not. They took a risk and it failed. But Starbucks is also trying new products and new flavors to peak our interest. 

But more importantly, as a brand it is smart to keep challenging your customers with greater and greater rewards for being a loyal customer.

Let me explain a little better. A brand is not a logo or a service but the EXPERIENCE a customer has with your company or product. Just check out the brands that keep us interested, challenged and provide a great experience: Apple, Dave & Busters, Cadillac, Zappos! and Google. Each of these brands attempts to keep our interest by introducing newer and better products, better customer service and cooler experiences. In many cases, these companies have also reinvented their market sectors.

And ANOTHER THING these brands do: they listen to their employees for ideas!

So sit down with some of your most talented people and ask them for some cool ideas…and get ‘em out there into the real world quickly. Time and technology wait for no one!

3) Give Customers What They Want

And while we are at it, you may have some great ideas, but chances are your customers have even better ideas for you to implement. Like Ms. Pac-Man. After Pac-Man was out for a while, a team of MIT grad students decided to create an add-on board that transformed the Pac-Man game into Ms. Pac-Man.

When they approached Midway, the game company that represented Namco here in the United States, they didn’t get angry, or ignore the new idea or try to sue them for opening up the game and tinkering with it. Instead they helped them rename it (the students originally called it Pac-Woman and Mrs. Pac-Man) and admitted they were looking for a spin-off to Pac-Man. 

Ms. Pac-Man sold 115,000 arcade game consoles
in its first three months! 


So listen to your customers, especially the ones who have become advocates. They may have better ideas for your company than you could come up with in 10 brainstorming sessions. Look, if people like your brand, that means you got them emotionally ...and therefore, they want you to make your stuff better. So why not listen to them?

And keep tweaking your company until you strike gold. In today’s NOW culture, customers respond immediately to something that captures their mind, and their hearts.
So don’t be afraid to create a brand that is iconic.

Thank you for reading...

Brad Szollose
Award-winning author, business consultant and keynote speaker

Brad Szollose is a management consultant and keynote speaker who helps smart companies understand just how much technology has transformed corporate culture and behavior…and how that impacts management, interaction and expectations in The Information Age.

But this is not based on management theory: With a 30 year career as an entrepreneur he knows firsthand what it’s like to grow a company from a simple idea in a coffee shop to an internationally recognized brand.

Brad is a former C-Level Internet Executive who went from entrepreneur to IPO in 3 yrs—co-founding K2 Design, the very first Dot Com Agency to go public on NASDAQ. His company experienced 425% hyper-growth for 5 straight years, expanded from 2 business partners to 4 with 60+ employees and offices worldwide. At its height, K2 was valuated at over $26 million. 

His results only management model (ROWE) was applied to the first wave of young Generation Y workers producing great results—winning K2 the Arthur Andersen NY Enterprise Award for Best Practices in Fostering Innovation.

Brad Szollose is the *award-winning author of Liquid Leadership: From Woodstock to Wikipedia which explores the subject of new leadership styles – mainly how to get the tech-savvy Generation Y and analogue driven Baby Boomers working together. ISBN-13: 978-1608320554

Known for his humorous and thought-provoking presentations, Szollose received the highest testimonial of his career from a C-Level audience member: "I just had my mind blown." Brad’s keynotes and workshops are highly interactive, heart-warming, humorous, and filled with high-content information that challenge assumptions and help leaders and managers create a better work environment for innovation to thrive.

Liquid Leadership has been called "THE guidebook for the 21st Century" and has won the 2011 Axiom Business Book Award silver medal for leadership, The Indie Business Book runner up silver medal as well as becoming a #1 Best-Selling Business Book on Amazon for Organizational Learning. Published in the United States by Greenleaf Book Group, in India by Prolibris and in South Korea by UI Books/Iljinsa Publishing.

Mr. Szollose also writes a monthly column on business and marketing techniques that reach Generation Y for A Captured Mind newsletter and is part of The Mind Capture Group faculty.

Today, Brad helps businesses close the Digital Divide by understanding it as a Cultural Divide – created by the new tech-savvy worker...and customer. 

* 2011 Axiom Business Book silver medal winner in the leadership

* #1 Amazon Best-Selling Author

"I just had my mind blown..." - A.S., Vistage, New York

Liquid Leadership by Brad Szollose is available at all major bookstores and for Kindle, Nook, iPad and Sony ereaders. Internationally published in India and S. Korea.