The CMO Interview: Brad Jakeman

Making Marketing as Creative as Its Games

Activision Brings on Brad Jakeman to Engage Broad Consumer Base

By Published on . 3

YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- By his own account, Brad Jakeman isn't much of a video gamer. He plays "Guitar Hero" enthusiastically but poorly and has just recently begun dabbling in the online role-playing game "World of Warcraft."

Brad Jakeman, Activision's chief creative officer
Brad Jakeman, Activision's chief creative officer
So you might not guess that he was recently appointed to oversee all marketing for video-game giant Activision Publishing. But in fact, Mr. Jakeman said the newly created role of chief creative officer is right up his alley.

"I represent precisely the type of consumer that we need to attract," he said. "I'm not a core gamer ... and I am actually quite eager to retain that, because I need to be able to look at our marketing for mass brands and, at a personal level, say, 'Would that compel me to go out and buy a game?'"

Mr. Jakeman, 40, came to Activision just four months ago and has spent a lot of time getting up to speed on the industry. And although his previous marketing experience comes from leadership roles in different categories -- he came directly from Macy's, where he was exec VP-corporate marketing, and before that he spent eight years as Citibank managing director-global advertising -- he believes that good marketing principles can transcend categories.

In an interview with Ad Age, he shared his marketing goals for the company -- hinting at some possible future creative executions. "I came here to make our marketing at least as engaging, innovative and exciting as our games. While it may not be an easy thing to accomplish, it's a rallying cry both for me and the organization," he said.

Ad Age: What made you want to take the job at Activision?

Mr. Jakeman: The No. 1 reason is we have a management team here who really sees creativity and marketing as an economic multiplier. They really believe that marketing that's as innovative and creative and entertaining as our games is going to have an economic effect on the organization, which is very consistent with my philosophies and my experience.

Ad Age: What skills do you bring from your tenures at Citibank and Macy's?

Mr. Jakeman: At both Macy's and Citi, I came in with the opportunity and mandate to effect change. At Citi it was really to try and give meaning to a brand that was described then as a mile wide and an inch deep, and to give meaning and depth to that brand by involving customers in their bank, which from a brand perspective isn't particularly high in that industry. And then at Macy's, it was really to create a reason to shop the store beyond price.

Here at Activision, although I wouldn't say it is to effect change, I'd certainly say it's to work with the other members of the management team to take the business to the next level. We have enjoyed enormous growth in an industry that is also growing very rapidly. My role here is to make sure that marketing is a creative effort that gives us a disproportionate share of that growth.

Ad Age: Is it a challenge that the Activision brand is not a well-known retail brand name like Macy's or Citi?

Mr. Jakeman: Our strategy is not to build depth and meaning in what is essentially a holding-company entity. In the same way, my job was not to build depth behind Federated Department Stores, which is the holding company for Macy's. My role is to build depth and meaning behind our major brands, and that's how we measure the efficacy of our marketing.

Ad Age: You've got some of the biggest and best brands in video gaming, "Guitar Hero" in particular. And in fact, the whole industry has changed on the back of games like "Guitar Hero" and the Wii platform to be much more family-friendly. How do you keep that momentum going as you move forward?

Mr. Jakeman: Brands like "Guitar Hero" and Wii are elevating this entire category outside the 14-year-old boys' bedrooms. The games [have moved] from a solitary activity to a social activity. And "Guitar Hero," for example, makes games an active, rather than a sedentary, activity because you're getting up and jumping around.

As we move forward with "Guitar Hero," it's going to really be about keeping that brand current, keeping that brand cool, and keeping that brand at the leading edge of popular culture. And it's about product innovation that continues to enable the consumer to have that experience.

Ad Age: Like adding other band instruments?

Mr. Jakeman: In the holiday period last year, we expanded from a guitar to a band kit including drum and microphone. And there are a number of ways we can continue to evolve that franchise, whether it's by format, musical instruments or other ways. What we need to make sure of at all times is that we maintain that brand's strong connectivity to pop culture.

Ad Age: How does the change to family- friendly change your media strategy? Does it force you to broaden your marketing target?

Mr. Jakeman: Absolutely. When brands like "Guitar Hero" and "Call of Duty" reach a kind of mass scale, then they also drive toward a mass-marketing approach. But more important than that, it drives to a segment-marketing approach. It's important for us to continue to fulfill the product and advertising to our core user -- call them the hard-core user -- and at the same time address a new segment, like family. It would be a mistake to say the marketing moves entirely to embrace mass-marketing vehicles, because it's important that there's something in the brand for everyone.

Ad Age: Let's talk about the economy. Gaming has been called recession-proof by some, and video gaming overall is doing well, but how do you deal with it going forward?

Mr. Jakeman: We look at the dynamics of our category, and there are some positive data points we can point to. We look at data like cost per hour of entertainment. And if you look to video games vs. movies, for example, consider the cost of buying a video game for your entire family that they can enjoy for several months relative to the cost of taking the average family to the movies. You start seeing that cost per hour of entertainment looks very favorable to video games. It's fair to say that we are certainly, like any business, planning for the difficult macro-economic times in the next three quarters that we're likely to see. But personally, based on the last two categories that I came from, I think this one is very well-placed.

Ad Age: How is marketing thought of at Activision? What's your involvement in the long-term business strategy at the company?

Mr. Jakeman: Marketing is certainly one of the top things that the management committee talks about, invests in and plans around as it relates to our business. We inherently are a company that manufactures creativity. So our job in the marketing group is to make sure the marketing efforts are at least as innovative and as creative and employ as much notoriety as the games themselves.

Ad Age: As a longtime marketing executive, how have you seen media evolve? How do you use all those different kinds of media, along with what we now think of as traditional media?

Mr. Jakeman: Media is giving us an enormous ability, and more and more channels, to reach consumers. The irony is that in an environment where there are more and more channels to reach the consumer, it's never been harder than it is right now to engage the consumer. The step before consumer action, which we all hope to get, is consumer engagement. And consumer engagement is driven by innovative, fantastic content that stands out from the rest, captures the consumer imagination and differentiates the brand.

Ad Age: Who is an ideal celebrity or personality you'd like to work with?

Mr. Jakeman: We've worked with Heidi Klum, Kobe Bryant, A-Rod, Tony Hawk and Michael Phelps. And last year during the "American Idol" finale, we worked with David Cook and David Archuletta. We're looking to work with people who have either stayed in pop culture because they've been responsible for defining part of it, or who are on the cusp of redefining it. I was at the Grammys last night and was struck by how many artists are emerging from all around the world. There were lots of people there I'm interested in -- I'm not going to tell you their names because I'm probably going to be calling them.

Ad Age: Some of the people you mentioned are in and out of the news, and not always in the most positive light. Do you have a standing crisis-communication plan for those kinds of things?

Mr. Jakeman: We look to obviously align ourselves with artists who are not only very talented but also conduct themselves appropriately for the category. We really view ourselves as participating with media rather than imposing ourselves on it. So the old message of 30 seconds of detergent-demonstration advertising is an older model. We look at: How do we create connections and participate with major cultural events? Along with that, you kind of have to roll with the punches, because you can't control that as tightly as you can control a 30-second television ad that you disseminate.

Ad Age: But isn't that kind of participation you're talking about a big thinking shift that has happened, or has to happen, in the marketing industry?

Mr. Jakeman: We are living in an age of content, and if advertisers and marketers start thinking of themselves as content producers that are tasked with engaging consumers around their brand, that is a much more enlightened view than people who think of themselves as disseminators of the information that the company wants consumers to learn about their brand. If you're creating amazing content, consumers will find you and they will engage with you. The "Bike Hero" viral video (spoof on "Guitar Hero" last year) got over 2 million hits and had people spend like four minutes watching it. That's the new model -- it's creating compelling content that draws consumers to you as opposed to crappy content that you push out and impose on broad-scale media.

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