Digital Gamescapes Lure Major Marketers

Online Games Are Evolving as Serious Advertising Venue

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- The curious world of digital gamescapes is attracting the attention of major marketers as a new kind of mainstream advertising venue, according to Jeff Bell, vice president of marketing communications for DaimlerChrysler Corp.

Last week's E3 Expo saw new levels of interest and synergy between marketers and gamemakers.

Also at E3:
Microsoft announced it was preparing to spend $2 billion in a five year marketing push for online and offline versions of its Xbox console game system.
Sony, meanwhile, also unveiled its latest marketing strategies for PlayStation 2 online gaming systems.
Nintendo is aiming for a modest online gaming presence as it focuses on promoting a proprietary connectivity concept linking GameBoy Advance and GameCube systems.

Mr. Bell, speaking on a panel on "advergaming" here at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), said the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands are moving into online games because that is where their customers and prospects are.

"Over 60% of PlayStation 2 players are over 24. That's Chrysler's key target," he said.

Chrysler is active in the gaming arena. It has created games to promote its Jeep EVO 2 4x4 truck, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon off-road SUV, Dodge Ram and Viper.

Product placements
On the other side of the table, E3 vendors have become increasingly aggressive in soliciting marketers for paid product placements in their various digital entertainments.

For instance, software publishers such as Activision and Electronic Arts are growing more open to the concept of paid product placements in video games, leading ad agencies to begin exploring options on behalf of marketers.

Electronic Arts' Beth Larson, vice president of advertising sales, said it's a no-brainer for EA to sell sponsorships and placements for its Sims Online game. "Advertisers are looking to know where teens are spending their time," she said. "Gaming is their pastime and advertisers want to be among other cool brands."

Ms. Larson is currently soliciting proposals from marketers of cellular phones and computers, quick-service restaurant brands and snack foods, beverages and apparel marketers. Cell phones, PCs and gadgets in general are appropriate products to appear in a game environment because "they're all tools in the game to help propel game play," Ms. Larson said.

'Advergames'
But product placement is only one of the methods for integrating marketing messages into digital gamescapes. "Advergames" -- games specifically designed as part of an advertiser's online media campaign -- are another.

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Keith Ferrazzi, CEO of Los Angeles-based advergame builder YaYa, emphasizes the distinction between product placement and advergaming. "Product placement is where brands are represented with a banner or billboard and the product is sitting there, static. Advergaming is creating a commercial, an advertiser's message."

Alex St. John, CEO of Wild Tangent, which has created games for Nike Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Hyundai, said, "We are mostly approached by agencies that see it as a value to add games to the marketer's media mix; sometimes the media companies are selling the games as an overall package." As an example, he cited the TNT series Witchblade as an online game that his company is creating to build buzz for the TV show's new season.

In that project, pegged to the June 16 launch of the Witchblade, Wild Tangent, based in Redmond, Wash., spent more than four months building an online game of the same name that will be heavily promoted along with the show -- footage from the game will even be spliced into the commercials for the series.

Meanwhile, Gateway Computer, MCI's 1-800-COLLECT and Subaru have paid to have their products incorporated into the game. Gateway's box with its distinctive cow logo, a billboard with MCI's 1-800-COLLECT pitch and Subaru vehicles are part of the interactive digital gamescape.

Martha Stewart game
But it's not only gaming's typically young target that's attractive to such large marketers. Women ages 24 to 49 and beyond are the fastest-growing online audience, and even Martha Stewart has sought to take advantage of that fact with women-oriented online games.

Recently Martha Stewart OmniMedia has joined with Chrysler to field an online game aimed at adult women. Developed by YaYa, it is scheduled to debut in June.

The game is designed to determine women's travel personalities and players can also send it to friends and family. "It's a perfect example of why games aren't just about teen males," Chrysler's Mr. Bell said.

YaYa has developed customer relationship technology for marketers looking to mine the data culled from their experiences with online games and promotions. The company has worked with DaimlerChrysler to learn more about the consumers playing its promotional online games.

Metrix will be key
"Most game experiences haven't tracked through to purchase," said YaYa's Mr. Ferrazzi. "The issue of metrix is very important."

"What is the retention rate of online experiences and the bridge between offline and online media?" he asked, posing a question of measurement that will be one of increasing importance and attention as more marketers discover the size -- and often-fanatical involvement -- of digital game audiences.

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