Added Value: Bewitched by games

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Sara Pezzini, a buff New York City detective who discovers a weapon with supernatural powers, is the heroine of TNT's "Witchblade", launching its second season June 16. But the TV screen isn't the only screen she'll ignite. "Witchblade", the game, kicks off the same day as the AOL Time Warner cable channel makes its first foray into online gaming.

"We thought the creation of a whole game would really be a great way to extend the promotional content into something brand new," said Scot Safon, senior-VP marketing, TNT. "It's another point of connection for people who like the property. ... People who like the show e-mail each other, then go online and search for more content." Over its 11-week initial run, "Witchblade" racked up 6 million viewers per week.

The game, created by WildTangent, Redmond, Wash., includes prominent product placements from three "Witchblade" advertisers: Gateway, WorldCom Group's 1-800-COLLECT brand and Subaru of America. The advertisers, each of whom bought "major sponsorship packages," according to Mr. Safon, are incorporated into the "Witchblade" cityscapes. For example, the 800 calling brand appears on billboards and phone booths, cow-spotted boxes are stacked in a warehouse and Subarus tool along city streets. TNT may add additional sponsors to the game, which will be available online at AOL keyword: "Witchblade" and www.tnt.tv for the foreseeable future. The series ends in late August.

"Witchblade" the TV show targets 18-to-49-year olds, but the online game will skew to the younger rung of the demographic. One of the things TNT will look for is crossover between the two demos off- and online.

Marketers across all categories are increasingly looking to online gaming to build brand buzz and affinity, conduct lead generation, encourage trial and promote new products.

immersion

"Marketers are looking for immersive environments, especially if they don't see return on investment through banner ads or click-through transactions," said T.S. Kelly, media analyst, Nielsen/NetRatings. Product and plot placement in online game is appealing, particularly via a high-speed broadband Internet connection. "Just as we've seen product placement in movies and TV shows, online gaming is the logical next step and it's a much sexier platform to sell on," Mr. Kelly added.

Package goods companies have launched popular online gaming venues that lure women, their key target. Kraft Foods' candystand.com offers numerous games while flagging its LifeSavers and other brands. SkyWorks recently created "Arctic 3-D Racer," a game for Jell-O on xtremejello.com promoting the brand's Jell-O jell sticks.

Electronic Arts' November launch of the "Sims Online" will incorporate several advertisers ranging from snack and fast-food brands to beverage and apparel brands. Product placements aren't mere commercial gloss-the brands are used to help advance game play.

Product placement in videogames is growing and so are marketers' demands to measure the effectiveness of advergaming. "You have CPMs, but it's the effectiveness of those impressions the longer you're involved in the experience, the more you're getting," said Keith Ferrazzi, president-CEO, online entertainment company YaYa.

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