The kids-bundled in Gap sweatshirts, Gap baseball caps and hats with earflaps and long tassels that Gap is featuring this winter-wind their way through a day of snowballs, snowmen and snowboards at the direction of the game players.
Snow Day, a CD-ROM playable on Macintosh or Windows, is being given away free with purchase at Gap Kids stores, and is just one example of a growing trend of videogames as a venue for marketing to young consumers.
Placing products in videogames can be done in at least two ways-a marketer can create its own branded videogame populated by its own products, as in the case of Gap Kids, or a marketer can place its products in a videogame company's game titles. That arrangement can involve a licensing fee or cross-marketing the placed product and the videogame.
Videogames generated $6.4 billion in sales in 2000, according to Nintendo of America. Gamemakers estimate kids under 14 make up 20% to 25% of their market. "Tweens are definitely our fastest-growing market," says Stacy Kir, product manager, Sega of America.
The key attraction to marketers is: "Repetition, repetition, repetition," says David Schriber, VP-marketing at Burton Snowboard Co., which began placing its snowboards and related gear in Sony Computer Entertainment America's Cool Boarders games when Burton started seriously cultivating tween customers.
"Kids will play a game they like 100 times over before they burn out on it. I'm talking about hours of exposure," concurs Jim Wexler, VP-marketing of BrandGames, a New York company that creates videogames around brands, including Snow Day for Gap Kids.
Companies like Burton or Gap also appreciate the value of having their products seen within the context of videogames' story lines.
"People involved with the sport would see it as a sellout if we advertised in something unrelated to snowboarding," Mr. Schriber says. "These videogames are viewed as an authentic off-season pursuit so they work really well for us."
"It's interactive role playing," Mr. Wexler explains, "so players become the Gap kids in Snow Day while they play the game."
A game featuring a fantasy story line, however, may not be an appropriate setting for product placement. George Harrison, VP-marketing at Nintendo, says many games aimed at the under-14 set are fantasy games, such as Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. games, where real-world products wouldn't fit.
Also tempering the growth of placements as a marketing tool is the fact that they represent a shift in power between the gaming and consumer products sectors as far as compensation for the placements.
Designers of sports and car racing videogames have long sought to include brands associated with their sports, like Quaker Oats Co.'s Gatorade or Nike, to make the games look and feel more real. In the past, the game companies often paid licensing fees to display these brands, says Ms. Kir. But as both sectors have become aware of the value of this type brand exposure, gaming companies have been pushing more often for cross-marketing deals.
Burton, for example, handed out samples of Sony's Cool Boarders during its promotional visits to ski slopes.
Ms. Kir explains further, "Usually the relationship begins with a giveaway offer, where in the past a Dreamcast system would be one of the prizes, and we'd build from there."