|Julie Shumaker is Electronic Arts' national director of sales for video-game advertising.
Why you need to know her: Ms. Shumaker is EA's go-to executive for marketers who want to embed their brands in video games and connect with the coveted 18- to 34-year-old gamer community. She's been at the forefront of product placement in video games, integrating McDonald's Corp. and Intel into "The Sims Online" and DaimlerChrysler into "Madden NFL 05." She spread Procter & Gamble Co. products over five game titles for multiple years.
Credentials: Ms. Shumaker started in the sponsorship business, peddling herself to would-be sponsors during her efforts as a professional golfer. "I am often asked how I handle the pressure of big quotas and quarterly results and I respond, 'You don't know pressure until you face a four footer to earn dinner money!'" She then joined NBC's Quokka Sports in 1997, where she placed brands in sports programming. "We called it 'brand immersion,' and it really is the catalyst to what I do today for my advertisers at EA." Following Quokka's demise, she worked briefly with Yahoo on the sponsorship model for fifaworldcup.com and left Yahoo in 2001 to start the ad business at EA.
Which marketers have you worked with in the past, and who you are working with now? "In my four-plus years at EA, I have had the privilege of working with a breadth of blue-chip marketers, including General Motors, Procter & Gamble, Daimler Chrysler, Nike, Coke, McDonald’s, Unilever, Honda, Nokia and Toyota. What I am most excited about is recent work completed with Burger King in 'Fight Night Round 3,' and Castrol Syntec in 'Need for Speed Most Wanted.' In both instances, the programs really delivered on the goal of bringing the game consumer value via additive content while reaching the advertisers' ROI in increasing brand affinity with this allusive audience."
You said in an Advertising Age story earlier this year that your ad sales have been increasing 50% each year since 2001. What kind of increases do you expect going forward, and where are they coming from? Are new categories coming in, or are existing advertisers ramping up their spending? "I do believe we will continue to see significant increases in year on year growth for the foreseeable future. The continued increases in video-game advertising revenue will primarily come from connected gamers. By that I mean both the online communities supporting them and the actual ads served to them during game play. While I believe the product-placement business will slow in growth, I do expect it to remain a valuable component of the overall media mix publishers offer marketers. We are seeing increased spending from early adopters of gaming as an ad platform but the revenue scale will also be a result of followers realizing these early marketers have seen value and joining in the action. Like any medium, scale in the video-game advertising segment will be dependant on adoption by mass-market advertisers playing in the space. The true sign of the medium being understood and adopted by marketers will come when Southwest Airlines and Clorox join the fold."
What are marketers looking for in terms of in-game exposure? What do you think works best for you and for the brands? "The most effective in-game integrations deliver on three primary program goals: One, they provide gamers with additive or aspirational content on behalf of the advertiser. Two, they offer meaningful reach within the gaming audience. Generally, anything over 1 million unique users is a fair audience size in gaming. And, three, the advertising content is optional or selected, not forced. These three primary factors are highlighted in my enthusiasm for the recent program with Castrol Syntec. The program combines in-game billboard advertising and Quick Lube locations with a locked Castrol Syntec High Performance vehicle package -- a Ford GT with Castrol Syntec logo and colors. This vehicle is not available unless the gamer has the code promoted via Castrol Syntec advertising in gaming publications, on Castrol's Web site and on EA's online communities."
What were the results of that tie-in? "At the end of the program, the game had reached 7 million unique users who purchased the content for $50 and interacted with the Castrol Syntec brand, achieving additive game content on behalf of the advertiser and engaging the audience for an average 50 hours of game play per unique user. That is 350 million game hours engaged with the brand in an integration that directly reinforced the performance tenets of the brand."
How are in-game integration deals structured? "We structure most programs to include in-game integration, online community and offline promotion. In these separate areas ... we price the in-game based on a set fee per type of integration -- a billboard is "X" dollars, game mode "Y" dollars, product integration "Z" dollars -- and charged per unit sold. The online community programs are a combination of sponsorship fee and CPM, where applicable. The offline promotions are generally a mutual value arena where the marketer can bring product exposure to the EA title through their traditional communication channels and EA can bring the marketer valuable IP and currency with the consumer."
Do the integration partners help market the games? "Yes, it is our belief that the more the marketer promotes the EA game and their involvement in the game experience through their traditional communication channels, including Web, print, TV and retail, the more value they actually build into the media buy with EA. Games are the currency of cool with consumers, particularly in the male 18-34 segment, and promoting involvement with our titles is a great way for marketers to leverage this industry currency."
How important is it to have out-of-game components to go along with brand integrations? "In this instance I believe games are like any other medium -- a valuable channel as a standalone offering -- but a one-plus-one-equals-three scenario when combined with off-game executions. The success of the Castrol Syntec deal would have been reduced had Castrol not had a tie-in to the cheat codes on their Web site and advertising campaigns, and had EA not promoted the program through our gaming community."
Which games lend themselves best to product integration? Are some titles off limits? "Sports titles are unquestionably the greatest arena for in-game advertising. Fantasy and period games are often off limits. I don't think we want to see a McDonald's in Middle Earth."
How do you measure success for a brand integration? "Until there is an industry currency, our partners rely on product sales combined with brand studies and game-usage data to execute a success metric. For this industry to truly scale, we need a third-party auditor assigning metrics that can be evaluated across title, platform, publisher and ad campaign. Without this, we will continue to have an uphill battle in earning meaningful budgets from advertisers."
EA has expanded the way it incorporates advertisers into games, even using a brand icon like Burger King's the King in "Fight Night Round 3" instead of just the marketer's logo. What are the benefits or risks involved in these kinds of integrations? "The primary benefit is the gamer has fun with the experience. I mean, it is not hard to know it is advertising. The gamer has a choice to play in the BK-sponsored event and if they win, the King is unlocked and serves as your trainer. It was a really campy move but one that the gamers and the studio had a great deal of fun with, and at the end of the day, is additive to the game. The key to this type of over-the-top integration is to make sure you don't pretend it is not advertising. Other than the typical 10% negative feedback we received, the responses were incredibly favorable and Burger King's brand affinity within EA Sports lifted. On the side of reality, there is clearly a risk. If you go too far in going over the top, the game publisher looks like a sellout and the advertiser looks like a poser.
How do you keep that from happening? "It is important for publishers and advertisers alike to carefully audit these ideas and look at them in focus groups and gain feedback before moving forward. As my mom used to say when I asked if this dress was OK to wear to the dance, 'If you have to ask, it probably isn't acceptable.'"
Since so many marketers are interested in this space now, is there a saturation point? "If there is, we are not even close. Come back and ask me about this in three years."
What are some of the challenges that still exist in brokering placement deals for games? "I continue to be surprised that the publishers and advertisers have not gotten closer on mutual value and common goals. It seems a significant disconnect lies in developers that focus on a consumer client and advertisers that are used to their money buying them full creative control. I look forward to creating more mutually valuable deals in the coming year to help in the continued efforts to bridge this gap."
Are you a gamer? What games do you play? "I like to say I am a gamer, though more in line with girls born in the '60s -- my types of games are Scrabble, poker, gin rummy and dabbling a bit in bridge. When it comes to interactive gaming, I am a gamer by industry not necessarily skill, though I have recently become very fond of my PSP for long plane rides and evaluating games for advertisers. I am sold on the form factor and mobility of the device and can't get enough of 'Burnout Revenge!'"
What's the best way you've found to keep up with the tastes and trends of young male gamers? "Listen to them, watch them and be open to the gamer as the producer of our advertisers' brand experience not the planner at an agency."
What's on your TiVo? "The Winter Olympics because I did not watch a single event live and feel obligated to go back and see some of the action."
What do you do in your free time? "I live in Northern California where the lifestyle lends itself to what we call weekend warrior-ism -- going full tilt on bicycles, skis, runs and of course great food and wine. All the elements of a wonderful life on the coast."