Sports Illustrated is trying to find new readers by integrating a pair of its Swimsuit models, as well as billboards promoting the magazine, into the latest "Need for Speed" video game from Electronic Arts.
EA, in turn, will see SI promote "Need for Speed: The Run" with an offer bundling the full game with six months of the magazine, its app editions and a DVD about making the game for $49.95. The game's Xbox and Playstation 3 versions will normally retail alone for $59.99, while its PC and Wii editions will normally cost $49.99. Terms of the deal between SI and EA were not disclosed.
Sports Illustrated averaged nearly 3 million subscribers over the first half of this year, 0.9% up from the first half of 2010, according to its report with the Audit Bureau of Circulations. But its incentives for new subscribers more often revolve around a team jacket.
"We're trying to take this brand and put it in places that are unexpected but feel very natural," said Frank Wall, VP and publisher at the Time Inc. Sports Group, which includes Sports Illustrated. "The first step of that is being on the front edge of technology."
"Obviously you've got millions of consumers across the globe that are participating in the gaming space, many of them men," he added. "For us, it's a great marketing platform that takes us and puts us in a new place."
EA approached SI about a partnership partly because its Swimsuit franchise commands so much attention among young men, according to Steve Seabolt, VP for global brand partnerships at EA. The magazine was also experimenting with digital media via its All Access subscription package, its app for web browsers and its use of barcodes. "It was obvious to me that the senior management of SI sort of got the digital world," Mr. Seabolt said.
In-game advertising has been around for years but hasn't become a major channel for marketers yet.
A video game industry researcher said two weeks ago that marketers spent $1 billion using video games to market their products and services in North America last year, including in-game advertising, tie-ins and advergames. Advertising in and around games should reach $2 billion in North America by 2014, according to the research by DFC Intelligence. "However, it is clear that as an advertising medium, video games are underutilized," DFC said.
In 2008, Barack Obama's presidential campaign paid for billboards to appear in EA's "Burnout Paradise."