Thousands of consumers have paid $50 to $65 for a videogame based on the red, shades-wearing spokescharacter Spot, and the exposure has cost the soft-drink marketer nothing. Dr Pepper/Seven-Up Cos. is even making a small royalty on the deal.
The videogame, called "Cool Spot," was developed by Virgin Games. And though it is Seven-Up's first foray into interactive media, the marketer didn't develop the game with interactivity in mind.
Instead, it saw an appealing licensed merchandise opportunity that, if successful, could generate extra exposure for the 7UP brand.
"The way I like to look at it is this is a way for us to be exposed [to consumers] in a non-traditional form," said Bart Johnston, brand manager for 7UP brands.
Virgin has shipped to retailers a healthy 400,000 "Cool Spot" videogames, in both Sega and Nintendo formats, and the game has won several interactive marketing awards. In perhaps the highest praise, it's often mentioned in the same breath with the videogame hit of the year, "Mortal Kombat."
The premise of "Cool Spot," available for Sega Genesis since last summer and Nintendo's Super NES format since fall, is that all of the Spots have been kidnapped and caged by a wily villain. The player uses the Cool Spot character to free his red friends.
At the beginning of the game, Cool Spot surfs up on the beach, where people are drinking 7UP; in the game's bonus round players must collect the letters to spell "Uncola" (7UP's longtime nickname and positioning statement).
"Cool Spot" lets Seven-Up reach kids in a forum where cola giants Coca-Cola Co. and Pepsi-Cola Co. haven't yet ventured. (But it's rumored in videogame and beverage circles that Coca-Cola wants to base a game on its computer-generated polar bears.)
"They can outspend us any day of the year" in traditional media advertising, Mr. Johnston said of Seven-Up's larger rivals.
Virgin first sought Seven-Up's participation in a videogame in 1989.
"When they approached us I thought, this seems to make a lot of sense .|.|. It's really not costing us anything but time, and we can make a little royalty to reinvest back in other marketing programs," said Mr. Johnston, who also oversees licensing for Diet 7UP and Cherry 7UP.
But Seven-Up's first Spot videogame, for Nintendo's NES and Game Boy systems, wasn't a hit. Both Seven-Up and Virgin agree the game, which came out in 1990, wasn't fun to play.
By 1993, Seven-Up was ready to try again. The nature of videogames was beginning to change, becoming more acceptable as a marketing medium.
Still, "we didn't go into it with the intention of it being interactive marketing," said Mr. Johnston.
"We're trying to make our brand more fun," in order to draw children, teens and young adults, he said.
Toward that goal, Seven-Up and Virgin are developing a third Spot videogame that will be introduced during the fourth quarter of this year. Seven-Up is also changing the plain red dot in its logo and packaging into the spindly-legged Spot character.
In the meantime, Virgin next month will introduce "Cool Spot" for Sega's handheld Game Gear.
Though a successful brand and a successful spokescharacter don't guarantee a successful videogame, "I think Spot works because he's so mischievous," said Debbie Brajevich, director of advertising for Virgin Games, which also developed the "Aladdin" videogame based on the hit movie.
As proof of the character's inherent likability, she offers the fact that "Cool Spot" has also been a hit in Europe, where the Spot character was an unknown, having never been used there to sell 7UP.
Virgin and Sega spent a combined $1 million to $2 million advertising "Cool Spot" in 1993 and Sega made the game a cornerstone of its fourth-quarter promotional efforts.
While ad agencies have been known to have significant input in their clients' development of videogames based on advertising characters, Seven-Up worked directly with Virgin, opting not to include its agency, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, in the process.
Seven-Up also has been slow to use "Cool Spot" in integrated marketing or promotion efforts for 7UP soft drinks even though it has available Virgin's database of "Cool Spot" buyers.
"We've been discussing it but haven't decided how to go about it," Mr. Johnston said.
Nor is the marketer ready to jump into interactive media.
"I think it's real easy to jump on the bandwagon," said Mr. Johnston. "But we try not to get involved in anything that's fad-related."M
Seven-Up surfs into videogames with "Cool Spot," which prominently features the Spot spokescharacter.