Microsoft seeks shop to craft X-Box identity

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Microsoft Corp., quickly ramping up its X-Box branding effort, is searching for an agency that specializes in new consumer brands to create an overall visual identity system, logo, package design and retail presence for the videogame console. The effort will be separate from its advertising for X-Box, handled by McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York.

Set to launch by fall 2001, the code-named X-Box represents a new opportunity for Microsoft to create a consumer brand from scratch. The videogame console will enter a crowded field occupied by industry stalwarts Sony Computer Entertainment of America, Nintendo of America and Sega of America's newly formed Sega.com. People familiar with the situation said Microsoft recently issued request for proposal letters to agencies for the new assignment.

Don Coyner, director of marketing-console gaming, declined to specify agencies that might be invited to pitch. However, he confirmed that McCann, recently named agency of record for X-Box's $100 million advertising account, and Landor Associates, Seattle, were not among the group.

"It's not fully loaded yet," Mr. Coyner said of the process. Even the name, X-Box, is still under consideration. "We haven't announced the name yet."

Microsoft last October filed for a trademark to use X-Box as the name for videogame players and related computer software. A Florida company, meanwhile, in March 1999 filed to trademark the X-Box name for computer software.

Mr. Coyner said the console will be branded Microsoft, but the focus will be on the sub-brand X-Box, or whatever the final name turns out to be.

"Microsoft isn't known as an entertainment company by gamers, so we're going to leverage the good things Microsoft brings but really focus on the name of the console as the star," he said.

The target market is males age 16 to 25, who can expect racing, fighting, action/adventure and snowboarding games.

Microsoft decided not to follow the PC business model for X-Box-having hardware brands such as Dell Computer Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp. building the box.

"We had a lot of discussions and looked at different business models," Mr. Coyner said. "It's not really something that can work, you need somebody to drive the overall messaging and the overall communications strategy for the product," he said. "It's hard with a bunch of different manufacturers.

"This is all about providing a great game experience, period," he said, adding that messaging needs to be crisp "because when people hear that it's from Microsoft, people think it's a PC for the living room. So one of our big jobs is to get the word out that this is absolutely not a PC for the living room."

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