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Blogs Are High on iMedia Attendees' Radar Screens

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BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. ( -- Blogs, social networking sites and handheld communications devices of all types are rapidly being adopted by major marketers, according to many who are gathered here for the four-day iMedia Summit.
iMedia attendees, who now consider the Internet to be a 'traditonal' interactive marketing venue, are struggling to identify emerging interactive venues that will matter in the near future.

Almost all of those here now consider the Internet a "traditional" interactive marketing medium and much of the debate in conference rooms and corridors is about what new nontraditional interactive channels will be the next big thing.

Blogs gaining
Blogs are clearly gaining in credibility and importance as a relatively inexpensive way for marketers to tap into the real-time reactions of consumers to products and marketing strategies. This assessment was clear during a question-and-answer session yesterday with executives from MasterCard International and video-game giant Electronic Arts.

Erik Whiteford, the director of marketing at EA Sports, said the company is not placing ads on blogs but rather monitors them aggressively to assess consumer reaction to its latest digital offerings.

"We check favorability [of games] with hard-core gamers and casual consumers," he said, noting that games are a lot like movie launches. "We need to get the word out [early] and rely on buzz."

MasterCard, on the other hand, has held off on blogs but is experimenting with social networking sites. A promotion through Facebook, an online directory that connects people through social networks at colleges, delivered twice the number of credit-card acquisitions MasterCard aimed for, said Stephen Blumberg, director of new technology for global media and new channels at MasterCard.

Cell phones
Mr. Blumberg also said cell phone communication is high on the company's interactive marketing strategy list. He pointed out that consumers outside the U.S. use cell phones as "purchasing execution" devices and that "we want MasterCard to be part of that."

EA's Mr. Whiteford agreed that cell phones are an effective way to reach consumers but cautioned about the dangers of cell phone spam -- unsolicited commercial messages sent to consumers, much like junk mail.

Mr. Blumberg pointed to a global effort during the World Cup soccer tournament two years ago through Yahoo that offered consumers wallpaper downloads for their cell phone screens featuring their nation's flag and national anthem. The program provided a means to directly connect with consumers who voluntarily began the engagement by seeking out something they wanted.

Targeting and measuring
The panelists agreed that one of the highest priorities in planning the future use of interactive marketing methods of all types is the need to target and measure the media involved -- whatever channel the marketer is using.

Electronic Arts, for example, did a promotion with Yahoo and Wal-Mart for its "NCAA Football" game last fall. Using Yahoo's abilities to track its registered users regionally, EA focused customized online creative at Yahoo registrants in areas of the country where the game sold well. Yahoo later surveyed those registrants to track awareness and intent to buy. The portal then went back to find out how many actually went to their local Wal-Mart and purchased the game.

Portable wireless game devices
The emerging technology that promises to be hot, predicted Mr. Whiteford, is the next generation of handheld wireless game devices, which allow gamers to play anywhere and, more importantly for marketers, also communicate with each other through the handheld devices, which can be used as cell phones and Internet-accessing consoles.

Sony's PSP (PlayStation Portable) is slated to be shipped to retailers in late March. Nintendo's Nintendo DS, which first defined the category, was released in November.

Because the devices offer so many areas in which brands can make commercial pitches, Mr. Whiteford said, "This will be great for advertisers."

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