Trailer House Sweet Spot Moves Beyond Movie Marketing

Firm Counts Video-Game Makers Sega, Eidos as Clients Looking for a Cinematic Tilt

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LOS ANGELES (Madison & Vine) -- Thirty years after the arcade classic "Space Invaders" provoked a national coin shortage in Japan, video games are invading a different kind of space: the Hollywood trailer house.

Case in point: The newly formed trailer house Sweet Spot Productions opened its doors earlier this month, and already, its owners say, video-game clients such as Sega and Eidos are accounting for some 60% of its business.

Sweet Spot co-founders Don Scotti and Joe Takats are experts on film trailers, having worked for most major Hollywood studios on hundreds of theatrical campaigns; they were even hired by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create a special film montage that will air during this Sunday's 80th Academy Awards.

Trading torture porn for family fun
But to form their new venture, both men recently left their jobs as exec VPs-marketing at After Dark Films, owned by horror impresario Courtney Soloman. While there, they had conceived, developed and produced the marketing campaigns for horror pictures such as last year's notorious Roland Joffe "torture-porn" film "Captivity," as well as gory vampire schlock such as "Skinwalkers."

But with the general deflation of the torture-porn film genre ("Captivity" and films of its ilk, like Lions Gate's "Hostel 2" all tanked) Messrs. Scotti and Takats are now busily surfing the next big culture-marketing wave: marketing video games to the whole family.

According data supplied to Ad Age by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB, the duo likely will be busy for some time to come: From 2005-2007, the E (for "everyone") ratings category was, per ESRB data, "the only category to grow consistently, both in terms of percentage of total as well as by volume." Meanwhile, games rated M for "mature" audiences only "was the only [category] to continuously decline by both measures. ... The trend became most noticeable last year, where volume in the 'E' rating category grew 36%, far greater than the year-over-year growth of any other category."

And, accordingly, Sweet Spot's initial clientele also represent some of the biggest players in the video-game industry, including Sega and Eidos.

Eidos 'goes Hollywood'
"When you market an E-rated game, you have many more doors to open -- you can advertise anywhere, and anytime," said Eidos' marketing director, Karl Stewart, of his company's decision to "go Hollywood." (ESRB guidelines specify that ads for mature-rated games not be televised until after 9 p.m., and not at all on certain networks, such as kids' channels such as Nickelodeon.)

For example, for Sega, Sweet Spot recently produced the promotional campaign for the video-game version of "The Golden Compass," based on the New Line Cinema picture of the same name.

"We were asked to stretch the appeal for the target market, stretch the age range, too," Mr. Scotti said. "We did versions that were more female-oriented as well. Lyra [the protagonist played by Dakota Blue Richards in 'Compass'] as a young heroine is not something that young boys are into, but there's a huge female audience."

Cinematic tilt
What exactly is Sweet Spot working on? It still has the usual coterie of movie-studio clients, but increasingly, it's also conceiving, developing and producing consumer and trade campaigns promoting video games -- a genre which Mr. Takats said is undergoing a "natural progression" toward a more cinematic tilt. While many of Sweet Spot's 30- and 60-second spots and/or theatrical trailers make their way onto gamer sites and cable TV, some are even heading to the big screen. Recently, its 60-second trailer for the "Golden Compass" game was also shown amidst other on-screen cinema advertising before the actual New Line film.

The advantage of working with a boutique trailer house over an ad agency's production company, Mr. Takats said, is all-in-one shopping (TV, in-cinema, online) without having to buy creatives extra Ritalin. "Because we're not a huge ad agency, we can offer more personalized treatment, since were only working on four to five projects at a time -- not dozens," Mr. Takats explained. To get it all done, Sweet Spot works with Sega and Eidos' media buyers, but doesn't interact with the game publishers' ad agencies.

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