Marco Brambilla Merges Brand Attitude With Gamescape

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Who: Marco Brambilla, 43, creative director of Medium, a gaming and advertising venture between commercial and music production houses HSI Productions
Marco Brambilla is bridging the gap between game development and advertising.

and Immaterial. Also a video-game developer and a commercial and film director.

Credentials: Created two video games, "Far Cry" and "Rainbow 6 II." Directed ads for high-profile clients such as Nike and Levi Strauss, and directed films including Demolition Man, Excess Baggage and the Dinotopia TV miniseries.

Challenge in marrying video games and advertising: To create something that doesn't feel like a hard sell. Gamers are very adverse to that kind of thing, like if a brand looks like it's pasted on or is very in-your-face, it becomes a turn-off for them. The core values of the brand have to be in the game and the game has to be consistent with the brand attitude and lifestyle, but at the same time it also has to be a good game.

Target: Everyone who plays games, but especially casual gamers, an audience that's growing really fast right now.

M&V Play: I came into this going from film, then into video-game development, and now bridging the gap between game development and advertising. So I've had experience in all three. The key bridge is really between brands and video games, because that's what hasn't been done before.

How did you get hooked on video games?
Once you wrap your head around the interactivity and how it really has to work and how you have to be creative in that area, it's really stimulating because you're doing something very new. This is something that has the potential to be really groundbreaking. It's not quite there yet, but it becomes more and more sophisticated with every project I do.

Why should marketers do these deals?
The key demographic, that 18- to 24-year-old demographic that everybody is trying to reach, is starting to watch less television. They're using that time to play more video games, so to reach that really desirable audience, a lot of clients are starting to look to gaming, either placing their brand in games or developing original content for games. It raises brand awareness by being very entertaining.

How do you measure success for brands inside games?
If they're downloadable games from a Web site, you can track exactly the number of downloads, how often they have been played, how long they have been played, and then you can also do things like, if you tie it into scoring statistics and points, you can measure how many people are playing. The metrics are very, very clear. So you can measure the level of awareness and how often people come to the Web site very accurately, much more accurately than you can do with television advertising.

What about console games, how do you measure their success?
Console games are more about product placement within the game itself. The success is really based on if the game is a "triple A" title, which sells over a million copies, obviously the brand is going to get a lot of exposure. From focus-group testing, we know that people really relate to brands being in the games.

What keeps you up at night?
If I'm going to answer that in a serious way, I'd say the key thing is you don't want to produce something that's a rip-off of something that's already on the market. What I really like doing is coming up with original concepts. The key thing is that the market is getting very saturated in video games, and in both retail video games and also in advertising-branded video games you have to be very, very careful not to create product that is generic.

Who is your best friend in the business?
The creative director at Ubisoft in Paris, Alexis Nolant. He was the first person to hire me from the film industry. About two or three years ago, Ubisoft hired me to consult on some new games, and he was the first person I met and we've been working together ever since.

What's the best lesson you've learned?
Development time in video games is very different from film production or commercial production because when you make a video game, it's like they're building a camera. If you were making a film, it would be the equivalent of them building a camera while you were writing the script. It's much more of a factor than in the film business. So it's important to take into account the technology limitations and to design something that can be done quickly and efficiently and works with the technology. I think that's a big danger for people who aren't experienced in the interactive arena.

What video games do you play?
Right now I really like "Spider-Man 2," I love the game play in that. And I play "Fable." It's a new Microsoft role-playing game and it's very interesting.
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