Y&R Hangs Vidgame Event Marketing Shingle

Branded gaming as spectator sport

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% Buzz around video gaming's emerging metamorphosis from solitary endeavor to event-styled spectator sport was high at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, particularly as it relates to social gaming confabs as alternative branding platforms for marketers.

Because while marketers have begun in earnest to leverage both PC-based and console gaming platforms to embed brand messages and finance video-game development as a powerful strategy for communicating with young adults (both men and women), the idea of underwriting and supporting communal events—in public venues like bars, clubs, lounges, and concert halls—has begun to gain currency with brands as a means of encouraging product sampling.

Prospective opportunities are substantial enough that Young & Rubicam, part of WPP Group, has inked a joint venture deal with aligned-event marketing unit, Bounce, to create BIG, or Bounce Interactive Gaming. BIG's mission is to create and develop consumer relationships for marketers in the videogaming area in the context of an event marketing play.

Gaming-related events are taking on a more sophisticated tone. Ubisoft, for instance, last March staged a coast-to-coast video-game tournament to launch its Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow.

Crowds of gamers 500 strong packed two movie theaters—one in Los Angeles, the other in New York—to watch two teams compete, live, in an Xbox Live showdown with the new game. "Splinter Cell is our first game with multi-player capabilities, so we wanted to do something that highlighted that aspect," explained Jag Wood, Ubisoft senior promotions manager.

"Connecting the two theaters gave gamers an experience they'd never had before." Event sponsors included Microsoft Xbox Live, Sobe Adrenaline Rush, Sony Ericcson, nVidia (maker of memory chips), Stuff magazine and Atlantic Records. "We are definitely on track to do more" events like these, said Wood.

Bounce earlier this year wrapped a 30-college campus tour created for clients, Cadbury Schweppes' DNL and game maker Electronic Arts, to encourage sampling. "DNL is embedded in SSX3, EA's video game, so people become aware of DNL, but they cannot try it unless we are there," said Tim Swift, president, BIG. As video-gaming events proliferate, Swift stakes much of the upside in his business to the potential of attracting brands that aren't necessarily embedded in the video games themselves to these events.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% Deep-pocketed marketers, claims Ubisoft's Jill Steinberg, director-media and promotions, are not only interested in having their products embedded in games but also in sponsoring events. "We have major car companies bidding against each other," said Steinberg. "They see this as a way to reach a shared target market."

Swift and Steinberg's optimism stem in part from consumer data that indicates that a traditional national media buy no longer reigns supreme in reaching today's elusive, mobile and peripatetic young consumer.

According to results of a survey conducted among 900 gamers at the E3 conference by Game Daily Consumer Research and E-Poll, gamers rank watching television lower (35.5%) in terms of "very interested" preference than reading (45.2%), attending a movie (45.5%) or renting a video (47.3%).

With estimates for video gaming revenues ranging from $10 to $14 billion, depending on the source, video gaming has rapidly evolved into a major entertainment content industry, rivaling feature-film box office receipts.

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