A Warm Reception for Massive’s In-Game Upfront

Earlier this week, Massive Inc. gathered agencies, advertisers and game publishers together to showcase new titles available through the Microsoft-owned in-game ad network. Based on interviews at a reception afterward, media buyers seem to have received the event warmly.

“Rarely can you get all the publishers in one room,” said Adam Bow, senior strategist of emerging media and innovation at PHD, a unit of Omnicom Group. For Bow and others like him, the event was a rare first opportunity to see a slate of games to be released in 2009 from five top-tier publishers: Activision Blizzard, Ubisoft, 2K Games, THQ, and Electronic Arts.

“It was really helpful to see what the game was like and where the ad placements were,” said Rose Ahn, media supervisor at PHD.

Publishers took the stage at Le Poisson Rouge club in SoHo to present ad-relevant titles. Activision, which just extended its agreement with Massive, detailed franchises including “Guitar Hero,” “Transformers,” “Tony Hawk,” and “James Bond.” Massive’s national sales manager, Ian Ali, said the game ad broker wants to delve more deeply into fixed product placement, and is in talks with Activision and Ford Motors to so with a future title.

Product placement is just one of a suite of new ad formats Massive is rolling out. Streaming video ads are another relatively new offering, and one that’s built into the upcoming Ubisoft title “I Am Alive,” due out in the first half of 2009. The dynamically served ads can take the shape of the label on a bottle of water cast on the pavement, the logo on a coffee cup placed on a newspaper machine, or other branded items that seamlessly become part of the game.

Jeff Minsky, director, Next, at Omnicom Media Group’s Emerging Media practice, told ClickZ he was thrilled to get game publishers together in the same room. “With the economy where there is so much bad news, this is one bright spot,” he said.

Yet the economy could affect in-game ad budgets for marketers not already entrenched in the media channel. “In-game advertising is a fairly new thing for clients that haven’t jumped in; it takes a while for preparation, tests, and planning,” said PHD’s Bow. “It may take up to a year before a traditional advertiser throws money [into a campaign].”

Any pulling back won’t happen across the board, Bow and Ahn assure ClickZ. They say budgets are determined on a client-by-client and even campaign-by-campaign basis. Ahn said she is interested in the streaming dynamic video format for one of her clients and thinks “new format” won’t translate to “experimental,” “They understand and grasp [the media],” she said.

While the event was billed as an upfront, and Massive’s goal is to sell ads for the upcoming year, the focus was on getting media buyers and advertisers comfortable with the games and media on the market. The sell sheet, detailing five sales packages from premium ad placements to sponsorships, brand integration, and package marketing was briefly noted in closing remarks and included in gift bags for all attendees.

One attendee summed up the soiree this way: “It’s a hype event, but it’s good.”

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