Digital Marketers Bond Over Paintball

In a week crowded with digital marketing events, only one get-together could claim to give new meaning to the term “targeting.”

On Tuesday night, the Interactive Paintball League (iPL) held its inaugural throw down at the NYC Paintball facility in Queens. The gathering of approximately 150 online marketers included employees from dozens of agencies, publishers, and marketing vendors.

They ate; they drank; they shot each other with high-powered, paint-loaded air guns.

Of the 150, a little over half were players. There were eight teams of 10. Another 70 looked on from the safety of a mesh-protected bleacher stand.

A self-described “avid paintballer,” Jason Burnham, president of Mass Transit Interactive, planned and orchestrated the event along with his wife Michelle, Mass Transit’s director of campaign management. The project included finding sponsors, securing the facility, and promoting the event. In the half-hour leading up to the first paintball round, the Burnhams sat at a small table amid a swelling crowd, feverishly scribbling names on a piece of paper.

“We did a whole bracket, and it was total elimination,” Burnham said. “The last team standing was the team that won and advanced to the next round. The loser went into the losers’ bracket.”

DoubleClick signed on as Gold sponsor. The company had its own team, in very spiff-looking padded jerseys. DoubleClick’s Craig Calder, who heads Motif sales, looked on from the back of the room. Calder’s jersey was #44, and he was waiting to learn whether his team would be supplemented with players from Ogilvy or from OMD.

“I think I’m the oldest person here,” Calder said. A quick scan of the room proved him right.

Calder said he was enjoying himself, and he couldn’t resist making the comparison to the heyday of digital marketing, when extravagant industry parties were common.

“When the bottom dropped out, these types of events went away,” he said.

The playing field consisted of a large, dark room scattered with huge inflatable obstacles resembling oversized jacks and candy corns. From an onlooker’s point of view, it was sometimes difficult to see what was going on, but there were plenty of sound effects and rounds never failed to draw cheers. Like all good sports fans, iPL spectators bolstered their enthusiasm with trips to the open bar. (Players were not permitted to drink.)

The first round pitched the Real Cities team against 24/7 On Target. From there, the action progressed until the competition was narrowed to two teams. If only choosing an agency or vendor were this easy.

The final match pitched Mass Transit against a team fielded by Diageo’s Right Stuff, a hybrid with members from five companies. Diageo’s Right Stuff claimed the win. Burnham may have been secretly relieved.

“It hurt, but it probably would have looked a little suspicious if Mass Transit won the championship,” he said.

The morning after, Burnham received a lot of email from players eager to see the event repeated, and soon. He said some requested weekly paint wars, but that’s not going to happen.

“On the agency side, we’re just swamped. This is extracurricular, so I have to make sure I have my priorities in order,” he said.

That means paintball-eager marketers who missed the iPL’s first war will have to wait until June or July to get involved. But momentum is there. Burnham expects the league to grow from here on out.

“We have several hundred who have signed up for the list, and we’re going to have the Web site launched in the next month or so.”

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