In-Game Ad Network Taps Into Virtual Worlds

In-game ad network Double Fusion has furthered its involvement in virtual worlds through a deal that makes it responsible for Habbo’s ad inventory in the U.S. region.

Under its agreement with the teen-targeted virtual world, Double Fusion will manage media sales and coordinate in-world integrated marketing campaigns for Habbo in the United States. While Double Fusion did some previous work with SK Telecom’s Cyworld (define) in South Korea, this is the first large-scale integration of a virtual world for the in-game advertising network.

“Our commitment is to deliver immersive branding experiences in games and branded entertainment,” said Jonathan Epstein, CEO of Double Fusion. “We view online worlds as the twin [to in-game advertising].”

Over 200 brands worldwide have advertised in, integrated with, or sponsored elements of the Habbo world in some way. “Habbo is about real life,” said Teemu Huuhtanen, president of the North America region at Sulake, the company that publishes Habbo. “Teens are expecting to see brands, and give us regular feedback.”

While virtual worlds such as Second Life are integrated internationally, users and advertisers in Habbo are divided by country. Ad sales in each country are handled either directly by Sulake or by a representative company.

Advertising opportunities in Habbo include in-game billboards, contests, interstitials, branded items and sponsored rooms and quests. In a deal that predated its relationship with Double Fusion, Habbo worked with Paramount Pictures on a two-week campaign to promote “The Spiderwick Chronicles” in a February tie-in with the film’s release. The WWE is another big advertiser, as Habbo attracts its target 13- to 17-year-old age group.

An upcoming event expected to drive membership, and potentially advertising sponsorships, is a live concert performed by Epic Records recording artist Natasha Bedingfield on the afternoon of April 10. It’s the first time has featured a guest artist performance live, in-game in its virtual world, though other teen communities like have hosted performers such as Stacie Orrico. The Beddingfield performance won’t be an isolated event. Sulake has signed with the William Morris agency to book live entertainment such as concerts and chat events, which present sponsorship opportunities just as they do in the real world.

“Musicians and celebrities are important to teens,” said Epstein. “There’s a way for brands to get additional punch.”

Double Fusion’s expansion into the category comes as Nickelodeon announces an expanded roster of virtual worlds. The family-friendly network plans to build upon its existing Neopets and Nicktropolis virtual worlds sites with new environments called Monkey World and World of Neopia. Additional worlds for Nick’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” and other new and existing properties are also possible. Advertising and sponsorships, when appropriate, will be sold by the Nickelodeon Kids & Family sales team.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ business model for our virtual worlds. Each virtual world will be distinct and our approach to the business model should align with the goals for the user experience,” said Steve Youngwood, EVP of digital media at Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group. “We expect to see a mix of models throughout our virtual studio pipeline including advertising, premium services, and real world product extensions.”

Separately, in an expansion of its relationship with NCsoft, Double Fusion wil represent ad inventory in “City of Heroes,” a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). The MMORPG genre is often seen as a bridge between online games and virtual worlds due to its role-playing aspects.

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