iVillage Partners with EA’s Pogo for Co-Branded Online Game Channel

NBC Universal’s female-oriented iVillage family of Women’s sites now has an online gaming section featuring games from Pogo.com, an Electronic Arts subsidiary and host to 75-plus games attracting approximately 14 million users monthly.

The deal with iVillage is Pogo’s first partnership with another online entity since it was purchased by EA in 2001, according to Beatrice Spaine, senior director of marketing for Pogo. Pogo’s only other partnership is one with AOL, an arrangement that has existed for many years, she said. In an interview with ClickZ, Spaine contended Pogo and iVillage are ideal partners due to their shared focus on women.

Spaine said about 75 percent of Pogo users who pay for the site’s premium (free from advertising) service are women. EA is trying to “go beyond the banner” when it comes to the free, ad-supported sections of Pogo, she said.

“Obviously, we have online banner ads and interstitial ads,” she said. “But more important to us are in-game and event sponsorships.” With such sponsorships, companies become the exclusive advertisers on a Pogo game and enjoy crafty methods of product or brand placement.

“In-game advertising relates to integrating the advertiser into the game,” she said. “The background of the solitaire table might have branding from a sponsor. The cards might have branding on them. We try to make it fit within the game.”

One of the featured games on the new portal is Pogo’s “Poppit!”, the playing of which entails clicking on groups of balloons to pop them. Pogo and iVillage said “Poppit!” is “a wildly popular favorite of female gamers.” When a cookie manufacturer sponsored “Poppit!” Pogo converted some of the balloons into cookies, said Spaine.

Pogo also encourages advertisers to sponsor gaming events on the site. Sometimes advertisers will offer opportunities for gamers to earn more of the site’s coveted tokens or even support token giveaways. “It could be something like, `Play the game on a certain night and we will double your token payout,'” said Spaine. “Users flock to those games and they respond positively to the marketers’ message. They get higher click-throughs. We’ve had instances were advertisers did sample giveaways and had extraordinary… results.”

She said Pogo aims for “top-tier advertisers,” including Post Cereals and Unilever, and last year enjoyed “a tremendous uptake in terms of traditional advertisers not only looking for a male demographic… but also now trying to reach a female demographic online and really pushing a more branded method.”

The event and game sponsorships, as well as some of the interstitial ads, “lend themselves to more rich media ads,” including video and Eyeblaster units, said Spaine. “When you load a game, there’s a large ad unit, 500 by 350, that plays rich media ads. And every 10 minutes on the free site we run intermission ads. Our click-through rates are well above 2 percent.”

The companies cited a MediaMetrix report from December that said 39 percent of women who go online routinely visit gaming sites, and that Pogo is the top gaming site visited by women aged 25 to 54.

Similarly, iVillage, established in 1995 and acquired by NBC Universal last May, was ranked by MediaMetrix as the top online destination for women. iVillage recently launched a national television, outdoor and Internet campaign that also included marketing via virtual worlds.

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