Nexon Organizes BlockParty

Nexon is launching a new portal called BlockParty for people who play its online games, reports Gamasutra.  The new destination replaces, the current gathering ground for players of the publisher’s popular free-to-play MMOs such as Maple Story and Combat Arms.

Nexon America marketing VP Min Kim calls the service equal parts games and social networking portal.  The company released an animated preview highlighting the service as well as spiffy new logo and mascots known as Block Heads.

Read more at Gamasutra {link no longer active}.

An Advertiser Discusses In-Game Ads

Applying conventional ad models are the wrong way to approach in-game ads, says a former advertiser turned advergame designer.  In a video interview with Abbey Klaassen of Ad Age, Kevin Slavin, managing director of advergame maker Area/Code, discusses inherent differences between games and other forms of media and how they should affect the way advertisers look at in-game branding.

One of Slavin’s key arguments is how display, perhaps the oldest form of advertising, is completely ineffective in video games.  Display has comfortably transitioned through various ad vehicles.  Draw a fun line from the sandwich board to the billboard to print ads and now online banner ads, and it can be argued that each platform had the same properties facilitating what display ads are designed to do.  The goal is garner attention and leave an impression, and the recipe to get there is good creative and proper placement.

Slavin sees a different reality for brands displayed in games.  He uses an analogy with roadside billboards.  In the real world, he points out, the most effective roadside billboards are the ones placed where drivers are likely to have time to kill.  To reinforce his point, think of how the most mundane ads can become study pieces at long traffic lights and jammed expressways.  Those situations would rarely if ever exist in a game, where he argues gamers are more likely to be racing past that virtual billboard than pausing by it.  The analogy certainly extends beyond roadsides, considering whether ads are displayed in a sports arena, a race track or any other game environment, the person intended to see it is going to be preoccupied even if not on the move.

How does an advertiser get around a game player s preoccupation   Slavin echoes what most in-game ad companies are arguing: become part of the preoccupation.  As a former advertiser, he breaks it down in somewhat scientific terms.  Successful messaging leverages a medium’s mode of communication with its users.  In print, TV and online display, the mode is passive communication, user action is observation, and the key to messaging is to be quick and compact.  Games are completely different in all three areas.  Their system of communication is interactivity, user action is a behavior, and whatever the message is in the game, be it a storyline or a final objective, it is designed to take place over a long period of time.  A successful in-game branding effort needs to incorporate itself into all three.  Slavin doesn’t refer to it, but the game industry has perhaps its earliest standard-setting effort in the way Palm PDAs were incorporated into the original Splinter Cell.

As an aside, Slavin makes an interesting observation extending from his media analysis to pinpoint the difference between communities that form online around viral campaigns versus video games.  He labels the former as simply a crowd, where people are gathering and inviting friends to observe something such as a viral video.  Conversely, a group that forms around a game is sharing an activity, making them a true online community.

Watch the full video interview at Ad Age {link no longer active}.

Top Brands Ranked By Online Social Radar Index

Ad Age released the list of top 200 brands for September 2009 based on online conversations monitored by research firm Infegy.  The firm’s Social Radar Sentiment Index tracks brand mentions and evaluates consumer sentiment based on positive or negative comments on more than 20 million web sites and social media pages.

Apple topped the list based on conversation volume of more than 920,000 mentions in September.  Microsoft placed second with about 40 percent fewer mentions, but beat its rival in the perception category with approximately 79 percent positive conversations compared to Apple’s 75 percent.

The only true video game brand to make the list was Nintendo, which placed in the top 10 with more than 300,000 mentions and 84 percent positive conversations.  Sony was also in the top 10 and nearly neck to neck with Nintendo in volume, of which 86 percent was measured as positive.  Disney edged out both at fourth in volume and 87 percent positive mentions.

In the retail category, Walmart, Target and Best Buy were spread out across the top 50.  Walmart topped the category in volume with about 140,000 mentions but got the lowest percentage of positive conversations with 59 percent.  Target was second in volume with about 107,000 but tops in positive conversation with 83 percent, while Best Buy had nearly 44,000 mentions of which 72 percent were positive.  Netflix also made the list with more than 45,000 mentions and a 76 percent positive rating.

You can access the full list along with charts breaking down the top brands at Ad Age {link no longer active}.

Reality In Isometric Perspective

A photography technique that makes real environments and people look like scenes out of a diorama has found its way into TV spots.  Tilt-shift photography originated in print ads, including a perfect application of it in a Toys ‘R’ Us print campaign called Everything’s Toys where real cityscapes were depicted as miniature toys.  The technique is now being used for TV spots, such as the one for National Australia Bank highlighted by AdFreak.

For the gamer set, the visual result of tilt-shift photography video might be most notable for how much it makes reality look like an isometric video game.

Watch it at AdFreak.

‘Splinter Cell: Conviction’ Release Date Trailer

Ubisoft released this video trailer at Tokyo Game Show to announce the release date for the long-anticipated sequel, Splinter Cell: Conviction.   How do you communicate the amped-up combat in store for Sam Fisher?   Repetition; the trailer’s pacing comes from punches and gunshots.  Fans of the stealthier game play that highlighted the early entries in the series take note: the most prominent shadows in the video are the ones cast by muzzle flashes and explosions.

The minute-long trailer just might be one of the game’s TV spot candidates in the way it’s structured, complete with Microsoft’s official 360 tag at the end.  It also advertises an exclusive in-game shotgun available to those who pre-order the game at Gamestop.  The game is due out February 23 of next year.

Watch it at IGN.

Killer Ad Spend Planned For ‘Left 4 Dead 2’

Valve is planning to spend $25 million dollars on advertising for next month s launch of Left 4 Dead 2.   As reported by Gamasutra, the ad spend is significantly more than the $10 million Valve and EA spent on last year’s franchise debut, Left 4 Dead.   That title has sold more than three million units worldwide.  Valve says the sequel’s ad buys will include high profile TV such as NFL Monday Night Football and UFC programs.

Read more at Gamasutra {link no longer active}.

‘Brutal Legend’ TV Ad

EA’s 30-second television spot for Tim Schafer’s Brutal Legend seems to cover the basics.  Introduce cool new hero, check.  Show awesome vehicles and weapons, check.  Mention Jack Black, check.  Rockin’ premise, Shafer-ific characters, hot babes, check, check, check.  The more than 100 classic heavy metal songs licensed for the game…sound check, I’m not getting anything.

Watch it at YouTube.

Exclusive: ‘Online, Viral, Acquisition, Community’

Moderator Scott Steinberg, publisher of, gathers a panel of experts to discuss the power of social media in this session filmed at the 2009 [a]list summit.  Participants include Min Kim, VP of marketing at Nexon America, Keith Lee, CEO of Booyah, Paul Caparotta, media manager at Namco Bandai, and Caryl Shaw, senior producer on Spore for EA and Maxis.

Watch it at the [a]list summit channel.

Product Blogs And Celebrity Plugs Target Of FTC Changes

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has revised the FTC Act governing deceptive practices in commerce to include product testimonials and endorsements by individuals.  In a press release distributed by the FTC, the organization outlined changes in the FTC Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising that affect blogs, celebrity endorsements and other types of online product testimonials.  The changes require that anyone participating in what the FTC explicitly labeled word of mouth marketing disclose material relationships with the companies and products they endorse.  The changes also removed a previous safe harbor where the disclaimer results not typical was considered disclosure.

The news has its fair share of coverage, with plenty of questions about breadth of the rules and how they’re going to be enforced.  It seems any hazy areas would have to be addressed quickly as FTC has moved fast.  While it announced that it would be looking at changes to the act in June of this year, the changes were made public yesterday and take effect December 1, 2009.  That doesn’t give a whole lot time for product endorsers to consider where they fall and what they need to do.  It also takes away any chance of one last Holiday cheer for those used to getting sacks of free bounty this time of year.  The fine for violating the rules is $11,000, according to Washington Post.  A penalty that size could ruin anyone’s Christmas.

The FTC changes are the first of its kind in nearly 30 years, dating back to when word of mouth was something that only fell on ears and Tupperware parties were the height of buzz marketing.  As reported throughout the media, the organization considered the changes after several high profile cases highlighting irregularities came to light, including cases where video game review blogs received free video game consoles.  One example the FTC is providing to reflect rule changes in-fact refers to game reviews, citing how a college student running a game review blog and receiving free copies would now have to disclose that in reviews.

Not surprisingly the blogosphere is buzzing.  One blogger, Ron Hogan of Media Bistro’s book blog Galley Cat, took the time to draw up a letter to the FTC outlining gray areas.  His focus is on his own realm, seeking to understand how the changes might affect bloggers associated with a media organization.  The FTC states that the changes affect individuals more than journalists working at media organizations.  Hogan wonders whether in these cases the FTC would hold the individual or his media organization liable, and even how easily a blogger could establish themselves as a media corporation to get around the rules.  Another blogger, Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine, makes poignant observations about the changes as well.  His stance is one that most bloggers who talked to the media seem to share, that some good will come out of this in ridding the web of some of the more insidious blogging practices.  Jarvis thinks the rule changes are perhaps aiming at curtailing services such as Pay Per Post that pair writers with advertisers.  Yet even there he says the FTC missed the mark, treating product-infused blogs as if the reviews mattered to the advertisers.  Brands seed blogs to spam search engines, not consumers, and that requires more regulation for Google than bloggers.

The grayest of the gray areas might be in what the FTC considers full disclosure.  In removing the results not typical safe harbor, they now require that product testimonials fully state what are considered typical results.  This may work for a diet ad, where the endorser lost 50 pounds but the average person can expect to lose five.  How that applies to subjective product evaluation think a game review is a mystery.  Celebrity endorsements is another shady area, where one blogger asks how the FTC might crack down on those who promote fashion lines by wearing the free clothing and accessories they re provided in public venues such as a red carpet event.

In one of the more interesting late reports on the news, CNET posted a story quoting an FTC official specifying how the rule changes will extend to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  Speaking to CNET’s Caroline McCarthy, associate director of FTC’s advertising division, Richard Cleland, says the organization will consider product placements and testimonials on these sites as endorsements that would fall under the new guidelines.  As an example, he centers on product plugs on celebrities social networking pages.  That prompts McCarthy to quote Brandchannel’s Peter Feld, who predicts a celebrity fined by the FTC to become the first scandal under the new rules.

For its part, the FTC is making statements to soothe some of the panic.  Even with the rule changes looming in less than two months, the organization is saying that its initial focus is going to be on education about the new guidelines, essentially helping the myriad bloggers and product endorsers on the web understand what they need to do to comply.  They acknowledge the difficulty in policing hundreds of thousands of blogs.  They also take some pressure off anyone who might be sweating out the $11,000 fine when they sit down to write a product review on December 2.  The FTC is positioning the new rules as necessary additions to advertising guidelines that historically have been self-policed while giving the government agency leverage to pursue major violators.

You can access previous coverage and various blogs commenting on the news through McCarthy s piece at CNET.

The FTC press release and the full text of the Federal Register Notice, all 81 pages of it, are available at

Find A Beautiful Italian Online

Ducati is charging into viral marketing in a change of strategy in how it traditionally reaches out to customers, reports MediaPost.  The Italian maker of performance motorbikes is launching a campaign designed to entice people to find their perfect Ducati, then give them incentive to share the results through their social networking pages in places such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In.

The campaign, complete with a charming tagline It’s easy to fall in love with a beautiful Italian, is being run through social media marketer Peer2.  Participants take a survey at that pairs them with their ideal Ducati bike.  They are then given incentive to share the results and place a link to the survey in their social networks by rewarding them with points redeemable at Amazon for every click they get from friends.

According to Ducati’s U.S. sales and marketing director Jason Chinnock, the campaign is a move away from the company s traditional segment-oriented print advertising towards social media campaigns meant to promote Ducati as a lifestyle brand.  Chinnock admits Ducati is spending the same amount in digital media as they have in print, only changing their strategy to target a broader set of people who might be interested in their products.

Peer2, or Peer Squared , recently launched its social media marketing service.  Co-founder Joey Caroni told MediaPost that the site currently has about 2,000 members.  Their web site promises a better approach to advertising through social media than traditional display ads, which many marketers agree are not effective on social networking sites.  As in Ducati’s campaign, Peer2 pairs advertisers with social media users willing to promote products through their profile pages.  By the sounds of it Peer2 should familiarize itself with recent changes to FTC rules governing product placement in social media, as reported in today s [a]list daily.

Read more at Media Post {link no longer active}.