INTERVIEW: How Ubisoft makes its Mark on the masses

In his first interview as Ubisoft’s new head of UK marketing, Mark Slaughter tells MCV how the publishing giant uses more than big budgets to reach millions of consumers with its flagship franchises.

What are your plans for Ubisoft’s marketing strategy going forwards? What changes will you bring?

In the UK specifically, it is key for us to be as close as we can to our audience to understand them and reach them in the most effective ways. This is the mantra ourteams here in the marketing department adhere to.

The UK team is part of a huge marketing effort that spans across the globe with the studios, our central EMEA team at our Paris HQ, the first parties and indeed our US cousins – all are involved in planning. Teamwork is critical.

It is also important to ensure we remain ahead of the curve in terms of the ever-changing media landscape and consumer behaviour. It helps that we have a strong, experienced marketing teamhere at Ubisoft UK and a fantastic line-up to work with.

Ubisoft told MCV it is splashing 4m on Assassin’s Creed III – the most it has ever spent. Do publishers need to spend this much to ensure success?

The size of a campaign will not guarantee the success of a product: it is a combination of factors.

Fundamentally the game quality has to be there. The sales team is critical in delivering the sell-in and distribution alongside the trade marketing support, and of course PR plays a massive part in delivering the buzz, anticipation and platform to launch from.

So it is truly a team effort and not just about the money we spend above the line.

The belief is there for Assassins Creed III; it is truly the culmination of three years’ hard work from an awesome studio in Montreal, and we want to show a step change in an already successful franchise.

Which franchises receive the bulk of your marketing investment?

We are lucky at Ubisoft to have a strong and diverse portfolio of products and franchises. Of course, Assassin’s Creed gets top billing but we also strongly support our other major brands like JustDance, the Tom Clancy titles,Far Cry and Rayman.

We always will look at our portfolio of games and see where opportunities exist; you may remember a few years ago the intensive support we put behind the DS brand Imagine. At the time, we capitalised on the growing DS user base and a new demographic with significant support on these very casual titles.

How do you raise awareness of your lower-budget titles?

There is always a place for tactical support. It’s not all about spending the big bucks, it is about thinking in a smart and targeted way.

Which channels (e.g. TV, print, online) do you find the most valuable, both in terms of cost-effectiveness and reach?

Gone are the days of solely looking at marketing support in terms of traditional ad channels. You need to look at the mix across earned, owned and paid media and what they deliver for you in terms of reach, saliency and frequency.

The lines between these areas are now more blurred than ever. A strong online campaign via earned media, a piece of YouTube content created by a fan or partner might deliver far more effective reach than an in-house produced trailer or a TV spot.

Every product is different and requires its own approach. We spend a lot of time looking atthe audience and what makes them tick.

We ask ourselves who we are aiming communications at and what role we want them to play. Is it that of advocate or follower? In both cases, what do we then want that consumer to think or do after seeing or engaging with our communications?

How can the use of social media help add momentum to a marketing campaign?

Social media plays a critical role in our campaigns today.

The gaming industry has always had social media at its heart: gaming forums existed waybefore the advent of social media in other industries. We actually have product consumers whowant to really talk about games and share their opinions,ideas and experiences. It’s a powerful medium.

This year on Assassin’s, we used the power of Twitter and Facebook, as well as our forums and other channels, to drive awareness of key moments in our campaign. The announcement of Assassin’s Creed III and the release of the first gameplay video were good examples of this.

Which campaign of recent years are you most proud of?

If I had to choose just one, itwould probably be the first Just Dance campaign. We took a quirky new IP to a mass audience and watched it fly, creating a whole new genre on the Wii in the process. We took a gamble on that product, investing strongly in the launch and the sales speak for themselves. Week one, we were sitting at 3,000 units – then after the TV campaign kicked in with an X Factor spot the following week, we had orders for 150,000. Tremendous

What other companies – both in and out of the games industry – do you draw inspiration from when creating stand-out campaigns?

My background is fast-moving consumer goods, so I do have a particular perspective as a resultof that and I do draw inspiration from the world of marketing outside of gaming.I love what brands like Paddy Power do; what it did around the Olympics was clever and cheeky.I also am inspired by the big hitters like Nike. Its ‘take it to

the next level’ campaign from a few years ago, with the ad Guy Ritchie directed, really stood out for me. It had impact and insight – a great campaign with great creative.

Within gaming, last year’s campaign for Skyrim really impressed me. It was carefully orchestrated and immaculately implemented, taking what in essence was a core RPG game and making it relatable and appealing to a mass audience with over 1.5m sales as a result.

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