We three kings

Holly and Fearne have been a great face for your Imagine range. How long have you got them for – and how long do you want them?
Mark Slaughter: We don’t want to just cut and paste celebrities whenever it comes to promoting our titles. Nintendo has resisted that very well and use their celebs very cleverly.
We really researched that strongly via speaking to girls. We discovered information about young girls’ role models. The last thing we wanted to do is use celebs that don’t engage with the audience, and that all comes down to them having the right attributes.

Jon Rosenblatt:
The girls who buy our Imagine titles look to Fearne and Holly for inspiration. They look at what they’re wearing, they look at what bracelets they’ve got on – whether they can buy it at Next or New Look or whatever. It’s no different from the EA Sports strategy of getting Wayne Rooney in. It makes the brand famous. And that’s our number one objective with Imagine. There’s got to be a connection. Jamie Oliver and Sainsbury’s have a connection; or Kate Moss and her fashion in Topshop.

If we just went out and got Paris Hilton, it would be a complete disaster. We’ve got Holly and Fearne into 2009, and we’ll look into whether we want them for longer at the right time.

What can we expect from your Imagine games’ marketing campaign this Christmas?
MS: Well, a lot of Fearne and Holly for a start! We’re putting a lot of backing into Imagine: Dream Weddings, which we think is a perfect fit for the audience. We’ve got Holly and Fearne very much involved in that, living out their own dream weddings. We’ve lined up a big spend for that and our back catalogue. This is a space – DS for girls – that we really want to own. It’s been and is going to be a 2 million spend this year up to Christmas on Imagine.

There’s also an extensive three-month shopping mall tour starting this weekend in Manchester and ending up in Lakeside in mid-December. The stand consists of 40 DS consoles, plenty of Holly and Fearne branding – and free goodies for young female consumers.

The Rayman Raving Rabbids are becoming a very well known entity. Are you thinking of bringing them to other media?
JR: I honestly think they can get huge. Just look at their YouTube success, it’s massive. They’re certainly crazy enough to be on TV: Mario and Pokemon are on TV. I know some of the Japanese licences were cartoons before games, but I genuinely believe that the Rabbids have a perfect crossover appeal for boys, girls and young adults. I’d like to see them on something like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network in a year or two.

MS: They’re going to have a TV appearance this Christmas anyway. We’re spending in excess of 1 million on a campaign that will takeover ad breaks on primetime shows.

We’ll aim to interrupt the viewer with three spots within the same break with a two x 10-second, followed by a 30-second finale. If you compare like-for-like with Rayman 2, we’re spending three times what we spent last year, as well as ensuring primetime spots on ITV1’s Saturday night.

Far Cry 2 is picking up special reviews. How much of a big event for the industry is its release?
James O’Reilly: Far Cry 2 really does advance the genre. The map editor is the closest thing consumers will find to a professional dev tool. It’s so palpably further ahead than anything else out there.

A guy said to me at a retailer event: It makes everything else look a bit 2007, doesn’t it?” I think that’s true. In terms of marketing, it’s huge. We’re spending over 1 million on TV, over 250,000 online, with cinema on top of that. We’re going for the second week of Quantum of Solace at the cinemas, which should really pay off.

JR: It has something I haven’t seen before. COD blew me away last year – it blew a lot of people away. But this takes first-person to another level. We’re kind of throwing the first punch this year in terms of FPS titles.

Activision, Microsoft, Sony and EA have theirs to come, but I think we’ve got first mover advantage. The way it’s reviewing now, this game will continue to be picked up for months to come.

Look at how COD 4 has succeeded over the last 11 months. I think we’ll follow that. You won’t see the typical week one, massive sales, week two, 40 per cent drop pattern. Word-of-mouth will spread like fire, and the TV support will ensure that is galvanised.

On the budget front, there seems to be a lot of millions flying around. What’s the complete figure for your Christmas spend?
JR: This is the biggest Christmas spend in Ubisoft UK history, and I very much think that reflects the best line-up of products in Ubisoft history. On TV alone, we’ve got a 5 million spend over the Christmas period.

What sort of scale of advertising do you think we will see from games companies this year?

MS: My background is in fast moving consumer goods. I’ve previously worked on chocolate, soft drinks – even health and beauty – and it was every bit as competitive. Share of voice is one thing, but you have to make sure you cut through. Spend-wise, from my background, the games industry is spending what I was used to in the chocolate industry – it’s an FMCG tactic, hitting the consumer regularly with messaging.

Your success on DS – even outselling Nintendo’s software – is quite something…
JR: It’s a massive milestone for us and the industry – a really big deal. We’ve always been highly successful in pushing our back catalogue and we’re also good at pushing promotions with the right price at the right time. On top of that, we have an excellent understanding of the DS consumer and therefore bring out relevant titles with the right licences.

Do you think the fact that you were one of the first publishers to back Wii and DS has worked in your favour on the Nintendo consoles?

JR: Ubisoft and Nintendo have always had a very strong relationship, but I don’t think it’s any stronger than our relationship with the other two platform holders. With My Word Coach last year, we were part of Dawn’s [Nintendo marketing boss Paine] Touch Generations campaign.

On Wii we have Shaun White Snowboarding and Rayman TV Party both of which are coming out this Christmas.

More importantly though, both games maximise the Wii Fit board so that you can snowboard like Shaun White and be totally whacky like the Rabbids by playing some of the games with your arse!

On DS I think we get the strategy more than others, and that came from the top down. We have exploited it brilliantly, and there are publishers out there that are mirroring our strategy, but maybe finding it more difficult to get into retail. We’re No.1 third party, and we’ll fight to remain there.

Can games like EndWar and its voice recognition system appeal to both core fans and less strategically addicted gamers out there?

JR: There are people who really enjoy an in-depth tactical action game, with Ghost Recon or the latest C&C. They want to be engrossed. EndWar straddles both the hardcore and the mainstream because of its accessibility. If you’ve got a voice and a finger on your left hand, you’ll immediately understand what it’s all about.

JO’R: All of our core products share at least some of that scalability. If you want to spend your days and nights gaming to an obsessive degree, you can. But if you look at EndWar, Prince Of Persia, Far Cry 2, even Shaun White – you can drop in for an hour and do that as well. We have to mak

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