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HIVE EXCLUSIVE: Xbox Marks the Spot for Microsoft Marketing

26 Oct, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi

With Microsoft's Xbox launch scheduled for Nov. 15, the next-generation gaming system's targeted “passion player” gamers, aged 16 to 26, are about to be bombarded with marketing as part of Microsoft's $500 million commitment to the console market.

The campaign launched at E3 in Los Angeles in May will continue for another year as Microsoft first targets the core gamers and then aims for the mass market next fall.

“We'll have an Xbox presence wherever gamers are, whether it's through TV or print advertising, at retail locations, through street-level marketing or in conjunction with partnerships like Taco Bell and SoBe,” says John O'Rourke, director of Xbox sales and marketing, Microsoft. “We want to get this year's first wave of 1 million to 1.5 million Xboxes into the hands of gamers who devote 20-plus hours a week to video games.”

Microsoft began its Xbox TV advertising campaign late this month with a series of Xbox brand spots touting the intensity of the Xbox gaming experience. After a few weeks' run, the campaign will shift to game ads for a handful of Xbox first-party and exclusive third-party games.

“Our game ads feel like movie trailers,” O'Rourke says. “We're focusing on the graphics and gameplay of our titles to give consumers a feel for what the gameplay feels like on Xbox.”

Microsoft will launch TV spots for Halo, its 3D, sci-fi action game, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, a unique 3D platform game, and NFL Fever 2002, which will be comprised of 25 to 27 seconds of game footage and wrap with an Xbox brand message. Microsoft also partnered with Tecmo on a TV spot for the Xbox-exclusive fighting game, Dead or Alive 3. The spots will run through this holiday season and throughout next year. O'Rourke says the TV spots will be updated next year as new games are released. Electronic Arts is also expected to support its Xbox titles with TV marketing.

“We're in this for the long-term,” O'Rourke says. “The games may change and there will be new creative, but the message will remain the same: Xbox delivers the most intense video game experiences and the most graphically rich video game worlds.”

Xbox will also receive TV coverage through Taco Bell's $20 million to $30 million promotional campaign, which will include TV spots. Taco Bell retail locations will cross-promote the Xbox launch with its 35 million weekly consumers through contests, standees, collectible cups, counter mats and signs through December. More than 6,700 locations in the United States and Puerto Rico will give away an Xbox system, a game controller and a video game to a consumer. “Xbox appeals to Taco Bell consumers, who are also avid gamers,” said Debbie Myers, Taco Bell v.p. of media services, entertainment and licensing.

Xbox has also partner in SoBe Beverages and will continue to cross-promote Xbox with that company.

All Xbox games will receive print marketing support in gaming publications and some titles will receive more mainstream and niche marketing support.

Trial will be a major part of Microsoft's marketing. The company launches the Xbox Oddysee truck tour Nov. 1 in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles and Phoenix. The tour, which will go on indefinitely, will hit approximately 44 cities a year. Two 18-wheel trucks will form the basis of the 3,500-square-foot gaming area. An inflatable dome will cover the area, which will include a DJ booth, chairs, couches and 50 Xbox game stations. Each stop will last about three days and revolve around weekends, giving retailers and the media a chance to check out Xbox. The Oddysee will then open to the public through radio promotions and tie-ins with sporting events, concerts and other events.

Video game retailers are beginning to display Xbox interactives across the country. Microsoft will have 10,000 kiosks in stores by the time the system launches. O'Rourke says the kiosks will play discs that feature playable game levels and video of titles. Microsoft will update the discs regularly to promote newer games after launch.

“Research shows people are much more likely to buy a game after playing it, so we want to get Xbox in the hands of as many people as possible,” he says.

Microsoft has also been working closely with retailers to educate sales personnel on the Xbox and its games.

The top 20 markets in the United States will have a “tremendous green Xbox presence” through street level marketing this holiday, explained O'Rourke.

Traditionally, video game hardware launches are accompanied by building and billboard advertising, as well as banners in malls and on buses. O'Rourke wouldn't go into details on Microsoft's plans.Microsoft is also looking into the use of cinema advertising for Xbox, but has yet to make a commitment to it. Cinema ads figured into the launches of Sony's PlayStation 2 and will be part of Nintendo's upcoming GameCube launches.

After Microsoft ships its first batch of Xboxes this year, the company will work closely with rental channels, including Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video, to generate trial with a more mass-market audience.

After delaying the launch a week and halving its day one estimates from 600,000 to 800,000 Xbox units to approximately 300,000 units, Microsoft is on track to deliver 100,000 Xboxes a week to retailers throughout the end of the year. The system will launch with approximately 20 games and will have over 30 games available by Christmas.

“Nintendo's GameCube is a great kids' toy if you want less-intense games for 8- to 12-year-olds, but Xbox is the most powerful gaming system on the market and is the only system that ships with both a hard drive and an Ethernet card for broadband gaming. PlayStation 2 requires you to purchase those separately."

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