If you're at Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, the question is often "How do I attract young male viewers?" and the answer is almost always "video games." The net is also finding that the reverse applies, and that some of the best people to help bring the two entities together are – sure enough – young people who play video games.
"I think we've been doing more and more with them over the years," says ad sales boss John O'Hara. "The last couple of upfronts it's been one of the biggest categories for us." The net's Brand Activation and Media Partnerships team (the acronym sounds like it needs an exclamation point after it – BAMP!) has been working with developers on some unique campaigns, many involving talent from the net. "If you're going to call on that category, you really have to be a gamer," O'Hara opines. One spot features stylized versions of stunts from Ubisoft's latest "Assassin's Creed" game reworked in a sketchy style; the net created animation in the style of a digital comicbook for EA's "Battlefield 3' and worked on the company's new "Need for Speed" racing game, too.
The matchup between client and network works well enough that EA brought on Adult Swim for next high-profile launch, "Star Wars: The Old Republic." The game reps the biggest single-title investment in company history for a game, CFO Eric Brown told a finance industry aud at Monday's UBS Media and Communications conference, and Adult Swim will be programming Star Wars-related shows around the launch date, among other initiatives. "We have a pretty high batting average," says ad sales boss John O'Hara. "Very rarely do we have to create multiple campaigns for a client."
Boutique ad campaigns aren't a new idea (Lauren Zalaznick at NBCUniversal has about half of a division working to create bespoke marketing ideas for the conglom's clients), but with an entertainment product advertising on an entertainment network, the partnership is running the other way, too. For the first time, Adult Swim is working with in-game virtual property to promote their own content.
THQ's new "Saints Row The Third" has a radio station deejayed by "Delocated" star/creator Jon Glaser as his character from the show. It's a pretty complicated joke: Glaser's character, "Jon," is in the witness protection program and is also on a reality show (that's the "Delocated" elevator pitch), so it seems like the kind of incongruous gig the character would pick up. Glaser clearly liked the idea ("those don't happen all the time," O'Hara cautions) that he wrote his own lines; there's a fairly lengthy riff about "Jon" finding a third nipple behind his knee and similarly off-kilter gags. The net's Tim and Eric (of "Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!") also make an appearance on the Adult Swim station.
In-game advertising is a touchy subject with gamers, but it's clearly the way of the future; loading screens on "Deus Ex" preached the "Star Wars" Blu-Ray release to bored gamers just this fall, and no less a personage than president Obama bought ad space EA's ad-tastic "Madden" series before the 08 elections. There's probably room for The Monarch in there somewhere.