New Marketing Conference Ditches Rulebook

Game marketers are going to have to change their practices to get through to the most cynical demographic ever

Jim Chabin, CEO for non-profit marketing association Promax/BDA, intends to bring his expertise and passion for marketing to the games industry by spearheading the upcoming MI6 Conference and Senet game marketing awards, which are intended to educate, evangelize and recognize marketing achievements. His efforts are heavily supported by Bill Nielsen, Microsoft's director of Xbox U.S. Subsidiary, and G4 TV COO Dale Hopkins.

Chabin served as president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the association responsible for the Emmy Awards, from 1992 to 1999. Here, he reveals exactly how the MI6 came about, the need for the conference and awards and why things are only going to get tougher for game marketers.

Marketing to the most cynical group

"One thing that is significant, that has happened in some years, is that the millennial generation, the kids born around the year 2000, according our statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, is that they're the biggest generation since the baby boomers. They're now 12 to 24 years of age, but within five years, they'll make up 50 percent of the adults 18-49 in the United States. It's a powerful new group that right now are embracing the Xbox brand and wondering when the PlayStation 3 is coming out, and in five to eight years, they'll be buying homes and installing the kinds of systems they want to use themselves or that their kids are going to be using. So, for the first time since the baby boomers, you've got a huge demographic moving into the consumer space that will start purchasing and making decisions.

"There are two characteristics of this group that are really interesting. First, they are the least open to messaging. They are the most skeptical and cynical group, according to studies, of any consumer group to come along. So when we talk about how tough it is to market something to a young constituency we have now, just wait. This new generation is so edgy, and they're going to be the parents and the home buyers and the electronics buyers of their households for the next 20 years, and the companies that do not understand how these guys move on a moment-to-moment basis are going to be out of business.

"The theme for the conference is 'Xtreme Performance.' You're going to have to be an extreme performer every day. There were times in our business when you launched something, it was successful, everybody gave you a round of applause, and it was the equivalent of somebody saying, 'Hey, you hit a homerun in the third inning. Congratulations, man, that really won the game.' Now, it's as if the management is coming in and saying, 'You know that homerun you hit in the third inning? I need that in every inning.' And you're going, 'Wait a minute, it was pretty amazing that I hit a homerun in the third inning, and you want me to hit a homerun in every inning?'

"That's kind of the MO of what this marketplace is coming to. Hang onto your hats, because this is going to be unlike any group of consumers since World War II. And they have the attention of a nanosecond, they multitask constantly, they have zero loyalty. Guess what? From a marketer's standpoint, we've got to be better, smarter, and think things through more than we ever have before. The same old rules don't apply. They just don't work anymore."

On the origins of MI6

"We gathered up at Bill's [Nielsen] office, where the thought was that there isn't a similar kind of gathering for the interactive marketers. Although there are terrific seminars and forums where people come and discuss specific topics, there really wasn't an annual event that was fundamentally run by peers from a non-profit standpoint that recognized the leaders of the business for their work during the year with some sort of an award.

"Out of that came some discussions within the industry, then e-mails started floating around and phone calls were coming in saying this was a good idea, and that our industry was ready for this. We just thought, why don't we get something organized?

"We'll do maybe 15 or 20 sessions in the first year of MI6, and you will be able to go into a workshop, if you're a junior person, and learn anything from how to do guerrilla marketing or viral marketing, and see 35 or 40 ideas in one hour on the big screen. In the next room you may have Dr. Chris Stevens, for instance, who we're flying in from Sydney, Australia. His expertise is the psychological crash that a team goes through when they're given an assignment, and how to maximize the effectiveness of a creative team when they're working on a project and how to get around creative blocks and challenges.

"To compare this to the typical marketing conferences that we've seen which bring in really senior marketing people who discuss the key issues facing them, we'll have that. You've got a variety of hands-on workshops, but at the same time, at MI6, you've got a place where senior management can get a hold of customized research that almost always has one or two surprises in it that raises eyebrows around the room.

"Whether you have two years in the business or 20 years in the business, you're really walking out saying 'I saw three speakers who were truly terrific.' I think some of the other conferences are structured so that you hit the main points, you get through discussions, you get some really good feedback from some key people and leaders, but I'm not so sure that you get the width and the depth that we're attempting to achieve in San Francisco."

On the need for recognition

"It's something that Bill and I were musing with when we were in his office. The people that create the games or any sort of content are the ones who are recognized. Yet, the guys that move $50 million worth of product in the course of a week may not get an opportunity to be judged by their peers.

"Our awards process is a software program with online judging with real-time viewing of the creative entries. People throughout the industry who are all across the country are solicited as judges. They score the work that they see on a point system, which is fed into a central computer system here in Los Angeles. I was president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which awards the Emmys, and we use a very, very similar system for the Senet Awards in that the votes that are taken are from peers who are judging for a category that they have an expertise in. That the person that is called to the stage to receive their award knows that a whole bunch of people looked at a whole bunch of work, and in that particular category, according to their competitors and their colleagues and their creative peers, their work was judged to be the best of the year.

"When you hand someone something that is really the achievement of record for that year, that's voted by their peers of the industry in a very, very strict voting process, it has value that cannot be beat. These people realize, 'You mean my colleagues, friends and competitors -- the guys who are trying to kick my brains in -- really believe that this is great?'

"The R.S. Owens Company, who make the Oscars, Emmys, MTV awards as well as the Promax awards, have now been working for about five months on creating a new statuette for MI6's Senet awards. Bill and Dale [Hopkins] have called in the best players in the business. We want something here that's going to stand on its own and we want people to say 'Wow. That's the way it ought to be done.' Everyone involved has passion for this space, and have jumped to the chance to add their companies' and their organizations' creative efforts toward MI6.

"The awards will bring a sense of community and a sense that there is a place for these people to go where their language is spoken, where there are people that can share their experience, where people check their professional credentials at the door and come to share and explore and applaud other work. It will help game marketers get a world view once a year. Once they walk out the door, they'll say, 'Okay, I really have seen and heard from the best in the business, and I'm ready to tackle the fall push and the holiday shopping season.'

"It'll be a lot of fun, but we're going to be working your tail off, because by the end of this conference, your brain's going to hurt from the amount of stuff you've been exposed to."

The birth of something big

"We've had two contacts from PlayStation, one a very very senior person whose secretary said who would very much like to get involved. Activision just had a meeting concerning this conference as well. I think that we're at the birth of something, and only time will tell whether we're all crazy or that we've come to a group of peers at the right time with the right opportunity. I can't tell you another project that we've really been more excited about."

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