Madden's Back

The release of the newest episode in gaming's popular franchise is accompanied with a huge brand campaign, including support from Visa, Pepsi, Snickers and others

We recently covered All-Pro Football 2K8's "Football Resurrected" ad campaign in AdWatch, marking the return of the "challenger franchise." While 2K Sports has had its football franchise lapse without the NFL license the last couple years, Madden has grown larger and larger. Now, the release of Madden is like the release of a blockbuster summer movie.

How that comparison is made relates to how ubiquitous the Madden brand has become. More than just at game stores across the land, Madden will be promoted on Pepsi caps, vending machines and more. It's obvious that with the next-gen consoles just hitting full stride EA is hoping that this will help lead to Madden's biggest year ever.

We chatted with Chris Erb, Marketing Director at EA, about what goes into a blockbuster, yet annual, game release.

I came down with Maddenitis...

Madden NFL is one of those game franchises that has truly reached critical mass, "evergreen" if you will. Often referred to by one name, Madden, most people perk up at the word and immediately understand what that means. This sort of special recognition by people in the industry and out makes the brand fairly unique in the realm of games.

"When you deal with a brand like Madden, it has its own challenges since it appeals to such a large segment of the population, both gamers and non-gamers," said Erb. "So one of the things we try to do is work with the core guys and the guys in communities and reach outside the base. It's like with what the DS and Wii have done to grow the market out... we want to go the same way. One of my goals is for consumers to see Madden in unexpected places. It's expected to see it on TV or in game stores, but we're trying to get it placed in different locations. The awareness is [high] but we need to bring energy to the launch date every year."

"My job every year is to educate people as to when and where [Madden] is coming out. We treat the release very theatrically, like a movie release. We're trying to hammer home August 14, and here's what's new in the game."

Speaking of the release date, last year it was officially dubbed "Maddenoliday," which was a major part of the advertising campaign. The term stuck, however, and is still used to describe the day that the most popular game for the most popular sport in the U.S. launches. When asked how it became such an event among gamers, Erb responded, "It really officially started last year, but one of the things we look at in marketing is that we try to build upon 'truths.' We noticed a lot of users treat the Madden release as a holiday, taking days off or calling in sick. When 6,000 stores open at midnight for a release, you know it's an event. It's been happening for a while; we just made it official. It's dedicated to our fans, saying to them that if we weren't here working on the games, we'd be standing next to you to pick it up, and this year, we're anticipating more stores than ever will be open for the midnight launch."

Corner advertisements on vending machines are "snipes"

Madden NFL 08's release mirrors that of a big summer blockbuster not only in how the release date itself is turned into a huge event, but also in its promotion across brands. On board for the Madden campaign are huge consumer brands such as Pepsi, Visa and Snickers. Each will contribute in their own way, ultimately giving Madden a higher level of visibility and raising its profile in the public consciousness.

"Pepsi is the one I'm most excited about," confessed Erb. "It will be an under-the-cap promotion dubbed 'Call Your Play.' There's going to be a code under [700 million 20-oz and 1-liter bottles and 40 million 12 and 24 packs] from Pepsi, and what [consumers] are going to do is take that code online for one of four different plays. For example, there's a fourth and two for a hat or a 'Hail Mary' for getting a car.

A brief clip of Madden plays, showing the result, and if the touchdown is scored in the video, you get the prize. You'll see it across all the various Pepsi brands starting September 1, coinciding with the beginning of the football season. There's a teaser screen at right now."

"By partnering with the number one sports video game and the NFL, we were able to create an innovative interactive promotion that will give fans a unique experience every time they play," added Nicole Bradley of Pepsi-Cola North America. "This is the first time we've featured a video game and sports property promotion on packaging for multiple Pepsi brands."

"We've got a really cool program with Visa that's exclusive to GameStop," he continued. "If you pre-order your copy of Madden with Visa, you're entered to win a trip to the Super Bowl. If you make the full purchase of the game with your Visa, you get another chance to win. If someone pre-orders with cash, they can still enter the second contest, since they're giving away two trips for the Super Bowl.

"For Snickers, we've got a simple vending promotion. We're going to have 'call-outs' on ten thousand vending machines across the country. It will be a triangular 'snipe' in the corner," he finished.

Madden, Madden everywhere

There are, of course, all the traditional sorts of advertisements you'd expect for Madden this year as well. EA has prepared any number of spots on print, TV and online. The TV spots in particular have focused on the fans and the celebration of Madden's release, and only secondarily on the game itself.

"We're really heavily focused on TV and online this year," detailed Erb. "We're doing some print in USA Today, but the majority is on TV and online. The TV campaign is highlighted by a 'takeover' on WWE Smackdown with content wrap. We're going to have a 90-second trailer taking over one commercial break, with three ten-second trailers promoting it. That's content that's exclusive to Smackdown as well because that's a really relevant audience for us. You'll also see us on Adult Swim, BET and all over ESPN. It'll run a few weeks after launch and for the first few weeks of the NFL season. For our online creative, we're going to start off with gaming websites and then go straight after sports fans."

"Beckett, which does card price guides, did a full magazine dedicated to Madden this year. We also have some original programming devoted to it, including a special Game Head show Monday night on MTV counting down to Madden's release. There's also going to be Money Plays on Madden 08, which will let players get tips and hints on the game. Another Madden Nation is also possible, though there's nothing to announce right now."

Madden's release each year is as inevitable as the millions of copies it will sell (Erb did confirm Madden games through 2010) Ultimately, though, this sort of campaign conveys how far games have come in the realm of commercialized media that the release of one is a genuinely big deal among the general population. We'd imagine that Madden, and other big games, will continue to have these large advertising campaigns and that the scope will be ever increasing.

"It is very much very designed and built up like a theatrical release. It's like you said, we try to be everywhere," agreed Erb. "You can't have one message for everyone; you have to be everywhere. Some people are online, some are single-player console players, and others are on fantasy football. It really necessitates multiple messages."

"Most of the games that have this large a release come out every few years, like Halo or GTA. We do this every year. We ask 'How do we top ourselves and take it to the next level?' When E3 rolls around, no one talks about Madden. Everyone wants that new shiny thing and they focus on that then, but they know that Madden will be a quality product. People kind of don't think twice about it. With all the talk of other games, at the end of the year, EA and Madden are still at the top," he concluded.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.