PR Team: Codemasters USA (New York) and Bender/Helper Impact (Los Angeles) Campaign: American Idol video game Time Frame: April 2003-Jan. 2004 Budget: $250,000American Idol is among the most successful TV shows in recent years, but that doesn't mean everything linked to it is a certain hit (hence Justin Guarini's album sales). So when Codemasters USA introduced a video game based on the show during a time that the program was not airing, it turned to Bender/Helper Impact (BHI) to generate buzz about the brand and get coverage from media that traditionally shies away from writing about interactive entertainment. Strategy Codemasters knew that launching the American Idol game in November was a risk, but felt it had to take advantage of the holiday gift-giving period. "Our biggest challenge was maintaining the excitement of the brand while the show was not on the air," says Steven Lux, marketing director for Codemasters. Codemasters and BHI also went into the campaign realizing this was not a title that would appeal to hard-core gamers, so they decided not to target traditional video-game magazines. But Dana Henry, VP at BHI, notes, "The good thing was there were a lot of different outlets we could go to with a game like American Idol. We knew the demographics for the game would be similar to that of the show, so we felt it was important to go to the teen magazines, as well as the women's titles." Henry says Codemasters also faced the challenge of publicizing the game with little help from the stars of the TV show. Tactics Henry and Codemasters kicked off the campaign at the Electronics Entertainment Expo video game convention in May, where appearances by the TV show's judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul ensured not only interest from trade and business reporters, but also TV coverage from Access Hollywood and local LA stations. That was followed by a full-fledged media tour in July to reach the long-lead tween, teen, women's, and general-interest lifestyle outlets. "We had a press kit, but a lot of our focus was on getting in front of the editors at the websites and magazines we wanted to reach," Henry says. "Most of those outlets don't have dedicated gaming pages, but this way we could demo the product and make people realize how fun the experience could be." Lux adds that the PR effort's message ended up mirroring the ad campaign tagline of "Play for the title of American Idol." "We did things that were a little bit more fun with our campaign than maybe you would with a standard video game," he says. "A lot of the editors found it refreshing that there was a video game out there that wasn't focused on stealing a car, shooting somebody, or anything of that ilk." The campaign continued through the fall with media outreach to newspapers, then culminated with Abdul's participation in a one-day satellite media tour as well as a phone interview with People magazine. Results The initiative has generated more than 100 million broadcast media impressions and more than 50 million print media impressions. Abdul's SMT was picked up by more than 30 Fox affiliates, including major markets such as Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, and Denver. Other television coverage included national pieces on CNN Headline News, Inside Edition, Tech TV, TV Guide Channel, and E! Entertainment. Print hits included People, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, Girl's Life, Bop, and top-tier daily newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. More importantly, the game was a solid seller during the holidays. Future Codemasters plans to relaunch its PR campaign in mid-January to coincide with the show's third season. "We're expecting strong media interest as well as sales all the way through the American Idol season," says Lux.
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