Mark Slaughter and Rachel Grant explain how Ubisoft brings its girl-game brand to the masses
Following the first part of our look at Ubisoft's incredibly successful Imagine range of games for girls, in which Games For Everyone boss Mark Slaughter looked at the origins of the brand and how it's evolved, in the concluding part he's joined by kids' games brand manager Rachel Grant to explain how the titles are marketed.
Specifically they discuss the importance of pulling the diversity of the range together, and talk about how they're using key TV properties to promote interaction with their target audience.
Q: With all the noise around Nintendo platform releases towards the end of last year, did you notice a dip in Imagine sales, or did the marketing spend and retailer relationships get it through okay?
Mark Slaughter: I think it did at Christmas, but I think we face similar challenges again this year, because of the way the DS market is declining - and things change over the period of a year.
What we did last year was set out our stall quite early, we shared with retailers exactly what we were going to do and showed them our level of investment, and our plan. They got behind it, and the momentum then - from advertising through to retail support - really delivered strong sales in the last five or six weeks of the year.
I think we sold 300,000 units in the last four weeks of 2008, and I think that was the evolution of all of the different factors - strong selling, a strong retail team, strong backing and significant marketing spends with Fearne, Holly and the X-Factor.
And strong titles - we had eight or nine releases as well, so it all built to a critical mass. At a time when parents were buying presents for their kids, it was top of mind.
Q: When you say the DS market is in decline, what do you mean?
Mark Slaughter: I mean the DS market from last year to this year, in terms of software sales. Last year we were up, I can't remember the exact percentage.
Q: That's for everybody, overall?
Mark Slaughter: Yes, overall, for everybody... but there is a decline in the DS market in its entirety. So instead of that being a growing market, within Ubisoft we have to find out how much of that pie we can actually defend.
It's our objective this year to actually maintain market share.
Q: Many people will point to the economy as a prime reason for people spending less - is that also true for the Imagine range, do you think?
Mark Slaughter: Yes, it's a similar element. Pricing is very important, and where people may have been buying two or three games last year, this year they may only be buying one. The average purchasing is going down.
There is still a massive installed base, so the market is still there - but I think you've got to be clever about what part of that market you're taking. We're still forecasting big numbers this year for Imagine.
Q: We're coming up to another busy time for game sales, and much has been said about the logic of competing with the Modern Warfare's of this world - but do those games really affect Imagine range sales?
Mark Slaughter: No, I think the market's so diverse that there are completely different shoppers. The element is space in-store, that's really important, and that can be affected.
Rachel Grant: Obviously Christmas is a busy time, but for other titles it's not really a competitive product.
Q: Do you still see Christmas as a crucial sales period?
Mark Slaughter: The whole DS market is seasonality-driven. We see definite peaks at Easter, over the summer and then at Christmas.
Rachel Grant: It's when kids are spending their money, or off school - when the parents are trying to keep them entertained.
Mark Slaughter: We look at the data, and Christmas is less important year after year in terms of the spend splitting over the year... but it's still a phenomenally important time to get right.
Q: Do you look to weight releases towards Christmas then?
Mark Slaughter: Last year we released from August to November, and this year it's pretty much the same.
Rachel Grant: I don't think you'd necessarily put them all out at Christmas, but because it's a range and a gifting item, whenever they come out there's still going to be a massive peak around Christmas. As long as we get the marketing right, they'll be in the forefront of people's minds at Christmas for presents.
The new Imagine releases for this year are coming from September to December, so it is weighted towards the end of the year.
Q: How does Ubisoft go about looking at which areas to cover for Imagine titles?
Rachel Grant: There's been a lot of research done in terms of the target audience, which has really homed-in on what the interests and passions are, so we can identify how we execute "Live Your Dreams" in a marketing strategy, plus which titles fit into that.
It's the really unique titles that stand out - and you can see in our line-up this year that there are titles that girls haven't really seen before. We think that will appeal to them, because they'll want to engage with that.
Q: And what has been announced for this year?
Rachel Grant: The flagships coming out between September and December include: Teacher: School Trip - we had a lot of success with Teacher last year, but this is more of an outdoor activities version; Detective Adventures, which is something completely new, with an engaging storyline and some depth to it.
There's also Party Planner, which is very appealing for girls; We've also got Wildlife Keeper coming out towards the end of the year, and there are a few titles up for Q1 as well - Journalist, Rescue Vet and Artist.
You can see the range of different titles there.
Q: So how do you pull that diversity together in the marketing?
Rachel Grant: We obviously market Imagine as a range, and as part of our strategy this year we've got a big competition taking place. We're getting girls to enter online and tell us what their dream is, and then other girls can rate those dreams. It's not a voting mechanism as such, but more like the "Like It" system on Facebook.
They'll be encouraged to video themselves, write in or send a photo, and there'll be an online gallery where all the different dreams are displayed. It'll be promoted throughout the campaign.
We've also got TV ads for the flagship titles running from September to December - and on the back of those there are ten-second tags telling girls about the competition and inviting them to join up.
The whole idea is that the winner will get their whole dream day lived out, and this will be recorded and made into a 3-minute video which will be in an ad break on prime time TV. It goes along with the whole fame idea, like Britain's Got Talent, X-Factor and so on.
We kicked off the TV campaign with X-Factor on September 12, and we're announcing the winner on December 12, which is when the video will be shown.
Mark Slaughter: It ties back to the brand positioning, which in the UK is "Live Your Dreams" - so we have the products that satisfy that, and we wanted to have the marketing tie back into that as well.
Rachel Grant: It's always coming back to the brand, and obviously we've identified these new titles that are coming out as careers that girls are interested in and want to be. So it's inspiring them in that way, but also finding out what their dreams are.
Q: Earlier this year we saw the release of the Nintendo DSi - how interesting is the download side of things for the Imagine range?
Rachel Grant: It's a new area at the moment, and not many people are doing DSi-specific titles, but a few of the Imagine titles are including elements for it. I think Journalist has some DSi features, and particularly with our Girls Life range for the older demographic, Makeover allows you to take a photo of yourself with the DSi camera. Your face then goes into the game, and you can do the make-up, fix the hair and so on.
We're really interested in how it can feature, and we're using it at the moment in elements.
Q: How do you see Imagine developing in that area in the next 12 months - will it be one of the key spokes for the DSi platform?
Mark Slaughter: It's an interesting question for us, because we treat Imagine as a brand and we want to look at it in different areas, and the way it spreads out on different platforms.
There's also the Imagine MMO, which was announced at E3, which is the online world for Imagine - capturing that whole element where girls can interact with each other in a safe environment and live out their Imagine-type dreams there. Again, that's a very interesting area to explore for the brand.
Games as well - the DS has a cycle as the platform evolves, so there's what exists on this platform and then what happens next with Nintendo. That we'll explore, but Imagine is definitely one of the flagship brands in the Ubisoft portfolio - where we put that, and grow it, is still being explored. It's still only a young brand.
Mark Slaughter is head of Ubisoft's Games For Everyone label in the UK, and Rachel Grant is brand manager for kids' games. Interview by Phil Elliott.