Microsoft's Neil Thompson

The senior director for Northern Europe explains the thinking behind this year's Christmas marketing campaign

The build-up to Christmas is well underway, with high profile game launches littering the calendar between now and December - so what better time to kick off this year's Holiday marketing campaign?

That's exactly what Microsoft is doing from tomorrow, in a follow-up to last year's 'open head' theme, and here the company's senior director for Northern Europe, Neil Thompson, explains what it's all about.

Q: Last year's campaign - the 'open head' theme - certainly made its mark, so what's lined up for this year?

Neil Thompson: Well, it's similar in certain ways in that we have extensive above-the-line campaigns that have already kicked off, to be honest, with a lot of our third-party publishing partners. You might have seen a lot of TV work we've already done around some great titles - The Beatles: Rock Band, and so on.

But from October 2 we're launching our own TV work explaining to consumers the broader entertainment offerings we have on Xbox 360, which is going to centre on our music offerings, movie offerings - and then obviously the unique TV experience we've got in connection with Sky, and the Sky service we're bringing to Live.

All of that is going to round out for us the broader entertainment platform that the 360 is, and we're working on some fantastic software titles from our end, such as Lips and Forza. Plus we've done a lot of work in the last few weeks, working with Activision on Modern Warfare 2, and other great titles that are coming out for gamers.

So really it's an extension of what we were doing last year, with perhaps a little bit more emphasis around the broader entertainment offering, as well as all the great games that will be available.

Q: You'll be aware that Sony has recently been focusing on the non-gaming aspects for its recent PlayStation 3 marketing - is this a response to that campaign, or something you've been working on prior to that?

Neil Thompson: In some ways I wish we were that agile [smiles]. No, we're just focusing on what we think are our core strengths. We think gaming is a core strength of ours, we think the breadth of our entertainment offering is a real core strength. And Live, in many ways, is just our unique value proposition.

We're very focused on what we think we're offering to consumers, rather than what anybody else thinks they're offering them.

Q: The Sky functionality isn't live yet, so will the marketing creative change over time as and when new functionality is added?

Neil Thompson: It depends what you mean by creative. The TV work will be what it is when you see it, but obviously in terms of a lot of the content that we'll post online or the digital marketing we'll do - that will evolve as new elements come into that service.

When the Sky service does come live people will certainly get to see what an extensive service that is.

Q: How do you feel the marketing campaign boosted Xbox last year?

Neil Thompson: I think the numbers speak for themselves, so it did - and what it managed to do is reposition us from what was obviously a great gaming console, into the conversation with consumers around why we're a great entertainment platform as well.

Really, we just want to amplify that discussion over this next period. I think consumers get it, and the proof is in the eating with all of these things - and if more and more consumers move onto Live, and more and more services are enabled through Live, word of mouth is an imperative element of that.

I think people are voting with their feet at the moment, and we're seeing fantastic adoption of our services, and the console itself. It's about being able to tell consumers our story, and with technology today and the rate of speed and innovation in services, it's quite a job sometimes to keep up with what we're providing.

But that's what the peak activity is designed to do, and in a lot of ways, through the traditional media work we're doing, it's imperative for consumers to figure out what they want from Xbox.

Q: How do you feel the system is lined up for this Christmas, then? You mentioned Forza and Lips, we just had ODST released... are you confident this will be a good Christmas for videogames?

Neil Thompson: Yeah, I think when you look to the whole industry you look at the content and services that have come in, it's a fantastic time to be a consumer of digital entertainment. Whether you're a gamer or someone that wants to use consoles for a more social experience, be it music or other things, it's just going to be an amazing Christmas, with amazing products.

With the 360 in particular, we're feeling really, really confident about what our value proposition is. We've done quite a few retailer conferences over the last few weeks, and we've just had an amazing reaction to the variety of services we're offering - as well as the tremendous games that people are going to see on our platform.

And specifically, in a lot of ways, how Live is expanding the reach and interest of those games - and making them last longer in terms of people's enjoyment of them.

Q: Would you say that a lot of the initial ambition to present the Xbox 360 as a home entertainment hub has now been realised?

Neil Thompson: I think so, yes, but it's an ongoing process - we're not stopping here, we've got amazing plans for the future and we always said... I think I probably said it you at the time, Phil, when we launched Xbox 360... the evolution of consoles in the future is all going to be around software and services, and I think people are now understanding what we meant by that.

It wasn't about changing form-factors or plastic, etc - that has its role now and again, but fundamentally software and services are at the heart of giving consumers what they want in a digital world. I think that's what we're delivering on at the moment, and we'll continue to innovate and deliver even more exciting experiences in the future.

Q: You have Natal coming in 2010 - I guess you'd point to that as an example of that kind of innovation?

Neil Thompson: Natal is a good example of how we're thinking about how we bring new innovation to the platform whenever we choose to bring it. That sort of technology, aligned with services unique to the UK - such as Sky - those are the sorts of investments we're keen to continue with.

Neil Thompson is senior regional director for Northern Europe at Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division. Interview by Phil Elliott.

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