This Friday, the night before the NCAA Final Four, four video game players will gather in Indianapolis to compete in an Xbox preview of the next day's matchup. The event is the culmination of a month-long Pontiac push to extend its sponsorship of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament to the virtual world—and back again.
Pontiac negotiated with 2K Sports, the Take-Two Software unit that makes College Hoops 2K6 for the Xbox, to include Pontiac content—not just branding or ad placements—within the game. A "Pontiac Tournament" mode allows players to create their own NCAA tournament, the capability to be on display Friday night. Denuo and 2K Sports also added a mode for gamers to play against others over the Web, with the top players heading to Indianapolis.
This effort is the first for Denuo, Publicis Groupe's newly formed emerging-media consultancy, though the project is a holdover from SMG Play, a Starcom MediaVest Group video game unit now part of Denuo.
The campaign points to the changing skill set needed for ad campaigns in the digital media world, said Saneel Radia, a Denuo director and SMG Play executive. "It's not product placement or virtual out-of-home," he said. "We want to make sure we're facilitating the [basketball] experience in some way."
But Pontiac hopes to extend the program beyond gamers. Denuo has been collecting data from players connected to the Web and will be using it to predict who will win the real-life NCAA tournament. Those predictions can be found at ncaasports.com/pontiac, and CBS plans to use the virtual game previews in its "Road to the Final Four" programming.