Queen Latifah’s Unusual Endorsement

Actress helps sell allergy meds from online game

File this one away under unusual celebrity endorsements: Queen Latifah wants you to buy Zyrtec.

The singer-rapper-actress has now officially added anti-allergy spokesperson to her resume, appearing in a series of short videos that are part of the brand's interactive YouTube scavenger hunt titled "Parks Unleashed." Also unusual, at first blush: a video game ad from the type of Johnson & Johnson-owned pharmaceutical brand that might normally eschew creative approaches to marketing.

Latifah's clips, rolled out Thursday as the third stage of the campaign, tie in to a choose-your-own-adventure plot line that leads players through an virtual environment rife with pollen and dander, catering to talking dogs and taking detours into minigames like kite flying. The reward for well-behaved humans: chances to win Facebook badges, $10 Amazon coupons, and for those loyal enough to complete a level, one of three Samsung Galaxy tablets given out daily since the campaign's launch on Aug. 27 until it ends on Oct 14.

The game is also broken into three 15-minute stages, the third of which also includes Latifah appearing on the YouTube channel to goad gamers on midplay. "What's crazier? That I, Queen Latifah, just popped into this Internet video, or that you're talking to a dog right now?" she muses.

Why Latifah? "We were looking for a sort of multifaceted celebrity," said JWT creative director Tim Nolan, who conceived and oversaw development, in partnership with Google, of the campaign. "So we looked at purely musicians, we looked at people who are in television or film, and Latifah definitely sort of spread her wings throughout her career in many different channels. She also had a very large and engaged social network," he explained, which she's using to promote the campaign.

"The Queen has arrived! #ZyrtecParks #spon www.youtube.com/parksunleased" she tweeted Thursday to her 2 million plus followers—an audience that can help make up for Zyrtec lacking its own Twitter feed. She's also a familiar face, Nolan said, for the campaign's intended demographic, to which the challenges are also tailored. "The games are all very much similar to casual games, games that our target would play, our target being 35-40 year old housewife, mother of a few," he said.

Even before the Latifah integration arrived, though, the game did well. As of mid-September, players were spending an average of more than six minutes in the park, JWT said. Now, the YouTube channel hosting it has drawn more than 1.5 million views. While the rate of new users appears to have slowed significantly since the campaign's first stage launched—in early September, it had already broken 1 million views, according to Mashable—those numbers are still nothing to sneeze at.