Ubi Soft Reshuffles Players, Adding Buder Engel To Roster

Videogame maker Ubi Soft Entertainment is rejiggering its agency lineup, naming a new roster shop for a major title in the U.S. and conducting a review in Europe.

The Paris-based client last week confirmed that it selected Buder Engel & Friends in San Francisco to handle creative on its popular Tom Clancy franchise. In a review for the $20 million account, the independent shop bested Mad Dogs & Englishmen in San Francisco and Creature in Seattle, also independents. Incumbent Butler Shine Stern & Partners in Sausalito, Calif., did not participate.

Tony Kee, vp of marketing for Ubi Soft in San Francisco, said Buder Engel may be asked to take on other titles as well. “We’re trying to shrink our vendor list,” he said, noting that five agencies created TV commercials for Ubi Soft last Christmas. “Five’s too many. We want to narrow it to just one or two for our entire product line. If [Buder Engel] can nail that, we’ll try them on other things.”

The client also works with Kastner and Partners (formerly Lunch) in Los Angeles, which handles its TV buys, and MDC Partners’ Kirshenbaum Bond + Partners in San Francisco, which has worked on titles including Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Beyond Good and Evil. Last year the company spent about $45 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

While Ubi Soft’s business is booming—sales last year were up more than 52 percent to $489 million, according to Hoover’s Online—it’s still well behind the leaders in the category. (Electronic Arts had sales of nearly $2.5 billion for its fiscal year ended in March, while No. 2 Activision was at $864 million in sales for the same period, according to Hoover’s.) The most recent Clancy title, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, for Xbox has been the top videogame rental in the U.S. this spring, according to Rentrak figures in Warren’s Consumer Electronics Daily.

“We’re growing very quickly as a company,” said Kee. “We are trying to make sure every dollar we spend towards product marketing and brand marketing is impacting consumers and not too much is being spent on back-end stuff.”

In Europe, Ubi Soft is handled by Interpublic Group’s McCann Erickson. Contenders in that review could not be determined.

Butler Shine worked on the Clancy line for two years, but turned down an invitation to participate in the review. “We did not understand the need for a review, because our work was successful,” said CEO Greg Stern.

Kee said the company was just looking for something new. “We have had successful campaigns with [Butler Shine], but we felt like it was time to shake things up a bit,” he said.

Butler Shine’s recent campaign for Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow mixes live-action and game play, showing lead character Sam Fisher fighting bioterrorists in Indonesia. It carries the tag, “Freedom isn’t free.”

For Buder Engel, the win is a significant one. The agency, formerly an outpost of London-based Leagas Delaney, was purchased by management last July after a rough patch that saw the loss of clients including Sega and Virgin Mobile. Agency executives did not return calls.

“They understand our business,” said Kee. He said he was impressed with Buder Engel’s project work last year on Ubi Soft’s Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. “We gave them two days to do it,” he said of a shoestring-budget commercial the shop created.

Kee said Ubi Soft may go global for the Clancy titles. “We’re considering sharing responsibility for a lot of the Clancy advertising with our European counterparts,” he said.