American Express, Xbox Sync Up to Change Up Console Advertising

Companies piloting offers program in Halo 4

Marketing on gaming consoles can be as hard as completing the “Mile High Club” campaign in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Brands can post billboards in racing games or create their own branded games, but those campaigns can be either too easy for gamers to ignore or too expensive for CFOs to approve.

American Express has concocted a more integrated strategy that borrows from the activity-based advertising approach popularized by Appssavvy—using existing digital partnerships to introduce AmEx’s couponless offers program to Microsoft’s Xbox gaming console.

“We’re bringing a totally new experience to the platform that’s never been done before,” said American Express’ svp of digital partnerships and development, Leslie Berland, noting that millions of the roughly 40 million Xbox Live members are also AmEx card members.

Initially the Xbox initiative mirrors AmEx’s partnerships with Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter, which let card members connect their accounts to claim offers promoted to a given platform. After card members visit (or for U.K. card members) to sign up, they receive an access code to plug in to the AmEx Sync tile within the Xbox Live Game Marketplace. Then the offers roll in.

At launch, card members can receive deals from AMC Theaters and PacSun that give them cash back after spending a certain amount. Card members may also claim a $10 statement credit from American Express. And as with the previously mentioned partnerships, special deals are automatically loaded to card members’ accounts. For example, when a card member signs up for PacSun’s offer, American Express will credit them back $25 for simply dropping $50 at PacSun. No coupons are required.

But that part of the program is the equivalent of Training Mode in FIFA 13. American Express typically ties offers to actions unique to the platforms, such as activating deals when users tweet a hashtag or check in to a location on Foursquare. The tricky thing is that the Xbox user actions usually happen within games. No worries. American Express worked with Microsoft to plant in-game triggers within Halo 4, which will be released next week as the most expensive game Microsoft’s ever made.

“We expect this to be the biggest game of the year,” said Ross Honey, gm of Xbox Live Entertainment and Advertising.

When card members who connect their AmEx and Xbox accounts complete missions or campaigns within Halo 4, they can receive offers such as a “Spend $100, Get $50” deal from Best Buy or a $25 statement credit from AmEx. And the first 25 U.S. gamers to complete a superhard campaign will win a trip to E3 2013, which American Express’ head of business and product development, Dave Wolf, described as “like the All-Star Game and Hall of Fame in gaming wrapped up in one.” The campaign runs until the end of December, but AmEx doesn’t plan to stop there.

Rather than an app, the AmEx Sync experience on Xbox is “a native integration,” said Berland. Or as Wolf put it, “If you sync on day one, you’re good to go forever.” That means that in the future AmEx can expand the program to other Xbox games or even Xbox Live apps, such as Netflix or Hulu Plus. "The basic mechanics of 'earn an achievement [and] get a reward,' that is not a complicated exercise to extend beyond Halo," Honey said, adding that a platform feature with AmEx is in the works.

Though Berland and Wolf didn’t have any specific plans to discuss right now, Berland said AmEx will be “rolling out a variety of different things in the coming months.”

"This is the first manifestation of how [American Express’s technology] Card Sync and Xbox can work together,” Wolf said. “We’re excited about future ways we can bring it to life through streaming, music, anything on the Xbox platform.”

Perhaps even more exciting are the possibilities for AmEx and Xbox to personalize offers. AmEx is already well versed in mining card members’ purchase histories to surface deals, and Xbox would be able to identify the games or apps someone uses. Bring an appmaker like Hulu into the fold and the possibilities get even more granular. Imagine: an offer from Sports Authority for a winning season in Madden 13 or a deal from Disney to watch a whole season of Modern Family on Hulu Plus.

While Xbox has the ability to monitor in-game achievements, it doesn't have a view into what users watch in the platform's media apps, Honey said, adding that it's conceivable to partner with Hulu to tie offers to those "media-viewing achievements." "I love that [Modern Family] idea," he said. "We deeply value our partnership with Hulu…I'd love to bring that up to them."

Berland acknowledged the potential in connecting AmEx’s and Microsoft’s Xbox user data, but made clear that though the companies are discussing how to increase personalization for opted-in users, neither side would share data with the other. In other words, AmEx wouldn’t be able to see that card member Jane Doe is a Just Dance 4 fanatic, and Microsoft wouldn’t know that she’s equally a frequent concert goer. But similar to how Facebook hashes brands’ customer data for Custom Audience targeting, AmEx could run an offer for tickets to Bonnaroo, put Jane anonymously in a segment alongside other card members who purchase concert tickets, have Microsoft check what share of that segment also plays music-related games and then promote the offer to that subsegment of card members.

For now the entertainment-and-gaming possibilities are limited to Xbox, but Berland said it’s “absolutely” possible to replicate the program on other gaming platforms, whether console- or mobile-based. “We’re absolutely looking at all areas,” she said.

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