Zynga Brings the King of Pop to CityVille in Michael Jackson Branded Promotion

Zynga is venturing again into celebrity promotions with a Michael Jackson-themed CityVille campaign to promote Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson memorial tour, The Immortal.

Starting this week and running until November 25th, CityVille players will be able to collect Michael Jackson themed items like a hot air balloon, a soldier robot statue, posters and gloves. The main thrust of the campaign will be to build the Michael Jackson The Immortal Cirque du Soleil stage, which will allow players to unlock an exclusive in-game video of the tour.

This campaign is very similar to the CityVille Enrique Iglesias campaign from a couple of months ago. The Michael Jackson campaign, however, adds some minor cross-promotion with Zynga Poker, putting branded tour graphics into the game’s table felts. Zynga’s high water mark for celebrity game integrations still seems to be the FarmVille GagaVille promotion that ran this spring; that campaign gave players the ability to stream brand-new songs and gave away real-world prizes like tour tickets.

Regardless of the size of the promotions, Zynga games seem to enjoy a significant, but short-lived boost in popularity when they bring in star power. The GagaVille campaign boosted FarmVille player numbers by almost 2 million monthly active and daily active users during the peak of that promotion. Few of them stuck around afterwards, however, with DAU levels back to where they were before as soon as the promotion ended:

The more involved gameplay experience in Enrique Iglesias’s CityVille campaign proved to be slightly better at retaining players. That campaign, which had a much bigger player pool to work from, boosted MAU by almost 5 million and DAU by over 2 million, with new players seeming to stay engaged for the better part of a week before leaving the game. That said, while celebrities seem to give Zynga’s older titles short term gains, they’re still no cure for an overall decline in popularity as players tire of the titles.

While its hard to pinpoint if the in-game efforts were successful on the other side of the equation, neither Iglesias nor Gaga seemed to lose anything from their social game promotions. Iglesias’ Euphoria Tour went on to earn 20 million dollars, and Born This Way has sold over 8 million copies so far.

As far as what the CityVille campaign can do for the late Michael Jackson, we observe that the promotion is merely the latest in a long line of game tie-ins that Michael Jackson and his estate have authorized. The King of Pop’s first video game was 1989‘s Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and since then Jackson has appeared in the Space Channel 5 games, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2 (as a secret character), been the posthumous star of Ubisoft’s Michael Jackson: The Experience and was famously removed from PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies, where he showed up as an unauthorized dancing zombie.

Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal begins touring in the U.S. tomorrow.