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Interview: Habbo, Double Fusion Partner For In-World Advertising

Global teen virtual community Habbo has announced that in-game ad firm Double Fusion is now the exclusive North American sales agency for Habbo.com, and Gamasutra talks to execs from Habbo and Double Fusion to discuss how the two hope to stop simply adver
Global virtual community for teens Habbo has announced that independent in-game advertising firm Double Fusion is now the exclusive advertising sales agency for the Habbo.com property in North America. As the exclusive advertising representative for Habbo.com, Double Fusion are to handle advertising sales, sponsorships and promotional opportunities with brands interested in reaching Habbo.com’s user base of 2.4 million unique visitors per month. Advertisers are to be able to execute a variety of marketing initiatives including in-game billboards, contests, interstitials and instant-console messaging, customized brand rooms and sponsored quests. Double Fusion are to work with advertisers from the entertainment industry, retail, fashion and sports arenas, and Gamasutra talked to Double Fusion’s president and CEO, Jonathan Epstein, and Teemu Huuhtanen, the Executive VP of Marketing, Ad Sales and Business Development of Habbo developer Sulake about the new agreement. Why did you decide to partner? Jonathan Epstein: As a company I feel we’ve developed technology and sales expertise that’s focused on delivering advertisers unique, engaging advertising experiences in games, and of course games are virtual worlds with a plot. We’ve done some work with virtual worlds in the past, and virtual worlds are a natural extension of the gaming experience -- where users are creating their own plots. And among the virtual worlds Habbo has been doing it longer than anyone. They’ve been at it for 8 years, have a huge audience, and have tremendous experience in building successful ad campaigns already. Plus, as a toolkit, the ability to create custom quests, branded rooms, and to have users take an active part in brand campaigns, becoming brand ambassadors has a lot of opportunity. Teem Huuhtanen: We actually work with third parties in quite a few countries, and Double Fusion really stood out in North America. They’ve got a really great sales team, but probably the most important thing was their unique knowledge in how advertising works, and can coexist with gaming. What do you think advertising should mean in virtual worlds? TH: I’ve been saying this for quite a few years, but it comes down to: stop advertising, start engaging. Add value to the community. How are you working together? JE: At this point it doesn’t involve the use of any Double Fusion technology. Right now this is a sales partnership. Habbo is built in Shockwave, and they have their own internal ad server, and what we’re talking about is, yes, doing media campaigns using interstitial ads, but more integrated programs offered on a limited nature. What kind of more in-depth campaigns are you talking about? JE: We’ve delivered some really exciting programs to advertisers. For example, in Stuntman 2, we worked with Armor All, giving users the opportunity to film a TV commercial for the Armor All brand -- so Armor All was used in the game play. In Habbo, they’ve done some tremendous work with Target, for example, bringing Matt Hoffman into the environment as a Habbo and there were different Target items for the users to use, and they’ve recently done a program with the Spiderwick Chronicles, with Spiderwick themed rooms and Spiderwick items for the users to decorate their rooms with -- a lot of focus on user decoration. On April 10th, for example, Natasha Bedingfield will be doing a live, in-game streaming concert. There’s a huge array of stuff that can be done. How do you target advertising in Habbo? JE: Well, the audience is already targeted as it is. It’s a teen audience purely, and that’s a good starting place, and in terms of male vs. female, there are ways we can discern that… Even down to items, there are things which appeal to women more than men, or the style of quest. But most advertising would work across gender. When it comes to geographically, the campaigns are really aimed across North America, at national brands, but when we’re talking about the interstitials, they’re targeted as they are across the internet -- very exact, right down to the city the user is in. Do branded “experiences” have a better pay-off than the interstitials? JE: It all depends on what you’re aiming for with a campaign. I mean, if you considered, say, item sales as a “click-through”, you know exactly how many people are participating in a brand campaign, and we’ve seen examples showing that 18% of all users are taking an active part in a brand. Those kind of results just aren’t easy to find on the internet. Only in games and virtual worlds do you get that kind of interaction. TH: We work with over 200 advertisers across the world, and the advertisers aren’t usually thinking about “impressions”; that’s kind of an old school way to think about things. They’re more interested in if the users are getting engaged with the items, using them and showing them off to each other. So these are generally free branded items? JE: Generally free, but occasionally they can be charged for. We can even create exclusive branded items that there are only, say, 100 of them available and the users want to show off that they managed to get one. Teens are very brand orientated. They like to express themselves through brands, and they identify themselves through brands in the virtual worlds just like they do in the real world.

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