Mazdaspeed Gets In The Game

Mazda gets its Mazdaspeed compact in the game -- literally -- through a promotion with EA's Need for Speed Carbon, the latest version of the popular videogame, which goes on sale next month.

A virtual Mazdaspeed 3 will appear in the actual game, now entering its third year. It will also show up in special versions of the EA game for play at Mazda events around the country. The deal reflects a push by the automaker to target a buyer whose age dovetails with the game's typical player age--late 20s.

"The Mazdaspeed line, and the Mazda 3 targets are pretty young but hard to reach because they aren't heavy consumers of TV and print," said James Jordan, manager of alternative marketing for Mazda North America. "So we felt that a placement in the world's most popular driving video game--and doing promotions around that--was just as efficient."

Mazda launched its Mazdaspeed sub-brand in 2003 both to tap into the lucrative after-market business around import cars, and to give Mazda a physical embodiment of the "Zoom-Zoom" brand identity it has been cultivating since 2000.

Jordan, who wouldn't disclose the spending, said the deal with EA is mostly cross-promotional, as opposed to a pure pay-for-play arrangement. "We did pay for placement, but most of the value EA gets from us is promotional value. There was money, but by far we are spending on small promotions and events" at SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas next week.

The vehicle's small marketing budget, reflecting its limited production volume--combined with the young-male target buyer--made the deal sensible, Jordan added.

Mazda this week wraps up a 16-city tour visiting malls in major U.S. cities. Besides showing off the first batch of Mazdaspeed3s, the road show also sports digital game kiosks where consumers can play a version of Need for Speed Carbon in which the Mazdaspeed3 is the only vehicle.

Mazda is also partnering with Game Stop and EB stores, which are distributing point-of-purchase materials featuring Mazdaspeed and Need for Speed Carbon. Shopping bags at both store chains are emblazoned with EB and Mazdaspeed, according to Jordan.

The 16 winners of a series of game tournaments played at each mall show get flown to Las Vegas by Mazda next week to attend the SEMA show and play championship games at the Hard Rock Hotel there, in an event also sponsored by Mazda's partner Cooper Tires.

The virtual Mazda dealership in the game is patterned on the urban-hip Retail Revolution dealership design program Mazda began two years ago. There are now 60 such dealerships nationwide.

When players "drive" into the Mazda dealership, they can get virtual after-market parts for their car. Mazda will also support the promotion on the Mazdaspeed Web site.

Jordan said Mazda's integration in the game culminates a year-long development project, much like the kind of integration that car makers are aiming for in movies.

"In games like [Polyphony Digital's console game] Gran Turismo, we have always been the featured vehicle, but in this case we worked with the programmers to tell the Mazdaspeed story," Jordan said. "It's like product integration in movies: you are trying to pick the right car for the right audience."