By  on August 8, 2008

Teenage boys better hand over the joystick. A rush of new video games focusing on weight loss, fitness, gymnastics,horseback riding and cheerleading means women are the new target demographic in a universe once reserved for their couch-riding brothers and sons. Nintendo’s Wii console is leading the diversification efforts—almost 15 million units of Wii and Nintendo’s handheld system DS were sold last year. Fit, a fitness-related game released this spring that has women sweating in front of their TVs, is on pace to reach three million in unit sales this year. And beauty advertisers such as Proctor & Gamble and L’Oréal are among those clamoring to get in the game.

Often engrossing players for long stretches, video games are increasingly compelling brand exposure platforms, marketers say. Research firm eMarketer forecasts that advertising spending for the video game sector will soar 133 percent from $650 million in 2007 to $1 billion in 2012, while the U.S. market for video game hardware and software will climb 33 percent from $15.8 billion to $21 billion in the same period. Available on everything from computers to cell phones to traditional consoles, games offer marketers a variety of avenues to target their chosen slice of the female demo. Averaging $15,000 to $100,000, banner ads or video clips paired with online games are considered affordable methods of homing in on older women. Console games are preferred by younger audiences and for roughly $200,000 to $1 million, advertisers can place brand imagery throughout the console game-playing experience. “The opportunities for sponsorship are unbounded,” says Jonathan Epstein, chief executive officer of the video game ad firm Double Fusion, who estimates that a principle sponsor of a cheerleading game, for example, could easily get its brand seen by up to one million girls.

PC and console game advertising isn’t merely about slapping logos in games, though. Advertisers can customize their ads for certain geographic locales or create branded games-within-games to directly communicate with players. So-called dynamic advertising is also beginning to enable marketers to tout seasonal variations and new launches. “Cosmetics [companies] actually start to populate stores with real products,” says Ken Ripley, an executive vice president at in-game ad firm IGA Worldwide, of the ad capabilities in the PC game Sims 3 due out in 2009. “People don’t think they can reach girls through games, but they are completely and utterly wrong.”

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