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KAI RYSSDAL: Figure out, if you can, the common thread linking the following: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, High School Musical 2, the iPhone and the Simpson's Movie.
A spring and summer of endless, mind-numbing hype would be the answer you're looking for -- and it's not over yet. This weekend brings the final push of a nearly year-long media blitz you might have managed to tune out. Unless you live with a video gamer. Here's Marketplace's Lisa Napoli.
LISA NAPOLI: As soon as Sohail Masood cleaned out the Simpsons movie promotion stuff from his 7-11 store in Alexandria, Va., last month, a new shipment of products arrived -- a special new Slurpee concoction, served up in special new 3D cups, special-edition Doritos, and specially packaged cans of Pepsi.
SOHAIL MASOOD: It's a big big promotion, very big.
All these brand-name calories have been cooked up to hype a new video game that'll be released at the stroke of midnight Tuesday -- a shoot-em-up production called Halo 3.
The marketing blitz began last December -- on TV, on the Web, and with all sorts of "branded" Halo products, including a specially created beverage.
GAME FUEL AD AUDIO: "New Mountain Dew Game Fuel. Cranked up for Halo 3. Chug it and have no mercy."
Even people who follow the gaming industry closely are surprised by the estimated $10 million said to have been sunk into promoting Halo 3 -- like video game analyst Greg Ford:
GREG FORD: I've never seen anything like this before.
Ford says all the hype has created record-breaking pre-orders of the game. And it's expected to rake in as much as $200 million on its first day in stores.
FORD: That's a lot of money, and if they pull in $200 million in one day, you can't ignore that. In comparison, Spider-Man 3 brought in $60 million its first day.
The fact that sales of video games in the U.S. now rival Hollywood box-office take is making Madison Avenue take note. Ken Chan is a marketing expert in Los Angeles. He says game producers have to roll out their creations with a bang -- because otherwise, the stores that distribute them won't stock them.
KEN CHAN: These retail guys have a limited amount of shelf space, and they're increasingly putting pressure on publishers... asking them "How much are you going to put behind this title?" And if you're not going to put that much, you're not going to earn shelf space.
After all, shelf space is to video games what movie screens are to Tinseltown. Chan says more and more, the gaming industry is behaving like Hollywood, with its high-stakes make-it-or-break-it opening weekends. Games now have bigger budgets, more stars, larger audiences... and therefore, lots more marketing potential.
CHAN: If you're an advertiser like Mountain Dew, you can spend the traditional money on TV, but it's not going to give you the effectiveness you can get on gamers, and speaking their language.
Chan says now that the advertising industry has learned to speak the language. It's logical what will happen next: Just like Hollywood, they'll start slipping their products right into the games.
I'm Lisa Napoli for Marketplace.