NEW YORK: An increasing number of major advertisers, including Unilever, Intel and PepsiCo, are seeking to use online games as a tool via which to connect with consumers.

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant, recently launched an internet-based game, Pogo Xtreme, to support its deodorant brand Axe, which was also accessible on the iPhone.

It formed part of the company's efforts to "educate" male consumers about the "double pits to chesty" approach that can be used when applying Axe from a spray can.

Heather Mitchell, PR communications manager at the FMCG firm, said "gaming is a key mechanism that works with the overall strategy to help drive awareness and deepen consumer engagement."

More specifically, it helped Axe to effectively tap into the lives of its target audience, as "based on consumer insights, we know that gaming is a big part of our guys' world," Mitchell added.

Intel, the semiconductor chip manufacturer, developed a branded game that was made available to users of Facebook, the social networking portal, in order to promote the full release of the Ghostbusters videogame on PCs.

Erik Cubbage, software marketing manager for Intel, said this model constituted an "interesting way to reach a new audience, but also [to] get people to spend a little more time getting those messages."

Stephen Baer, managing partner of The Game Agency, which worked with Intel on the project, believes it is key to offer something special to potential players.

"There are still companies licensing pre-designed games and slapping their logos on them, but they are not finding success because there is nothing unique," he said.

Last month, PepsiCo's soft drink brand, Mountain Dew, announced a tie-up with Paramount Digital Entertainment to produce a combined online game and mini-series, of which web users can help shape the overall plot and outcome.

Circle of 8 has been streamed on MySpace, and goes "far beyond traditional sponsorship and brand integration models," according to Frank Cooper, cmo of sparkling beverages, Pepsi-Cola North America.

Alongside its original interactive elements, Mountain Dew will also "play a critical role in evolving the storytelling experience," Cooper said.

EA Sports has used Facebook to promote Grand Slam Tennis, and employed other free internet games to publicise its golf and NASCAR-based titles.

More surprisingly, a number of companies in the healthcare sector, like Humana, Novartis and Teva, have opted to use online games both to train staff and communicate with consumers.

Automakers such as Lexus and Gen

Data sourced from PRWeek; additional content by WARC staff