Ulala: A Star is Born
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Ulala: A Star is Born

A key ingredient to being successful in the videogame industry is elevating game characters into icons. This iconic positioning is an important part of the equation because their status increases both the sales of the hardware and consumer brand recognit

Paul Holmes


A key ingredient to being successful in the videogame industry is elevating game characters into icons.  This iconic positioning is an important part of the equation because their status increases both the sales of the hardware and consumer brand recognition for the company.  In this case, the hardware is the Dreamcast videogame console and the company is SegaÒ of America. With the impending launch of the rival Sony videogame system, the PlayStation 2, Sega was desperate to strengthen their brand, and this would require building new icons.  Sega had used this strategy to leverage their share of the market with Sonic The HedgehogÔ, their long-standing and successful mascot, but in the new PlayStation 2 climate, it was imperative that Sega expanded its repertoire of icons.

Access was presented with the task of building major icon status for Sega’s new character Ulala (pronounced oooh-la-la), the dancing diva from Sega’s “Space Channel 5Ô” videogame.  “Space Channel 5,” a futuristic take on the children’s game “Simon Says,” involves mimicking the dance moves of aliens to the beat of hip-hop grooves.  


To develop the best strategic approach, Access needed to find out what consumers wanted from Sega as well as analyzing the competition’s icons.  Access performed an audit of videogame characters that were female, as well as those that danced or sang, and uncovered that the following Sony icons— Um Jammer Lammy, Parappa The Rapper and the formidable Lara Croft all posed severe competition to Ulala.  For example, “Tomb Raider’s” Lara Croft, an adventure-bound bombshell predominantly featured in games for Sony PlayStation, was the first big name digital starlet, and the leading female icon at the time.  

Access also identified what games would compete directly with “Space Channel 5,” again focusing on dance-genre videogames. The results were “Bust-A-Groove” and “Spice World.”  In addition, Access conducted informal research with its day-to-day media contacts that had a solid grasp on trends in the industry and were very familiar with current and past videogame icons.  As a result of Access’ research, Access determined that the industry needed a Lara Croft replacement and Ulala was the ideal candidate, given her hip look and style. 

As part of the research, Access reviewed the findings from a recent Sega online consumer audit, which may have given us the most important piece of information needed for a strong PR campaign— what consumers wanted from Sega.  The audit revealed that consumers wanted more personal contact with Sega.  They wanted to “connect” with the company.  Consumers yearned for more opportunities and events that would bring Sega and the general public together, as opposed to exclusive industry-only events.


One of the biggest challenges Access encountered was the lack of playable builds (an early rough cut version) of “Space Channel 5” to send out to long-lead media for review purposes.  Editors usually insist on having a build in their own hands before agreeing to review or feature it.  

Access was also faced with the challenge of getting coverage in many publications geared toward young women which rarely, if ever, cover videogames.  Many of the editors contacted were not even familiar with Sega or Dreamcast, much less the game “Space Channel 5” or its starlet Ulala.  

Faced with these challenges, Access needed to develop a strategic plan of action involving very tailored pitches to garner coverage while educating the media about Sega and Dreamcast.  


A wide range of media were targeted spanning console gaming media, general consumer media, videogaming websites, music publications, lifestyle publications, girl/women/men’s publications, and entertainment publications.


Although Access was faced with the aforementioned challenges, Sega’s underdog position in the market gave Access more freedom to create outrageous messaging and events.  Access had the chance to introduce the world to an all-new character and icon, which would put to use many of the pitches developed by the team.  Building on Sega’s reputation of being a bold, irreverent and cutting-edge company, Access had the opportunity to approach new media contacts with information and story ideas.  This outreach helped to plant the seed with new publications and editors who previously had no interest in covering Sega or its products.


In order to garner as much interest and coverage in genre-specific outlets, Access had to construct very tailored pitches for each publication.  Pitches included a “Girl-Friendly Game Pitch,” “Hip new Icon Pitch,” “Music Pitch” and “Sega breaking the mold with new Genre Pitch.”  Access devised a system of having back-up pitches in case editors did not bite on the initial one.  Because editors would not be able to review the actual game due to lack of playable builds, outreach would have to focus on feature and trend pieces that would mention the game and Ulala as an upcoming hot title and character.  Armed with only pitches, artwork and various premium items which captured Ulala’s icon-friendly and hip look, Access began its initial round of outreach.  

Access also organized a mediagenic event with consumers-- the “Space Channel 5 Hollywood Premiere.” The premiere consisted of having a live-action actress portraying Ulala walk down a long red carpet to the stage, introduce herself and the game to the crowd, and then bust into a dance routine with her back-up dancing troupe, while images from the game looped on overhead Jumbotron screens.  Access held the event at Universal Studios CityWalk in Los Angeles.  This location epitomized Hollywood with its proximity to Universal Studios, and being close to the major networks, it was the perfect spot for the event and to showcase Ulala.  


The most important messages in this Sega brand/icon-building campaign were as follows:

  • Ulala from “Space Channel 5” is a hip new icon for Sega Dreamcast
  • Ulala is “in” and Lara Croft is “out”
  • “Space Channel 5” is a game worth owning


Coverage objectives for the game itself were 50 hits from outreach to over 80 core outlets, while Access’ artwork objective called for inclusion of “Space Channel 5” or Ulala images in more than half of the features. 

Quantitative coverage objectives for the Ulala event were to secure three national broadcast hits and coverage in an entertainment media publication – a category that transcends the core gamer audience, and validates Access’ Ulala “iconization” objectives, as well as the overall Sega brand-building objectives.


In order to integrate the consumers into the “Space Channel 5 Hollywood Premiere,” Access recommended an Ulala look-alike contest involving contestants dressing up and imitating her dance moves for a cash prize. This event would also make a great visual for the media and send the message home that Ulala has arrived— people “want to be her.”  Access used this opportunity to create some impressive visual opportunities for camera crews, including an autograph signing session, a walk down the red carpet and providing audience members with bright pink wigs to wear during the event.

As mentioned earlier, a big challenge in getting game coverage would be the lack of early copies of the game for editors to review.  To work around this, Access got media excited about the game, Ulala, and the event, by sending out a series of creative mailings including backpacks, magnets, and large posters along with press releases on “Space Channel 5” featuring visuals.  Access sent out premium items in waves so that the media had a steady stream of reminders that “Space Channel 5” was on its way.  

Given that the intent of the event was to generate positive reviews of the game while strengthening the Sega brand with an emphasis on Ulala being an icon, Access was successful on both a print and broadcast level with more than 36,420,000 impressions overall.  Broadcast coverage of the “Space Channel 5 Hollywood Premiere” was picked up by more than a dozen stations, all of which alluded to Ulala as Sega’s latest icon, while 95% of the print outlets that reviewed the game included an image of Ulala and often cited her as being hipper than Lara Croft.  By positioning Ulala as a “star” and a hot franchise-in-the-making, we succeeded not only in building an icon, but also in reinforcing the content strength of Sega overall.

comments powered by Disqus