French Giant Reportedly Delivers 1M Cards for Nintendo Marketing Effort

Gemplus Group recently filled its largest smart card order ever in the United States, for use as a promotional tool with Nintendo Co.'s latest video game.

The cards are being sold at 5,000 Blockbuster Video stores and can be used to get stickers showing characters from Nintendo's Pokemon Snap video game. Nintendo has installed Gemplus smart card readers in all 5,000 stores to dispense the stickers, which are expected to have appeal as collectibles.

It is the latest example of how the chip technology is spreading via the marketing and customer-loyalty route, which many bankers are also exploring as a possible way to cost-justify the conversion to a more expensive type of card.

"The Pokemon Snap promotion is an excellent example of how smart card technology can be creatively applied to product promotions," said Scott Azzolina, loyalty marketing manager at Gemplus in Montgomeryville, Pa. "As consumer product manufacturers and retailers look for innovative ways to attract and hold their customers' attention, smart card technology offers new opportunities to engage customers."

The companies would not say how many cards were bought or how much the order was worth. Industry sources estimated the total at one million.

In Pokemon Snap, a major fad this summer, kids take pictures of different characters as they run through a safari-like setting. The goal is to capture the best photographs, which are then stored on a game cartridge.

Players can take cartridges to participating Blockbusters, buy a $3 smart card, and insert both into the Nintendo kiosks to print out 16 chosen stickers.

For Gemplus, which is based in France and is one of the top two smart card producers in the world, the deal with Nintendo is probably its most mainstream U.S. market penetration to date.

"Getting the infrastructure out there has always been the issue in terms of trying to get our technology adopted in the U.S.," Mr. Azzolina said.

"Nintendo has made that investment in the infrastructure, and a sizable one at that."

One analyst said the drawback is that the cards and readers were developed for a very specific promotional purpose and cannot easily be extended into other applications.

"The Pokemon project is another pilot to see how the technology really works in the world and to try different applications to see what they can do on the entertainment side of things," said Bruno Loriot, a research analyst at Dreifus Associates Ltd. in Orlando.

The promotion is scheduled to run through November, and Gemplus officials are hopeful that Nintendo will use smart cards again for more sophisticated applications now that the Japanese entertainment leader has 5,000 readers in place.

Peter Main, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Nintendo, said that "by using Gemplus smart card technology, we are expanding the reach of Pokemon Snap."

Mr. Azzolina said Gemplus is trying to position its technology as a tool for "smart marketing," which he said is the creative use of chip technology "to help marketers achieve different business goals."

"I don't want to restrict ourselves to just loyalty," he said. "The reality is that in the United States there are a lot of good loyalty programs out there that are not smart card-based."

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Gemplus Software announced the market availability of its GemSafe Enterprise network security system.

Two components, GemSafe User 2.0 and a software development kit, had been available since July.

The third, GemSafe Manager 1.0 for security management and administration on server computers, is available now in its beta test version.

The complete GemSafe Enterprise, a Gemplus bid to embed smart cards in corporate security functions such as log-ons and extranet access, was showcased this month in Microsoft Developer Days demonstrations of the Windows 2000 operating system.

"With the availability of GemSafe Manager 1.0, Gemplus has delivered on its promise to provide secure and easy methods for managing such activities as secure Web access and remote log-in," said Donna Jeker, vice president of information technology solutions at the software arm of the French smart card maker.

The ability to accommodate multiple applications is built into the card, and it is well suited to meet the increasing demand for digital-certificate authentication within public key cryptography infrastructures.

GTE Corp.'s Cybertrust unit is combining its Enterprise Certificate Authority with GemSafe Enterprise. Cybertrust president Peter Hussey said the alliance "is ideal for corporations looking to improve the security of their Internet applications. By adding smart cards, our customers are making a strategic investment in network security that will grow as their needs grow."

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