Is the Activion Blizzard's "Guitar Hero" video game franchise a gateway drug to becoming a rock star? The answer may be yes, and one local musical instrument manufacturer wants to cash in.

Guitar Center Inc. has turned a report on consumer behavior into a new marketing campaign, and just in time for the holidays.

Last month the privately owned music equipment retailer, based in Westlake Village, received the results of a national survey that found a link between its customers and two popular video games, "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band." The data indicated that a majority of people who play these "pretend rock star" games also want to strum a real guitar.

Of the music gamers who do not currently play a musical instrument, 67 percent said they are likely to start playing a real instrument in the next two years, the survey found. And among people who already play an instrument, 72 percent said they are spending more time with their music since they got involved with the video games.

To encourage the transition from gamer to musician, Guitar Center has created the "Real Guitar" Web site. It offers a selection of e-mail holiday messages that gamers can send to their loved ones, reminding them that a guitar would make a great holiday gift. (Eighty-one percent of the gamers in the survey who feel inspired to play a real instrument would like to receive that instrument for Christmas.)

"This spike of interest in playing actual instruments stemming from a video game is an unprecedented phenomenon," explained Norman Hajjar, Guitar Center's chief marketing officer. "Most video games sell fantasy, but 'Guitar Hero' and 'Rock Band' are selling a dream that can be realized. These games plant an achievable goal in the heart of the player and that, in turn, drives our business."

New B2B Agency

Tracy Olmstead Williams, an expert in business-to-business public relations, has started her own L.A. agency called Olmstead Williams Communications in Westwood.

Previously, Williams was a partner and president of Casey Sayre & Williams in Santa Monica. The agency has since renamed itself Casey & Sayre.

Olmstead Williams put up her shingle in September and has 14 clients, including medical device manufacturer Advanced Bionics, telephone translator Language Line, credit card machine maker Hypercom, and a number of accounting and law firms.

The new agency specializes in clients with technology, health science and business service companies. The agency will work with B2B media, speaking engagements, board and non-profit involvement, crisis communication and strategic planning.

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