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Advertising through Video Games and Ad Space in Virtual Worlds: Overview


Marketers are always looking for new places to target a captive audience.  Especially in any space where consumer attention is dedicated for such an extended period of time – in some cases up to 3 or 4 hours per day. So it was only a matter of time before advertisements began to infiltrate the gaming world.

The first instance of in-game advertising (IGA) dates back to the 1970s when a programmer inserted an ad for an upcoming title into the one of his computer games. Since then, however, programmers have become more creative and organic with how they’ve incorporated advertisements into the storylines and designs of various video games.

For instance, let’s say you’re playing the latest game in the Madden series and your team wins the Super Bowl. While your virtual players drench the coach in virtual Gatorade, you are being splashed with a unique form of advertising.

Or suppose you’re racing down the street in a high-speed chase while playing the latest Gran Turismo game and – whoa! – was that just a real world product on that virtual city billboard?

What about the car you’re driving? Did you choose the Acura NSX or the Nissan Skyline? Out of the hundreds of brands you see on daily basis, when else were you as engaged and aware of the make and model you were viewing? When else were you as proactive about making a choice between the two?

QUICK RECAP: At a glance, we’ve already got:

1.)  Product Placement

2.)  Traditional “Out of Home” Advertising

3.)  Interactive Consumer Marketing

All of which have been able to seamlessly and naturally tie themselves to these games in a way that doesn’t seem to offend the gaming community, a way that may even add value to the game for many – making it seem more realistic perhaps. Advertisers should look to be part of the immersive experience that makes gamers want to play for hours each day. Cracking this code and fitting yourself effortlessly within the context of the game is an imperative part of developing those crucial consumer relationships and avoiding backlash.

Beyond use of static logos and images that generate valuable consumer impressions, the development of internet-connected consoles has made it possible to incorporate a call to action (“Click here to save” or “Visit our website”) directly within the game. This type of technological connection has also made it easier than ever to interject your brand message within the game of your choice. No longer do these ads need to be programmed into the game directly – now they can be interchanged as easily as any online ads.

Sounds like a couple of big wins so far for the diverse marketing opportunities with in-game advertising. Now, let’s talk targeting opportunities.

While a majority of gamers are thought to be technology-savvy young males, it’s certainly true that different types of games attract different audiences. Though there may be some crossover, marketers are certainly able to reach different demographics with all of the various gaming genres: sports, music, racing, shooter, word games, puzzles, etc. No doubt there are different people playing Rock Band or FIFA than Grand Theft Auto. Another win? It would seem so.

But with such power, does come great responsibility. If your placement does not add value to the user experience (as mentioned earlier) or appeal to the demographic in a way that makes sense, you run the risk of turning off a large consumer base to the brand name – which reminds us that there are always considerations.

Of course, advertising to such an engaged group of consumers sounds like a no-brainer, but here are some caution points that may help make your promotional plan as effective as possible and minimize the risk of leaving a negative brand impression:

  • Does the game/product combo make sense? Are the two a natural fit? For instance, a billboard with an ad for Bridgestone Tires may make sense in a Need for Speed game, but a McDonald’s ad would never suit the context of World of War Craft. (Hard-core fanatics tend to be extremely vocal when they are dissatisfied with changes to their favorite works – extreme gamers are no different.)
  • More than just considering what influence your product has on the active gameplay, you must also question the impact the video game will have on your brand. What does this game say about your product? What qualities does it transfer to your name? Recent studies have shown that advertisers who promote their products within violent video games are often thought of less favorably by users – particularly by female gamers. Always something to keep in mind…
  • Also, is the method of advertising truly adding value to the user experience? Is it compelling enough to motivate consumers to act and help reach the brand’s business goals?



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