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Sparking Convo: The Effect of Product Placement in Sporting Video Games

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Product placement has a way of sneaking itself into almost all forms of media– from magazine features to TV sitcoms – this form of advertising has become very prevalent. After the 65 percent sales increase that Reese’s Pieces experienced following the film E.T.’s popularity, corporations have adopted the idea of product integration in the entertainment industry. Given that traditional advertisements are now forced to compete with technological advancements like DVR, marketers are finding that product placement works to more effectively promote a brand. Product placement helps to create a higher brand recall and an emotional connection for the audience, and studies have found that gamers are among some of the most engaged consumers when playing via online or console. Because of this, marketers integrate products into sporting video games to increase exposure and drive sales for brands.

The more relevant the product is to the video game, the more powerful it becomes in influencing the gamer. Gatorade, as a brand, is often associated with sports-related advertisements. When the product was launched, it became a popular beverage for athletes to drink because of its supposed ability to replace minerals that were lost in sweat during grueling workouts. Since 1965, many celebrity athletes have endorsed Gatorade, including Michael Jordan and Dwight Howard.

The Nielsen Company recently teamed up with Electronic Arts Inc. to measure how the integration of Gatorade in video games drives offline sales. EA features Gatorade in several of its games, including NHL 09, NHL 10, NBA Live 07, NBA Live 08, NBA Live 09 and NBA Street Homecourt. The study found that that in-game advertising increased household dollars spent on Gatorade by 24 percent and offered a return on investment of $3.11

The sports video game era began with EA Sports’ Madden NFL Football in 1989. Not surprisingly, athletic apparel became more prevalent in video games as brand integration increased. A 2009 study by the International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, analyzed the number of times that a brand appeared during sporting video games and found that it more than doubled from 2004 to 2006, with adidas, the Nike family and Oakley accounting for more than two-thirds of the total branding impressions recorded. Niche companies including Cobra, Precept and Under Armour were also identified.

The relationship between product placement and brand recognition is influenced by the mere-exposure effect and the familiarity principle. Both attribute to positive feelings toward objects that are seen repeatedly. For those who do not have brand preference, product placement can greatly enhance it in one direction. When done strategically well, most brands have success with this type of publicity because of its seamless integration. It has the potential to persuade an undecided audience, or to strengthen brand allegiance for loyal brand advocates.


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