Video-Game Advertising: More Than Just Product Placement

Video-game advertising continues to be a marketing trend marketers find appealing, given the game industry’s explosive growth. Because of this increased attention, video-game advertising has become synonymous with in-game advertising.

In-game advertising can be divided into as static and dynamic advertising. Static advertising is hard-coding a product or brand message into a game, which needs to be finalized months in advance of the game’s release. Dynamic advertising integrates 2- and 3-D objects into an online game environment in real time via predetermined locations. While a significant amount of ad dollars spent with video games fall into these two buckets, advertisers should also look beyond in-game advertising when attempting to leverage video games.

A brand actually encounters more hurdles when it focuses solely on in-game advertising. The lead time needed to execute a static-ad program is longer than marketers have grown accustomed to in the digital space. Static integrations can actually compare to the time needed to execute a TV spot. While dynamic advertising solves the timing concerns, opportunities for marketers to leverage it are limited to pre-identified inventory. Plus brands are constrained by the game environment regardless of static or dynamic integrations. Consumers have a hard time making sense of ads for current car models in a video game that takes place in the distant future. Gamers are unlikely to seek out your cereal brand in a video game where the player is not required to eat to replenish energy levels. As a side note, game publishers and dynamic advertising companies are working to address these problems and create more relevant video-game integrations.

The following outlines a few areas marketers should consider when looking to create engaging programs that take full advantage of the video-game experience.

Take Advantage of the Experience Around the Game

Interact with gamers when they aren’t holding a controller. While the average gamer spends seven hours a week playing games, she also spends time researching games, looking for additional game content, sharing tips with friends, and talking about games in general. As actual game time is considered sacred and shouldn’t be interrupted, these around-game times offer brands a chance to enter the conversation.

For example, Old Spice launched a program at the end of last year in partnership with It challenged consumers to compete against their friends in collecting gamer points on the Xbox 360 console. Gamers were able to win prizes for doing what they do best: playing games. The branded experience didn’t interrupt the game environment and allowed consumers to control the interaction with Old Spice.

Provide Valuable Gaming Goodies

Brands should provide consumers with something valuable for responding to a brand message. As consumers spend more on gaming, with the incremental cost of game devices and accessories, they look to brands to help underwrite the cost for interacting with advertising. One of last year’s most popular examples, Discovery Channel offered gamers two additional levels for Microsoft’s “Gears of War” for free. The download pack of multiplayer maps was tied to the premiere of the “FutureWeapons” show. Discovery Channel was able to highlight its new show by partnering with a blockbuster game and giving consumers a highly coveted digital goodie. Gamers were very receptive to Discovery Channel providing them content they would have otherwise been required to purchase.

Take the Game Out of the Game

As video games continue to influence popular culture, opportunities for advertisers extend outside of the actual game environment. Advertisers have begun to leverage video-game content outside the actual game play. Toyota’s use of “World of Warcraft” (“WOW”) imagery and game mechanics in its latest commercial for the Tundra is a great example of out-of-game advertising. Toyota would have struggled to reach the more than 2.5 million “WOW” subscribers in the U.S. (10 million worldwide) via any type of in-game advertising, but it was able to reach those same game enthusiasts and make the general population aware of the popular title via an engaging commercial.

Opportunities remain for select brands to effectively leverage in-game advertising to reach consumers with tailored brand messaging. For instance, brands that can extend real-world affiliations and partnerships to the gaming space can see a halo effect on their overall program. They can also look to games as a research lab by testing conceptual products in gaming environments. Gamers are more than happy to offer their opinions, and feel more connected to products, when they see their contribution impact the final design.

In conclusion, marketers should focus on the objectives and strategies of any video-game ad campaign. Based on those directives and a little creativity, the appropriate execution will rise to the top. Next time you and your team brainstorm an idea for your new product launch, don’t stop at in-game advertising. Sometimes the best ideas and opportunities aren’t in the game.

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