Over the years, marketing has continued to evolve as audiences seek more and more ways to become engaged. While many brands continue to take advantage of more traditional advertising strategies, other brands have shifted toward marketing their brands in other ways.
One of these ways that brands have slowly been shifting is toward advertising in video games. The video game industry has been on the rise since the 1980s, and even today, there are no signs of this surge stopping anytime soon. For example, Rocket League, which was initially launched in 2015 as a vehicular soccer game developed and published by Psyonix, reached at least 75 million players worldwide in 2020.
Due to such a large and wide player base, brands such as Ford have eagerly hopped in to take advantage of marketing within the game. In February 2021, Ford took three steps toward marketing with Psyonix in the game:
- Created a custom F-150 truck that players could use in-game,
- Collaborated to make Ford the official sponsor of the Rocket League Championship Series Winter Majors (professional esports tournament live-streamed on Twitch), and
- Produced advertising spots narrated by Bryan Cranston in Rocket League Twitch streams that were targeted toward gamers.
The F-150 was available for players of the game to purchase from February 20-28 in a bundle that included a decal for the vehicle, two sets of unique wheels, engine audio, rocket boost and a player banner. It became the first truck from a universal auto manufacturing company to be featured inside of the game (and I do have to say that there is something oddly satisfying about driving a rocket-boost-powered F-150 around and knocking in some pretty sick goals on the field).
Ford and Psyonix bringing the F-150 to Rocket League is a great example of how marketers could begin to reach gamers more efficiently in-game. Product placement allows marketers to directly deliver relevant content to their targeted audience not only at the right time and place but also at a point where the market is meeting the audience right where they are. This way, consumers are more subconsciously affected by marketing because it is placed in something that they are already emotionally and psychologically involved by itself.
Ford hasn’t been the only brand to partner with Psyonix to bring branded, in-game content to Rocket League (NFL). At the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, Psyonix/Epic Games also teamed up with the National Football League to bring an entire pack of NFL Fan Pack decals to Rocket League, which included 32 new decals for all 32 NFL teams. Additionally, there have been other cars released based on other series/franchises including the Jeep from Jurassic Park, the Dodge Charger from The Fast and The Furious, the Batmobile, and even the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters.
Product placement has been a staple in marketing (I’m sure we can all think of some really bad examples and on the flip side, some really good examples). Product placement in video games started as companies developing fully-branded games, however, moved to product appearances in video games once brands realized it wasn’t exactly practical nor necessary to take the time to develop and use resources toward a new game from scratch. Product placement like this (which we are more familiar with today) took a less “in your face” approach to improving brand awareness and began to become intertwined within games that were developed professionally. Brands began to realize that products being subtly in the game led advertising to be more natural and less disruptive toward the audience while still playing.
From fully branded games such as Pepsiman (released in Japan in 1999) to plugging in a Mercedes Benz into Mario Kart 8, product placement in video games can either be oddly disruptive from the game if executed poorly or seamlessly integrated into the game if executed effectively. When done well, there is a wide-open market to be able to reach gamers in creative ways. Who can say what the next steps for product placement in video games will be? Regardless, it is safe to say that we will continue to see more branding be integrated into the fictional worlds we choose to immerse ourselves in.
Meet Erin Fields
Integrated Marketing Communications
Program Coordinator at WVU Office of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment
I look forward to continuing to work and grow in higher education, an industry that I am incredibly passionate about! While I started in marketing by doing social media, my interests have gravitated toward web development, coding, and graphic design.
Interests: Living out my faith, playing guitar, archery, tinkering with technology, cheering on WVU athletics
LinkedIn: Erin Fields
Interested in growing your career with a master's degree in Data, Digital or Integrated Marketing Communications? Request more information today!
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