Advertainment or Adcreep? What Game Players Think About Product Placement in Computer Games

Professor Michelle Nelson at the University of Wisconsin was the lead researcher on an intriguing study* that examined what game-players thought about product placements in computer games. Using netnography and questionnaires, Nelson studied 805 postings on a blog called Slashdot that revealed gamers' beliefs about the effectiveness and appropriateness of product placement tactics as well as how it affects them.

When discussing the topic, players were fairly positive about brands when they added 'realism' to the games. Those who were negative about product placements were also negative about advertising in general. While some players did not think they were influenced by product placements, others reported instances of purchasing a brand that they became very interested in as a result of the game.

A survey of gamers tested the comments and observations gathered from the netnography. Relationships between attitudes toward advertising, attitudes toward product placement in games, and the perceived impact on purchasing behaviors were all positive. Thus, gamers' attitudes toward product placements in games functioned as an intervening, mediating factor on how brand advertising affected their purchasing behaviors.



Red Bull Influences Purchase A much discussed instance of where a brand influenced gamers' purchasing behaviors was Red Bull in the game "Wipeout." Several players told stories of how they came to know and use the high-energy drink as a result of the game. Some first thought Red Bull was a fake brand within the game, as they were familiarized with it almost two years before the product hit local store shelves. One player commented: "I freaked when I realized that it was a real drink and immediately picked some up (good stuff!)." In other cases, game-players expressed disappointment because they could not purchase the brand where they lived.

Other comments picked up by the researchers revealed how the game itself (a high-energy challenge quest) helped build the brand image. The synergy between the 'bad-ass' attitude and the energy needed to play the game - provided by the virtual drink - led gamers to try the product in real-life. In this case, Red Bull was actively sought out by consumers after exposure in a game, desired even in places where the brand was not yet available. A great lesson for marketers: The game context, the quality of the integration, and the active participation of gamers in the marketing process created new paths to sales.

This Is No Game The potential of product placement in games is just beginning. Marketers are aware that the young male demographic is playing games, not watching TV. The question is: Will they be smart enough to take their cue from the gamers and not allow marketing tactics to dominate, but rather build presence, continuity, and resolution in the context, challenge, and emotional frame of the game experience.

Please click to view some notable product placements, courtesy of iTVX.

*Advertainment or Adcreep? Game Players' Attitudes Toward Advertising and Product Placements in Computer Games. Michelle R. Nelson, Heejo Keum, and Ronald A. Yaros. Journal of Interactive Advertising, Volume 5, Number 1, Fall 2004.

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