Last week, we discussed the movement of advertising and promotion of video games. Today, we are going to talk about the other side of marketing in the video game industry: in-game advertising. Similar to product placement on television or sponsored shows and events, advertising of products or services has become a major cog in the video game industry, but it didn’t happen overnight. Games like Kool-Aid Man and Tooth Protectors promoted brand names with in-game logos and a mascot on the Atari 2600 gaming console (released in 1977). Over the years, some games (e.g. the Battlefield series) have incorporated in-game billboards that promote real-world products. A large determinant for which games utilize in-game advertisements is the genre.
The specific game genre of a title can open up possibilities for advertising or eliminate it entirely. The most common place for in-game advertising is sport games. It is impossible to find a major sports title without any in-game promotion. From cut screens to jerseys to venue design, logos and branding for products are all over the place in the genre. The biggest sports title, Madden NFL, has switched to load screens incorporating square ads for products and services like Sheetz MTO. Player stats between quarters and at half-time are brought to you by Verizon or Sprint.
Compare that to the fictional type of game genres. You can’t place an ad for Pepsi or Coke in the middle of a medieval England or put a pair of Beats by Dre headphones on a knight in a fantasy land. Some game developers have begun to utilize sponsored downloadable content (DLC) to gain in-game advertising revenue for unrealistic settings. A major and recent example of this is present in Mario Kart 8. Nintendo released the Mercedes DLC at the end of summer. The DLC allowed gamers to drive Mercedes-inspired vehicles (pictured above). It is clear that marketing within video games has become a constant that will only continue to grow and continue to benefit the involved parties greatly.
Recently, someone discussed the possibility of an internship with me. While an internship over holiday break and the spring semester was enticing, it would be in a very particular field: healthcare. The marketer I spoke with understood my trepidation about the opportunity. She knew that the field was not for everyone and wanted to make sure that I took an internship that was within an industry that I was extremely passionate about. One industry that really intrigues me and that I am quite passionate about is video games.
The video game industry has a very engaged consumer base. The industry brings in roughly $100 billion annually. In order to get consumers to purchase the products, the main techniques used by the marketing department of video game companies are less prominent in other industries. While one will see the occasional television commercial or YouTube ad, the primary sources of marketing behind video games are demos, streams and in-person events.
Video game companies originally began giving out demo discs through third-parties (e.g. Pizza gave away PlayStation discs with multiple demos). Over time, the demo disc developed into downloadable gameplay for previewing a title. Now, the streaming of game content has become more prominent for big name titles. Often, individuals or companies like IGN, known for video game reviews, and Rooster Teeth, a hotbed of user-generated content, will receive or get to play video games prior to release. Those organizations or individuals often live stream or release gameplay online. Game developers have even begun to release early versions of games (alphas and betas) to large numbers of consumers to increase excitement. Other times, a game developer may decide to invite individuals and companies to an event to see and/or play with others (e.g. Microsoft held HaloFest for the upcoming release of a game collection, a television show based on a video game and a future title). Marketing strategy in the video game industry continues to shift towards letting consumers receive hands-on experience and spreading word of the game.
Recently, I heard some kids on campus talking about “Alex from Target”. On Twitter, I saw a mention of apparently the same person. I had no idea who Alex was or why people were talking about him. Eventually, he was shining under the national spotlight. He made an appearance on Ellen today, and prior to that, Good Morning America cleared up the reason for his sudden popularity.
For those who don’t know, “Alex from Target” became a viral sensation recently. He wasn’t posting any interesting videos, sharing stories or the king of selfies. While on the job at a North Texas Target, someone snapped a photograph of Alex bagging someone’s purchases. The picture garnered attention from many young females for his looks. As CNET put it, “Alex from Target” possesses Beiberesque beauty (referencing Justin Beiber’s look early in his music career). In no time, millions of people had been exposed to Alex, primarily through the #alexfromtarget on Twitter.
The thing that the masses didn’t know (and most people still don’t know) is that Alex did not become famous by chance. A young company, Breakr, set up the whole scenario. It had someone who saw an opportunity to capitalize on the looks of Alex. With his approval, Breakr had someone take the photograph that would eventually be tweeted by a third party. That tweet led to “Alex from Target” going viral. Breakr’s goals are to get people noticed and try to land them brand deals. Now, Breakr’s CEO has already announced that he is trying to negotiate a deal with Target on Alex’s behalf. The story that swept the nation and a portion of the globe was just a well-planned marketing ploy.