What television was to previous generations of consumers, it appears gaming is to today’s buyers. Notably, among men younger than 35 years of age, 63 percent acknowledge that gaming represents their primary form of social interaction and the main place they spend time (even if virtually) with friends. To access this substantial, promising market, companies insert marketing communications within games, using a variety of innovative functions that seek to match the entertaining character of the channel.

For example, when playing sports-oriented games, consumers can outfit players or vehicles with brand logos from Coca-Cola or Red Bull. Other brands sponsor mini-competitions within the game, inducing players to interact with brand elements by getting them engaged in the sponsored game. Virtual product placements also are common, with familiar products popping up in various game scenarios. Rather than adding products, in Fortnite, a Wendy’s avatar appeared for a recent nine-hour run, determinedly entering any bombed out burger restaurant it found and destroying all freezers—in line with Wendy’s distinctive claim that it never serves frozen burgers.

Rather than limiting themselves to existing games though, some companies seek to develop their own offerings. Here again, Wendy’s offers a notable example. It introduced some of the first branded games to a new digital video arcade launched by Giphy. In this arcade, users can develop personalized games with music and graphics that they chose, then share the result for others to play. The entries by Wendy’s are clearly branded, but users can adjust and alter them as they choose, with their own preferred elements.

Such creative approaches appear to be working thus far. The target market of young consumers is famously skeptical of traditional marketing efforts, yet a survey of active gamers showed that 61 percent of them regarded sponsored content in their games positively (and only 23 percent judged it negatively), acknowledging that this content offered enhanced value and enjoyment. Considering that gamers spend a lot of time talking about gaming with friends, these positive assessments also are likely to be sparking positive word of mouth. Brands would be smart to get in the game then, both literally and figuratively.

Discussion Questions

  1. Can you think of any other creative ways that brands might make an appearance in virtual games?
  2. Why do you think gamers find these advertising efforts appealing—what traits of the messages facilitate acceptance by these consumers?

Source: Barry Levine, “Majority of Gamers Say Sponsored Content Adds to the Fun, Survey Shows,” Marketing Dive, October 18, 2019; Robert Williams, “Wendy’s Sponsors Mobile Games in Giphy’s New Digital Arcade,” Marketing Dive, October 17, 2019