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When Advertising Invades Video Games

by Annette Gonzalez on Dec 09, 2010 at 01:00 PM

It seems in-game advertising is becoming increasingly prevalent these days with product placement for anything from men’s deodorant to soft drinks. Whether humorous or out of place, these advertisements provide an alternate revenue stream for developers to help offset increasing production costs. Looking at the way products are paired with games tells you a little bit about the demographic that game publishers and advertisers are seeking with each title. Check out some of the more notable advertising invasions in video games.

Madden NFL 11
Notable Advertisement: Old Spice
No, you can’t play as the Old Spice guy. Nor can you unlock a horse. Among the changes in the latest franchise entry with new QB rankings and kicking engine, there was an addition of the “Swagger” rating described as “a unique new rating sponsored by Old Spice to quantify a player’s personality…reflected through in-game celebrations.” The higher the rating, the higher likelihood a player would showboat after a touchdown. While Old Spice does have close ties to the NFL, fans cried foul over the addition.

Rabbids Go Home
Notable Advertisement: Capri Sun
Nothing gets these wily rabbit-like creatures riled up like a Capri Sun juice pouch. Considering how hard these pouches are to pry open for humans, I can’t imagine the trouble these poor Rabbids must go through to get their fix.

Second Life
Notable Advertisement: American Apparel
The ginormous social sim Second Life has been prime territory for advertisers to push their products. One notable entry is American Apparel. Even your virtual character can’t escape the hipster ads, cotton overload, and leotards of AA.

Shaun White Skateboarding
Notable Advertisements:  Stride Gum, Wendy’s
The discovery of major corporate logos in a game centered around a bunch of punk skateboarders rallying against a soul-sucking government is an odd find to say the least.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Notable Advertisement: Axe Deodorant
Make a stealthy man a sexy man with a scent that makes women everywhere go wild. Sam Fisher may be able to keep himself safe from guards, but can he escape the hordes of women trying to get closer to this Axe man? All things considered, a person who spends his time completing covert operations in a skin-tight suit will probably need some antiperspirant.

Metal Gear Solid Series
Notable Advertisements: Playboy, CalorieMate, Apple Products, Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Doritos, Axe, etc.
Is it just me, or does Snake suddenly look more attractive? Seems Axe is the brand of choice for the stealth man on the go. Konami has also given players a chance to jam out with an iPod, recover stamina with CalorieMate snacks, and discover stray bags of Doritos.

Burnout Paradise 
Notable Advertisement: Barack Obama
It’s not every day you see promotions of a presidential candidate in a racing game. Even though Burnout Paradise promoted Obama’s campaign, it didn’t necessarily declare an official political stance for the parties involved in the creation of the game. According to an EA representative, “political advertising does not reflect the opinions or policies of EA or its developers."

Next up: Dirty magazines and more!

Mafia II
Notable Advertisement: Playboy
Playboy cut a deal with 2K Games for the inclusion of Playboy mags to appear in-game. Not only does it increase the game’s sex appeal, but it serves as a collectible as well. On the plus side, collecting virtual copies is a surefire way to safeguard them from mom’s bed searches.

Dead Rising 2
Notable Advertisement: More Playboy
Because naked ladies make the perfect complement to a zombie outbreak?

Alan Wake
Notable Advertisements: Verizon Wireless, Energizer batteries
With the appearance of VZW in Alan Wake as a full commercial, in-game ads are taking a leap from static billboards and items to video. It probably helps that Alan has the nation’s largest network backing him up and a few Energizer batteries lying around to keep him safe. No one wants dropped calls in an emergency, right? Check out the ad below:


Kinect Sports
Notable Advertisement: Samsung
Maybe if you get punched in the face enough you’ll be hypnotized into buying a new Samsung HDTV.

Pikmin 2
Notable Advertisements: Duracell batteries, 7-Up, Carmex, Vlasic, Skippy, Snapple, Dannon, etc.
The Pikmin tasked to retrieve treasures had plenty of real-world items to collect that were just as confusing to the critters as they were to us.

Phantasy Star Portable 2
Notable Advertisement: Pizza Hut
A Pizza Hut sword and shield? This is probably one of the more unusual product placements we’ve seen, but I’m sure this isn’t the first instance where someone used a pizza box as a shield.

With games like Cool Spot (7UP), the King Games (Burger King), and a series of titles based on the ever-so-popular tortilla chip Doritos, advergames serve the purpose of coupling entertainment with brand promotion…and surprisingly aren’t always that terrible.

What are your thoughts on in-game advertising and product placement? Better than the inclusion of made-up brands? An annoying distraction?  Discuss in the comments section.