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Essential Marketing Lessons to Take Away from Video Game Marketing

Andie Phoon

Andie Phoon

Did you know that there are 3.24 billion gamers worldwide, as of 2021? Its estimated worth is around $ 180 billion dollars

With the popularity of live-streaming, AR, VR, XR, and mobile gaming rising, it’s safe to say that this is the future trajectory of our source of entertainment and pop culture. 

It’s no surprise that brands would take notice and add a new channel to their marketing plan. The benefits that stem from this opportunity is fairly obvious. So how are brands capitalizing on this flourishing market? 

Before we jump into how you can implement some video game marketing tactics into other aspects of your overall strategy, let’s explore why it’s advantageous. 

Imagine you’re playing Fortnite. Your avatar is on a rampage with your teammates and as you pass by a building, you see an ad for your local pharmacy. Or perhaps you’ll take a break in the midst of a mission to order McDonald’s from a virtual store. Maybe an NPC (non-playable character) offers you a Coke in League of Legends

This particular style of advertising in videos is becoming progressively more prevalent and could become a staple marketing channel for many brands in the near future. It’s not far-fetched to predict that we will see many games either bearing brand logos or including branded characters. 

This opens up a new avenue of brand awareness, brand loyalty, and community engagement that many businesses have been looking for. Where brands had to once respond to culture, they now have the opportunity to create culture. 

However, gaming sponsorships, advertising, and marketing, in itself, isn’t a new venture. Brands like Mountain Dew, Red Bull, and Doritos have been doing it for years. 

To give you some background perspective on how much marketing in the gaming industry has evolved, I’ll begin by including a brief overview on some of the earliest video game marketing campaigns. 

Table of Contents

A Brief History on In-Game Advertising

In the early 1990s and 2000s, brands ventured into the world of advergames. But what are advergames? This specific marketing channel was solely created to advertise a company through branded characters and buggy gameplay. You would usually find them in a cereal box, magazine, or fast food order. 

However, that’s not to say games like Pepsiman, Sneak King, and Chex Quest were not successful in promoting their brands. In fact, some of them generated strong return-on-investment. 

Let’s take a look at some examples.

Chex Quest (1996)

When video games were becoming a household staple in the 90s, Chex decided to engage with their audiences by placing their game, Chex Quest, at the bottom of Chex Mix boxes. 

The game featured an intergalactic setting that focused on beating green aliens as “Chex Man”, a space hero. In order to beat the game’s levels of varying difficulties and challenges, players needed to maintain Chex Man’s strength by consuming foods like fruits and boxes of Chex Mix. 

Check out Chex Quest here:

On a symbolic level, the game was promoting a story of how heroes were fueled by healthy breakfasts like Chex Mix. As a result of its popularity, the game became a commercial hit, which also led to a substantial increase in sales—around 42 million copies were distributed. Though the promotional period only lasted around 6 weeks, the game gained a devoted following, which ultimately led to two sequels, one of which was recently launched in 2019.  

Not only was Chex Mix a brilliant use of advergaming, but it was also creative and engaging for the target audience. Because of its acclaim, it won many advertising awards like the Golden Effie for Advertising Effectiveness and the Golden Reggie Award for Promotional Advertisement. 

Pepsiman (1999)

While brands like Chex Mix succeeded in advergames, Pepsi, on the other hand, failed. Pepsiman, an action video game focused on running and avoiding obstacles while collecting Pepsi soda cans, was a complete financial failure. The game was released exclusively in Japan in 1999 and featured a branded superhero mascot in a skin-tight leotard suit. Pepsiman, a bizarre example of advergames, was perceived as a game with a very weird premise that missed the mark. 

Here’s a preview of Pepsiman in action:

Burger King's Advergames (2006)

While Pepsi’s venture into advergames was a failure, Burger King’s was not. In the 2000s, Burger King identified that a majority of their audience enjoyed gaming. As a result, the fast food brand launched its first game, Sneak King, in 2006. Sneak King was a stealth game that allowed players to embody their eponymous mascot, The King. Gamers were then tasked to deliver burgers to hungry people. As the game kept people entertained, it also featured Burger King’s menu in great detail. 

Here’s a sneak peek of the game:

Within the first few weeks of Sneak King’s launch, it ended up becoming a 2006 best seller, with a 40% increase in quarterly sales and 2.7 million copies sold. The game also won a Clio Award

The famous restaurant chain went on to create two other branded games—PocketBike Racer and Big Bumpin’. These two other advergames, of course, featured their mascot and burger-related themes. 

The Current State of In-Game Advertising

Video games today are drastically different from Sneak King and Chex Quest. Long gone are the days of pixelated graphics—now they’re being replaced with 4K graphics that are both visually stunning and perplexingly realistic. Many console and PC games are connecting strangers from all over the world with a simple click of a button. This presents marketers the opportunity to reach a large audience on an expanded platform. 

As the gaming industry continues to evolve, video game marketing has evolved alongside it. In the 90s and 2000s, brands had to create their own branded video game in order to reach the masses—today, they’re able to re-work traditional strategies like native advertising and influencer marketing to fit new expectations and behaviors.

Here are some quick examples of brands marketing in the gaming space: 

Wendy's

Source: VMYL&R

Wendy’s, upon discovering that a majority of their consumers are wary of traditional advertising, sought a way to tell its story in a new and engaging way. Rather than buckling down with targeted ads and paid sponsorships, Wendy’s decided to act like a gamer and transform their brand message into an interactive one. 

Their campaign, Super Wendy’s World, focused on bringing Wendy to life on the most popular video games, with an anti-frozen twist. Every week on Twitch, the fast food chain partnered with gamers and created exclusive custom content—all in the name of fresh, never frozen beef. 

Wendy’s, along with VMLY&R as their marketing agency, began Super Wendy’s World by taking in-game advertising to the next level through a Fortnite partnership. Gamers saw an avatar dressed like Wendy obliterating all the freezers in the popular battle royale video game. 

This idea first came from Fortnite’s online storyline, where players were prompted to hunt cattle and transport beef to freezers at nearby restaurants. Once the task was completed, the gamers would earn coins. 

Obviously, Wendy’s jumped at the chance to launch a Twitch stream of their avatar destroying freezers. They capitalized on this opportunity to engage and remind audiences that Wendy’s makes the effort to serve the freshest beef to all its customers. 

The campaign was so successful that Wendy’s mentions on social media went up by 119%. Their stream generated more than 1.5 million minutes watched with a quarter of a million viewers. 

This ingenious move led to Wendy’s and VMLY&R to win gold medals at the Clio Awards as well as the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. 

However, the famous FMCG brand did not stop there. Wendy’s continued their Super Wendy’s World campaign by integrating their iconic character into games like Animal Crossing, Overwatch, Super Mario 2, Minecraft, and more. 

Wendy’s ended up amassing such a large following on Twitch that it became one of the top 1% of all streamers on the platform. Their branded in-game custom content was downloaded over 988,000 times and they garnered a viewership number of over 9.8 million minutes. 

The brand’s brilliant creativity has opened the door for new marketing opportunities in the future. 

Bumble

Bumble, a famous dating app known for its mission of empowering women, partnered with Gen.G, a global e-sports organization to create an all-female team. Team Bumble consists of professional Fortnite players and its core mission is to connect and empower female gamers. 

It was estimated that Bumble’s partnership with Gen.G gave the app access to an industry that generated more than $1 billion in revenue in 2019, and then up by 27% year over year.

Mastercard

Source: The Loadout

Mastercard advertised the League of Legends 2020 Summer Split tournament by having its signature branding appear on a digital signage in the Summoner’s Rift battlefield. The brand’s strategic position was estimated to bring in thousands of views through popular streaming platforms. 

Mastercard Chief Marketing & Communications Officer Raja Rajamannar stated: “Mastercard was the first global partner of League of Legends Esports because it connects with so many people around the world who are passionate about the game. This evolution continues to help us reach fans in contextually relevant ways, where they are doing the things they love most.”

McDonald's

McDonald’s, sensing an opportunity to place their product through in-game advertising, decided to partner with Splatoon 2: Splashfest to remind gamers about their food. The game, a Nintendo Switch game created for all ages, gives players a choice between two varying items—i.e. chocolate or ice cream—to help create an amalgamation of paintball colors in the background. 

In the recent Japanese release of the game, gamers were asked to start the game by choosing between McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets or French Fries. Here’s a quick video to get a better understanding of the product placement: 

It’s reported that Splatoon 2 sold over 2 million copies, so it’s safe to say that McDonald’s had a large viewership and engagement with their advertisement.

Essential Marketing Lessons to Take Away from Video Game Marketing

As you can see, when strategically established, video game marketing can drive a high return-on-investment for brands. Here are a couple of lessons we can take away from successful campaigns like the ones mentioned above: 

1. Focus on creating a compelling narrative

Who doesn’t love a juicy story with a great narrative? According to research, the neurology behind how the brain reacts to storytelling is fascinating. According to MRI scans, many different areas of the brain light up when someone is listening to a narrative.

When it comes to marketing, it means that, in order to engage with your audience in meaningful ways, you need to create content that involves storytelling. This can be clearly found in Wendy’s Super Wendy’s World campaign. 

As mentioned above, Wendy’s utilized different video game platforms to tell the story of its brand mission–to serve the freshest beef. 

Brands could stand to see great success if they were to come up with a compelling narrative to pull their audience in. 

2. Engage and build your community

Tapping and growing communities is all about building passion around your brand and its products. These factors will play a big role in boosting brand loyalty and advocacy. If done right, it can be a powerful tactic that brings in big benefits. 

For example, the Getty Museum partnered with Animal Crossing to engage their community in a virtual, event-based setting. This exclusive partnership allowed players to decorate their homes, in-game environment, and avatars with priceless images from its open-access collection of artworks. Getty then invited users to share screenshots of their creative uses of their collection on social platforms with the hashtag #ACArtGenerator. Getty’s timely activation of this campaign proved to be the right choice—currently, their hashtag has over 2.3 million posts on Instagram. 

Source: Getty Museum

Since Animal Crossing is renowned for gameplay that’s centered around community and friendship, it’s easy to see why Getty jumped at the opportunity to engage with their audience virtually. They centered their campaign on their audience first, not just their art. Their campaign not only democratized Getty’s archive but it also helped the museum gain a foothold on popular culture. This small act of collaboration represents a feeling of community that goes a long way in building brand visibility and loyalty.

3. Partner with influencers to reach a wider audience base

I’m sure many of us know the benefits of influencer marketing. If not, you can read more about it on our other blog post

Brands like Adidas, Nike, Redbull, Gatorade, etc. are demonstrating how powerful influencer marketing can be—especially with influencers in the gaming industry. Let’s take Adidas’ partnership with famous streamer, Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, as an example.

Source: Adidas

In 2019, Ninja revealed that he would be partnering with the popular sports clothing brand, with a campaign titled “Time In”. The message behind this phrase is to simply drive home the point of how much time is invested in something one is passionate about.

By partnering with the famous Fortnite streamer, Adidas has managed to tap into Ninja’s massive following. They’ve also collaborated in making virtual and physical pieces for his fans to purchase from Adidas. 

Not only does this partnership help drive sales, but it also advocates for Adidas’ brand.

4. Adapt to new technology

Technology and trends evolve at what seems like the speed of light. Savvy marketers looking to get ahead and drive stronger business results should always have their finger on the pulse. 

My advice in adapting to new technology is to consistently be aware where your audience is heading towards. For example, brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Coca-Cola, Nike, etc. are moving toward the Metaverse to better connect with their audience in a newly untapped channel. 

Their adventurous foray into this new world allows them the room to be at the forefront of technological advancements without sacrificing their branding or connection with their audience(s). 

Consider which new technology you can add into your marketing arsenal and see how it can generate ROI for your business. You could look into emerging technologies like augmented reality or extended reality to help round out your marketing efforts. Remember that creativity is key when it comes to adapting to new tech.

5. Don’t be afraid to build some buzz

If there’s anything that those previously mentioned examples have taught us, it’s building buzz. These brands are unafraid of creating demand through interactive experiences, compelling videos, strong press coverage, and partnerships. 

While it may not be possible for your brand to generate national coverage or buzz, you can still champion your industry or niche. My recommendation? Experiment with different marketing channels to create unique experiences and creative content. Take the leap to test out new partnerships. 

6. Let your product speak for itself

As marketers, we know that product is arguably the most important aspect of marketing. Without a product, there is no offering. 

Let me paint you a picture:

Imagine having the best marketing team in your arsenal. They’ve set up the best strategy of marketing and communication messaging to promote your product. However, it turns out that your product isn’t ready to launch. What happens then? 

Brands need to be built around strong products. Not only does having a good product help you stand out, but it also establishes trust and credibility. 

Yes, branding matters. Great marketing matters. But if the product isn’t up to par, it’s just a matter of time before consumers decide to shift to other competitor brands. 

A few ways that you can let your product speak for itself: 

  • Free samples/Freebies
  • Trials
  • Discount coupons
  • Demos

 

Remember that these tactics function as a way to get your products in front of your customers. Most consumers look for opportunities to try out and experience them in a low-risk setting. Ideally, the customer would use the sample and fall in love with your product so much that they make it their preferred choice. 

The Bottom Line: How You Can Navigate the World of Gaming and New Mediums

As a marketer myself, I often advise other marketings to keep up with new trends and mediums. You never know which channel may provide beneficial opportunities in the future. While advergames or in-game marketing may not fit the bill of your brand’s needs, other platforms may be a better place for you to experiment and engage with new audiences.   

I hope that this article has assisted in opening up new avenues of thinking. There are many lessons you can learn from video game marketing and apply to meet your business goals—even if your brand never goes into in-game marketing. As needs and expectations continue to evolve, marketers will want to keep thinking of new approaches that will meet their audiences on whatever platform. 

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