BY: SARI ARAMBULO
So what’s “Product Placement” all about?
We’ve all seen it. Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you can recognize it almost instantly. A character suddenly reveals a Coke label to the camera, another declares his love for Domino’s Pizza; the proclamation seems to stand out amongst the otherwise brandless dialogue. From its earliest form in films in the 1990s (Reese’s Pieces in E.T.) to the more evolved subtle placements within narratives in hit contemporary TV shows (P&G in Blackish), product placement has become a staple in American advertising and marketing, and it seems to be here to stay. These placements, or integrations, not only provide a level of authenticity to the narrative, but can also influence dramatic increases in revenue (i.e. a spike in the sales of Raybans sunglasses after the release of the film Risky Business), and thus impact the surrounding pop culture at the time.
As the entertainment landscape continues to change with the prevalence of streaming and social media platforms, advertisers are now more than ever seeking innovative ways to make their brand stand out utilizing product placements. With this, brands have interestingly taken to the rising video game industry as a new site of integration excavation, creating branded entertainment.
What do you mean?
Take the video game phenomenon of Fortnite: Battle Royal. Founded by Epic Games in 2017, this online game has drawn in more than 200 million players worldwide. From memes, sub-reddits, and twitter accounts dedicated to all things Fortnite, the game has become a cultural phenomenon. Gamers (such as Ninja) have rose to fame streaming the game on Twitch, earning millions in ad revenue, as well as sponsorships and donations via the site. With this huge platform, it certainly has grabbed the attention of brands looking for new innovative ways to market their product.
I want concrete examples!
Ok, here are two unique instances of brand integrations within the online game.
- Fortnite x Marvel Avengers: Infinity War
To market the release of the film Marvel Avengers: Infinity War, Fortnite launched a new “limited time mode” featuring major key points from the film’s narrative. The “Infinity Gauntlet,” which serves as a significant aspect in the movie, plays an equally large role in the game, as it crashed into the Fortnite map. Forbes explains, “ The first person to grab the gauntlet … transform[ed] into [the film’s villain] Thanos, wielding awesome new powers to take out enemies,” from mighty punches to super jumps.
Epic Games recounts, “this collaboration started as “a simple phone conversation between Epic and Marvel over a mutual appreciation for Fortnite and Avengers.” Here, it is important to note that brands are conscientious of their demographic, and will only seek placement in the video game industry if appropriate. In this instance, Marvel is quite on-brand with the Fortnite market, providing a perfect matrimony of two demographics heavily dominated by male teens. With Marvel having their own line of video games, Marvel entertainment used their similar demographics to leverage marketing for their latest Avengers film.
2. Fortnite x DJ Marshmello
Internationally famous DJ Marshmello has taken integration to a whole new level. On February 2nd, the DJ broke the record for hosting the largest concert ever, with more than ten million people watching his virtual set. You can check it out here; the video itself already has over 31 million views.
The concert was teased for days, not only on Marshmello’s real-life tour schedule, but advertised on posters within the game’s world as well. Additionally, Epic created custom Marshmello “skins,” or outfits, that users could purchase and let their characters wear. His management also released real life Fortnite x Marshmello merchandise.
So, why are these integrations so successful?
We can break down these two integrations’ success in two ways: consumer satisfaction and overall reach. First, Thanos in Fortnite added another element to the gaming experience. Seth Barton from The Verge explains, “For skilled players Thanos was a thrill to play as, while for everyone else he added an element of horror to the experience.” It not only gave beginners confidence, but also made expert players rethink their strategies. Clearly, consumers were satisfied with this crossover. Secondly, Fortnite has exemplified its extensive platform, reaching over 10 million unique users with its Marshmello concert.
The interactive nature of the gaming world seems to be the driving force behind these integration success stories. In TV, viewers take a passive approach, watching or listening to a brand being presented to them via a narrative. But with the video game industry, users take a more active approach to the integration process. As players interacting in the game, they take a participatory role within branded content. While television writers strive to conceal the brands within the narrative, using certain dialogue or creating plot points revolving around the various products, video game designers subvert this idea. Instead, the gaming world highlights the brand, with the intention of making the product stand out. This technique on their specific platform seems to work well, garnering positive feedback from users. Hence, these newfound methods of integration are opening doors for marketers.
E-sports writer Jack Risdale sums it up well, “With games as a service being the new normal when it comes to multiplayer gaming, it only makes sense for brands to capitalise on their fluid nature. This could well be the start of a new trend of in-game content, especially when it comes to monetising free to play or early access games. With the youth drifting away from the cinema to the dynamic world of gaming…the opportunities for brands even beyond the world of film are nearly infinite.”
Epic Games is setting the tone for advertisers, pushing themselves beyond the standard integrations of TV. They’re showcasing the endless possibilities that the video game industry can provide. With virtual concerts, skins, and limited time modes, the video game world can be your oyster as an advertiser. Move over TV, there’s a new sheriff in town.