Branding in video games: the new Eldorado for big brands?

The days of traditional advertising are over: many brands have decided to invest in game marketing these days. Video games represent an ideal platform for large companies to realise creative digital campaigns.

by Smart Media Agency CH | July 16, 2021

Xavier Delelis Fanien, Head of Digital at the Rosbeef! agency and an expert in “in-game” campaigns, explains: “The implementation of advertising is itself like a video game: a set of parameters to play with, obstacles to overcome, problems to solve to get to the final boss, the clientele. It’s not about integrating classic advertising into a video game. Rather, it’s about approaching the gaming community with accuracy, subtlety and participation. There are no ready-made formats for this, a lot of things have to be invented.”

Life simulation games lend themselves particularly well to this kind of advertising. Games like Animal Crossing, The Sims or Fortnite take the players into an immersive virtual world. These game worlds allow you to go for a walk, meet friends or simply change your appearance, for example. Sales of such life simulations skyrocketed last year due to the Corona crisis. For example, Animal Crossing: New Horizons sold over 13.4 million copies worldwide in just six weeks. Other games also benefited from the crisis: In May 2020, Epic Games reported that Fortnite recorded more than 3.2 billion hours of play during the lockdowns.

Thanks to this new channel, brands can reach the young and engaged generation.

In the face of this hype, brands have to adapt and reinvent their marketing strategy. In addition, consumers are leaving their homes less and immersing themselves in virtual worlds instead. Video games are therefore indeed a new El Dorado for advertisers. Thanks to this new channel, brands can reach the young and engaged generation.

Fokus” shows several ways to get into “in-game” marketing.

Transforming real products into virtual ones

Many brands have decided to create a digital counterpart for their physical products. This approach has recently been taken by big designers Marc Jacobs and Valentino. They have released several fashion collections specifically for the avatars of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Nevertheless, this principle is not only limited to clothing and accessories of game characters. In June 2020, fast food chain KFC Philippines announced the opening of its first restaurant in the Nintendo game. The restaurant has individualised their virtual island and coded the real fast food. Even Colonel Sanders, the brand’s mascot, was modelled. In addition, the communication also had an impact on the real world. Those who discover KFC’s secret island in the game win a bucket of fried chicken at the nearest branch.

An Instagram post from Marc Jacobs featuring the digitised collection.

Planning virtual events and gathering the community

In real life, large-scale events are rare at the moment. So why not hold an event in a video game? Rallies, concerts and much more are still possible in the digital world. American rapper Travis Scott has also understood this. Without further ado, he was the first artist to organise a virtual world tour in the middle of the corona pandemic. Between 24 and 26 April 2020, the singer gave several concerts in Fortnite. These performances can compete with the biggest concerts. Especially for this occasion, costumes and animations of all kinds were thought up for the avatars. The first show was watched live by almost 12 million participants.

The digital communications agency We Are Social Singapore added a combative perspective to the primary use of video games. Namely, the agency organised a digital demonstration during Pride Month in the game Animal Crossing. They created “Pride Island” especially for the occasion, where gamer avatars gathered for a rainbow march to advocate for the rights of LGBTQIA+ people.

The Global Pride Crossing campaign by We Are Social in the Nintendo game Animal Crossing.

Awakening the playfulness in the clientele

Thanks to editor modes, brands can change the game environments and thus set thematic priorities. For example, the French singer Jul has created his own game environment (map) in Fortnite. This allows fans and gamers to immerse themselves in a world that has sprung from the artist’s imagination.

Every second consumer worldwide plays video games at least once a month.

Gamers & Brands 2020

In a different way, WWF France promoted conservation by changing the rules of Fortnite in 2019. In their #NoBuildChallenge, gamers were given the additional challenge of making do without conventional resources (stone, wood, etc.) and the famous pickaxe. Survival is much more difficult without the versatile and magical tool. The organisation thus wanted to raise awareness of the importance of natural resources – both in the virtual and the real world.

Today, there are already hundreds of “in-game” marketing strategies and the potential is far from exhausted. In fact, this new type of advertising has proven to be effective in reaching and raising awareness among a large part of the population. The Gamers & Brands 2020 report states: “One in two consumers worldwide plays video games at least once a month.” Furthermore, this type of marketing seems to be creating new jobs. Because many big companies are now actively looking for video game experts to add to their marketing teams. So this is a new marketing field in development to keep an eye on.

Text by Perrine Borlée


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