In-Game Advertising Moves From Pure Branding Play to Measurable Marketing

By BKV in Media Strategy on September 23rd, 2010

BKV, proudly one of the largest independent digital and direct response agencies in the country (shameless plug), is fixated on measurable marketing.
So my antennae were raised when Electronic Arts, the global gaming juggernaut, issued a press release this week claiming a measurable link between advertisements in video games and sales of featured products. From the EA press release:

"The study, commissioned by EA on behalf of Gatorade, showed a 24 percent increase in household dollars spent on the sports drink, and offered a return on investment of $3.11. The study focused on households that purchased one of EA's sports titles sponsored by Gatorade, which included NHL(R) 09, NHL 10, NBA Live 07, NBA Live 08, NBA Live 09 and NBA Street Homecourt. The sales impact was measured in a couple of ways. Nielsen used its US Homescan panel of more than 100,000 households, which included a subset of homes that scanned videogame UPC (Universal Product Codes) barcodes. The codes were then later matched to a reference library of more than 14,000 titles, with Nielsen then comparing homes that purchased at least one of EA's titles before and after the Gatorade branding was integrated and homes that didn't purchase any of the games."

madden in gameMarketing directors (and consumers) should be skeptical when a corporate entity trying to sell you something commissions a study telling you how safe or effective it is (please see cigarettes or the Deepwater Horizon). While the overall study mentions the methodology of tracking households and games played, we'd like to see slices of the households and timeframes. And were households that bought games, but not EA UPCs, included in the comparison? Gaming households are going to skew much younger and thirstier. The omission of the Madden NFL series in this study is curious. Madden moves millions more units a year than the NBA series, and features more Gatorade friendly In-Game advertising. In fact, the Madden video game football players are known to give their video game coaches a video game Gatorade bath after a hard-fought victory. Compare that with their video game comrades in the NBA, who awkwardly walk around exchanging virtual high fives and scripted pleasantries when the clock expires - no Gatoradegatorade shower baths for these dudes. Another piece of curious timing is EA dropped their In-Game advertising agencies in March, moving the sales efforts in-house. One gets the feeling that someone is beating the drum loudly at EA to make the sales needle move. If commissioning a study gets it done, then "Git R Done!"

Be surprised that it took this long to identify "measurable marketing" in games. Video Games have featured In-Game advertising since the 80s - first from licensing (sports teams, guns and cars - are you getting an idea of the target demo yet?) and then evolving into product placement and ad interactivity. There is a link between In-Game advertising and sales, but I've seen plenty of shenanigans in past corporate commissioned studies. An impartial study of effectiveness would be welcome.