Are Video Games Vital For Advertising and Digital Marketing?

Written by Adam: Senior Content and Social Executive.
· 4 minute read

Nike are selling digital trainers in Fortnite – because who needs real stuff anyway, right?!

It’s true that digital marketing and advertising has always needed to evolve in order to consistently achieve the best return on investment possible. However, as television, radio and other traditional advertising platforms decline, many marketers are turning to the ever-growing gaming industry to promote themselves.

And this Fortnite and Nike partnership is just the latest example…

Fortnite – a new frontier for advertising

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely already heard of the immensely popular free online-multiplayer. With roughly 250 million registered users, it’s grown into a huge pop culture force since it’s 2017 release. Grossing billions for developer Epic Games, thanks to in-game purchases, known as micro-transactions.

It’s not hard to see why it’s become so appealing to brands and major marketers. As they look to catch the attention of the game’s largely younger, elusive Gen Z demographic. Who are typically amongst the more ad-averse consumer groups.

Nike’s range of entirely digital sports shoes, which will appear as “skins” on two new characters, is just the latest crossover partnership between Fortnite and other iconic brands. 2018 saw virtual jerseys from the NFL appear in the game, along with “Avengers” crossovers. Even the house from the “John Wick” movie franchise has been introduced onto the game’s map.

In February, the game had its biggest event ever, when popular electronic music producer Marshmello held a live concert in-game. Amazingly, over 10 million users “attended” the event, and a Marshmello player skin was also made available. Meaning some players have essential become walking digital advertisements for the musician.

It’s safe to say that modern video games like Fortnite have become very lucrative for brands and marketers. But is all this anything new?

How has it worked in the past?

The gaming industry has flourished since its early beginnings, when people used to actually leave the house just to play Pong, the pinnacle of 70s gaming!

It may seem like video gaming is the newest medium for marketers to take advantage of. However, advertising in video games has been attempted before, with varying degrees of success.


One of the most blatant examples of an “advergame” was Pepsiman, which released in 1999 for the Sony Playstation. Two guesses for what the video game was trying to advertise…

Developed specifically to promote the brand’s product, it was only launched in Japan and reportedly didn’t sell well. No idea why; I mean who wouldn’t want to run around as a Pepsi-branded superhero, avoiding obstacles such as Pepsi-branded trucks, all while gaining points by endlessly collecting floating cans of the very same carbonated soft drink?!

Damn I’m thirsty…

Worms 3D

Another example of earlier advertising in a video game came with a different popular drink. The “Red Bull gives you wings” slogan had already cemented the iconic energy drink as a sort of power up. So, it sort of made sense when it appeared in the 2003 turn-based combat game, Worms 3D.

While playing as one of the eponymous worms, players could consume a can of Red Bull in-game, to gain increased movement speed and jump height. But oddly no ability to fly, shame…

The Grand Tour Game

Much more recently, The Grand Tour Game was launched in January of this year. Serving as an extension of the Amazon Prime series of the same name. The game was episodically released, to correspond with each new episode of Series 3 of the show.

Essentially it offered two mediums melded into one, as players start by watching an episode of the show, which periodically transitions into interactive gameplay sections. Any viewers who aren’t satisfied with just listening to Clarkson, Hammond or May, can experience how the vehicles perform themselves, albeit digitally.

The point is, the ability for advertisers and digital marketers to introduce audiences to their brand and products through video games has been around for a while. However, as the industry has advanced, so has the ability to advertise in more innovative ways…

Marketing opportunities in digital worlds

Gaming, at the casual and professional level, is showing no signs of slowing down in terms of popularity. This is why savvy digital marketers and advertisers are going to great lengths to interweave their brands into these lucrative digital worlds.

According to 2018 statistics brought together by UKIE:

  • 49% of people aged between 6 and 64 in the UK play video games.
  • On average, 11 to 64 year-olds in the UK spend 10.3 hours per week playing.

This gives any advertisers plenty of opportunity to promote their brands in clever ways. Not only have they got an abundance of screen-time to play with, but the sheer diversity of gaming platforms presents many more digital marketing avenues to explore.

From consoles and computers to handheld systems and smartphones; people play video games whenever and wherever they can. According to research from Limelight Networks; the most commonly used devices for playing video games are mobile phones. Leaving advertisers no shortage of marketing opportunities.

Watching games promotes advertising success

Even when gamers aren’t actually playing in these ever-expanding digital worlds, they’re watching them instead. Professional and casual gaming streams on platforms like Twitch and YouTube net millions of views. And a single eSports competition can often exceed millions in terms of live online viewership. 

All of this adds up to hours upon hours of opportunities for digital marketers to achieve their marketing goals.  

Video game marketing can’t be ignored

The fact that Grand Theft Auto V, which was released in 2013, is still the most financially successful media product of all time; says something about how successful advertising and digital marketing can be in the gaming industry.

Major players in marketing and advertising are now joining the gaming world, in an attempt to grab a piece of the billions in revenue returns. But thanks to the success of releases such as Pokemon GO, marketers are having to think outside the box when it comes to implementing effective advertising alongside increasingly innovative gaming styles.

Pokemon GO in particular promoted a unique style of gameplay, by encouraging real-world exploration as part of the experience. It managed to capture the attention of a much wider audience than even traditional video games typically do. It has declined in terms of popularity, but the game still generates a considerable amount of revenue.

Advertisements that add to the experience  

Consumers have continued to become more resistant to advertising attempts, forcing marketers to either adapt or die.

This is why, just like Nike’s digital trainers, brands are creating effective content for players to actually use and enjoy. As opposed to simply throwing a static ad in their face during gameplay. For example, as graphics improved with football game FIFA, playable characters started sporting Adidas-branded gear and using iconic Adidas ball designs. A nod to the fact that the sportswear brand has always played a pivotal role in the design for the game, through the use of well-placed ads.

Also, the rise in popularity of virtual reality gaming will see marketers place branded products into these immersive digital environments. Allowing players to interact with them in innovative ways. These playable ads that offer a sense of reward to gamers will have the potential to improve user engagement and positive brand recognition.

The Pepsimans and the blatant Red Bull power-ups of the past are disappearing. Instead we’re seeing more examples of how advertising within video games can be achieved in a way that isn’t distracting to players, but actually benefits the gameplay experience. It’s hard to predict the future of course, but it certainly looks like marketers will continue to implement advertisements into video games in increasingly smarter and more successful ways.

If you want to take your digital marketing game to the next level – Get in touch.

Senior Content and Social Executive