Product Placement Brings Porn to Video Games

Product Placement Brings Porn to Games

Now your virtual self can drink a Coke, play Madden, and even read a "Playboy" magazine.

“It’s not easy,” reports Dr. Cristel Russell of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, an expert on analyzing and measuring the effectiveness of product placement advertising in media. “Sometimes placements go unnoticed but they still have an impact, sometimes even more of an impact than those that are well noticed.”

In the billion-dollar video game industry, not all of the money is made at the cash registers of your local electronics retailer. The makers and marketers of every form of consumer product are looking at gaming’s increasing popularity as a conduit to spread their own message. Concurrently, game makers who are forced to front load debt while their title is in development are looking to start balancing their books are increasingly willing to part with pixel-space in exchange for financial considerations.

Playboy bunny-hops in

Product placement in video games is not a new phenomenon, the earliest example is for a British brand of potato chips in the 1985 Commodore 64 release "Action Biker", but over the past two years a major American brand of a peculiar variety: "Playboy Magazine" has made a unique and concerted effort to reach the gaming audience. In an age of instant internet gratification, the fifty-seven-year-old ‘gentleman’s lifestyle’ magazine might be looking to stay relevant. Dr. Russell explains, “I wouldn’t be surprised that this is a part of 'Playboy’s' attempt to lose the baggage of being associated with older audiences and target what would be a new market for them.”

It’s not only the target market that’s new; it is the way the "Playboy" is being presented. In traditional product placement, firms contract to have their products appear in the background of television shows or movies, or with a greater investment become instrumental to the stories’ plot, like the cars used in the "Transformers" movie franchise. In gaming, there is an opportunity to take it one-step further, “It definitely increases the level of interaction with the brand when a brand becomes connected to the plot or the storyline.”

Virtual centerfolds

In the 2008 release "Metal Gear Solid 4", virtual copies of "Playboy" could be found by legendary solider Solid Snake scattered on the battlefields of 2014 and used by the player to distract enemy soldiers. Then in the summer of 2010, despite the game taking place at least two years before the magazine itself was founded, vintage issues of "Playboy" complete with viewable and uncensored centerfolds were hidden in the game "Mafia II" as collectables, rewarding the player for finding them all. Finally, in late 2010’s "Dead Rising 2" from Capcom, in addition to "Playboy" covers adorning wall-mounted advertisements inside the game’s malls and casinos, a copy of the magazine can be found and used to boost the in-game reward for aiding female survivors of a zombie outbreak.

Too much placement?

Dr. Russell explains what gamers may think, saying, “There is always a possibility for these embedded messages to be perceived as overly persuasive, out of place or insulting even. The funny thing with product placement is if it is done in a way that sort of gets in under the radar because it’s cute or helpful in enhancing the experience, then people forget all about the fact that it’s trying to persuade them.”

The modern media consumer has become, albeit begrudgingly, used to product placement, the aging but still young gamer demographic included. “[Gamers] are very savvy about marketing efforts like product placement, but they have grown up in a saturated world, so they are used to them being there. You can find a lot of ambivalence, they hate the ones that don’t seem to fit but they are immune to the ones that are if they are flowing [and] unobtrusive.”

“If you know the target audience and you know the kind of media they consume and you know the kinds of cultural references that they have and speak their language it’s going to resonate with them.” Dr. Russell notes that in an age when gaming’s popularity is bringing the pastime negative attention in arenas from the dinner table to the Supreme Court, those who arrange for product placements are not concerned with the social reputation of brands, be they violent video games or the objectively pornographic. It’s about communication, says Dr. Russell. “If you have certain cultural references about [the placed product] that can fit in a particular context then you win. You can speak to them on their turf.”

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