Subscribe for expert
tips and access news

Are you playing the placement game?

  —   19 December 2013   —   Opinion

Grand Theft Auto - San Andreas overview

I'm an avid gamer and recently have been spending far too much time in the virtual world of Rockstar games' Grand Theft Auto 5(GTA5). If you're not into gaming or in case you're not familiar with GTA5, it’s an open world 'sandbox' type of game; meaning you can go anywhere within the confines of its 'world' and it's world is huge. Set in the fictional city of 'Los Santos' there are hundreds of miles of highways and roads, vast expanses of cityscape, sprawling suburbs, open countryside, desert, rugged mountains, coastlines and you can even explore the open water, above and below the surface.

Advertising is everywhere in GTA5. In-game TV, radio, posters, billboards, even graffiti; but it's all spoof and parody. Mostly done for satirical purposes, GTA5's advertising holds a mirror up to the questionable sides of American culture. Analysing the in-game advertising could be the subject for another lengthy blog post, but for now, I want to talk about product placement.

A change in the system

In February of 2011 Ofcom allowed Product Placement in British Television for the first time, albeit with some restrictions. For example, you can't blatantly use the storyline of a show to be the vehicle for a product and any placement must at least be editorially justified. You can't place fatty, sugary or other excessively unhealthy food, or promote businesses such as escort agencies or similar distasteful services,Banking however is allowed. Nationwide became the sponsor on the cash machine in 'The Kabin' on Coronation Street.

TV producers must display a discreet 'PP' icon on screen for three seconds both before and after the programme, to inform viewers that they were being 'advertised' to. Most people either have no idea what the PP symbol refers to, or just don't notice. In fact, product placement in British television is usually so subtle that it passes-by the majority of viewers completely. Contrast that with the much more relaxed rules in American television; the judges on the American version of the x factor for example, sit partially obscured behind giant blue cups of Pepsi.

Product Placement rules are governed by Ofcom; its TV specific rules are backed by legislation. Non broadcast rules are only backed by self regulatory bodies CAP and ASA. However, none of those agencies seem to take responsibility for 'in-game' advertising. There's the Pan European Game Information system (PEGI), which is a European wide video game content ratings system, issuing age appropriate ratings on games. Again, they don't appear to deal specifically with in-game advertising.

Eclipse-worldwide are one of the biggest companies in the world for product placement, with over $2,000,000,000 in equivalent media value over the last 15 years for its clients, with a reach of over 150 billion exposures. On their website there are many product placement examples used in TV and film, but not a single example from a video game.

Gap in the market

In my opinion, advertisers are missing out on a huge market. In the 3 months that Rockstars’ GTA5 was released, it has sold a staggering 29 million copies. GTA5 made over a billion dollars in sales in the first three days, making it one of the biggest and fastest selling pieces of entertainment in history. The single player element to the game takes around 40-80 hours and the online multiplayer will have most of those 29 million people playing all year or longer. That's a considerable opportunity for advertisers to target a cash-spending demographic.

All of that makes me wonder why there is no 'real' product placement advertising.  Actually there is one example that I know of; the classic GTA melee weapon, the baseball bat has the logo from the iconic Louisville Slugger brand. Apparently Hillerich & Bradsbury the official name of the company are quite pleased with the association given that it doubled their sales.

Negative association

Of course, some companies might not want to be associated with a 'violent' video game, but I think that stance is rather insulting to gamers and people in general. Just because I might bludgeon to death a prostitute with a baseball bat in the game world of GTA 5 does not in any way mean that I am prone to violence. That's making the assumption that we are somehow unable to separate reality from fantasy, that I might not be able to tell the difference between real people and colourful animated pixels on screen. I personally do not agree with the PEGI ratings system for that reason. Children have grown up watching cartoons like Tom & Jerry. The levels of 'violence' in Tom & Jerry is extreme but it doesn't get censored because it's obviously not real. Video games fall into the same category, obviously not real. However, I'm sure there would be enough 'edgy' brands out there willing to reap the rewards from advertising within what is one of the most popular video games.

Reaching out

San Andreas advertising billboardI've attempted to make contact with Rockstar games through their PR department. I asked ‘why they only use parodies of real brands in game’, obviously there is the comedy value but I wondered if they would be open to the idea of 'real' advertising. If they were not willing to entertain the idea is it because they don't want to be tarred as 'sell-outs' by taking advertising revenue, or would they accept offers from some companies, or any company?. If that was the case, what kind of rates would they be talking about? How much would it be for example for a monthly ad campaign down the side of Los Santos buses, or virtual 48 sheet billboards?

Unfortunately, Rockstar's PR department have ignored my emails, perhaps they can't take the idea seriously, perhaps they've filed it away under 'good ideas we're going to steal'. I guess we'll find out when GTA6 is released.

Our Partners / Accreditations / Networks

0161 872 3455

Sign up to our newsletter