Advertainment or Adcreep Game Players’ Attitudes
toward Advertising and Product Placements in Computer Games

Michelle R. Nelson

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Heejo Keum

University of Texas-San Antonio

Ronald A. Yaros

University of Wisconsin-Madison


Using netnography and questionnaires, we examine how commercial practices are interpreted by electronic game-players. An analysis of 805 postings on Slashdot (2002-2004) revealed active discussions and insight into gamers’ beliefs about the effectiveness and appropriateness of marketers’ tactics as well as the perceived impact on self. Players were fairly positive about brands in games when they added realism. Those who were negative about product placements were also negative about advertising. While some players did not think they were influenced by product placements, others reported instances of learning about and then purchasing new brands. A survey of gamers empirically tested observations from the netnography. Positive relationships between attitudes toward advertising in general and attitudes toward product placement in games were noted, and each of these was positively related to perceived impact on purchasing behaviors. Attitudes toward product placements in games partially mediated the effect of attitudes toward advertising on respondents’ perceived purchasing behaviors.

“I think the billboards don’t intrude on the game in any way. I certainly notice them, which is what they’re going for, but I don’t think they’re bad as long as they stay in the background of the game and don’t impede on or control the entire level’s look and feel” (posting on 2004).

“I pay $40 for a game (an escape from reality) only to have to watch them rake in more from peppering everything with a Coke logo? I don’t get it, are we to have ads on everything? I’ve had enough of it, f– me, they would tattoo ads on our eyelids if they could” (posting on 2004).


Domino’s Pizza in Avoid the Noid (1989), the 7-Up mascot in Cool Spot (1993), or Dole bananas in Super Monkey Ball (2001). The inclusion of brands in electronic games or the brand as the game (advergaming) is not a new marketing practice. However, the growing frequency of placements across genres and platforms (Nelson 2002) and the shifting power (and cash) from brands to developers and publishers has resulted in a recent flurry of publicity and legitimacy of the practice (e.g., Hespos 2004; Lienert 2004; Naughton 2003). Analysts predict that commercial placements in games will become a five billion dollar industry (Leeper 2004) and Nielsen has announced it will start gauging effectiveness of game brand placements (Gough 2004).

Interest in this marketing technique is driven, in part, by changes in media use, particularly among males who report playing games more than watching television (Cuneo 2004). Other factors include technological advances that allow consumers to zip, zap, and TIVO traditional advertising. These trends have prompted a shift in budgets among global companies – such as Coca-Cola – from broadcast advertising to video game placements (Grover et al. 2004).

Given the importance of this marketing communication practice, it is surprising how little is known about how game players feel about product placements in games. How are players responding to persuasion attempts and how do they interpret these commercial practices in their everyday lives? Only a handful of studies have examined the effectiveness of brand placements in games (Lee 2004; Nelson 2002) or game-players’ attitudes toward the commercial practice (Nelson 2002; Youn, Lee, and Doyle 2003). Youn, Lee, and Doyle (2003) suggested that future research should examine how consumers respond to advertising-as-entertainment. We seek to fulfill that call.

The postings from the game-players quoted above reveal differences in the way that consumers feel about the growing use of commercial material in entertainment media. On the one hand, brands are ubiquitous in real life – it is estimated that we are exposed to 3,600 brands per day (Frontline 2001). Thus, brands situated within mediated content merely reflect the real world, thereby enhancing the verisimilitude of the entertainment context. On the other hand, critics lament pervasive brand messages (Klein 2000), arguing that increasing commercialization may lead to more materialism or consumer debt (Schor 1998). Yet, these critiques often rely on “the basic conceptualization of persuasion that Mother Culture whispers in our ear, shapes our thinking…without conscious awareness” (Friestad and Wright 1994, p. 7). This notion presents a theory of consumers as passive, unthinking robots inflicted by a commercial practice. Such a view asserts strong (silver bullet, hypodermic needle) media effects and assumes that subtle techniques such as brand placements work almost automatically on an unaware or uncritical public (Balasubramanian 1994).

However, research has shown that consumers have the capacity and motivation to be active thinkers – and are able to critically consider, analyze, and interpret the pros and cons of persuasion and commercial practices (DeLorme and Reid 1999; Friestad and Wright 1994; Hirschman and Thompson 1997). We follow in this tradition by investigating game-players’ interpretations, attitudes, and beliefs about the effectiveness and appropriateness of marketers’ tactics in the context of product placements in games. We also hope to gain insight into the players’ perceptions of the impact that advertising in games has on consumption behaviors. To do so, we use multiple methods and populations. Study one employs a qualitative technique called netnography (ethnography on the Internet; Kozinets 2002) to observe and analyze discussions about commercial practices on Slashdot ( – called the “Number 1 Technology Blog” by This method provides an exploratory but unobtrusive way to circumvent any demand characteristics from traditional methods, such as surveys or interviews.

As recommended by Hirschman and Thompson (1997) and DeLorme and Reid (1999), we utilize grounded theory to discover consumer-oriented theories. We place those theories within the context of how consumers interpret persuasion attempts (Friestad and Wright 1994) and commercial/advertising practices (Shavitt, Lowrey, and Haefner 1998). Study two empirically tests observations made in the netnography. Using attitudinal data from game-players, we statistically test the relationships among attitudes toward advertising in general, attitudes toward product placement in games, and perceptions of influence on purchase behaviors. Together, multiple methods and populations provide a detailed view into how game-players feel about product placements in games and commercialism.

Literature Review

Assessing Consumer Response to Commercial Practices

Most studies examining consumers’ evaluations of commercial practices have used attitudinal surveys to assess how consumers feel about advertising in general (e.g., Larkin 1977; Muehling 1987; Polly and Mittal 1993; Shavitt et al. 1998) or advertising in specific media (e.g., television: Alwitt and Prabhaker 1992; Internet: Schlosser, Shavitt, and Kanfer 1999).

Early studies in this area addressed overall favorability or unfavorability. More recent work has considered underlying beliefs associated with advertising as a way to predict or link to consumers‘ attitudes toward advertising (Mittal 1994). Some of these beliefs showed that consumers differed in their attitudes toward various aspects of advertising, ranging from amusement and appreciation to skepticism and blame (Pollay and Mittal 1993). While some people evaluate advertising as a useful source of information or entertainment, other consumers fear covert manipulation and subliminal techniques or often complain about advertising clutter (Pollay and Mittal 1993). Consumers are also interested in the economic and societal dimensions of advertising (i.e., does it raise or lower prices of goods? Is it good or bad for society?; Rotzoll and Haefner 1986). Nevertheless, informative (e.g., Durand and Lambert 1985; Muehling 1987) and entertaining (Haller 1974) values have been researched as the main dimensions of attitudes toward advertising. Also, relevant for understanding advertising effectiveness, research has generally demonstrated that attitudes toward specific commercials or brands may be influenced by consumers’ attitudes in general (see Andrews 1989; James and Kover 1992; MacKenzie, Lutz and Belch 1986). Specific to ads in computer games, Youn, Lee, and Doyle (2003) used surveys to compare attitudes toward advertising among on-line game players, non-game playing Internet users, and non-Internet users. Results indicated that online game players were more open to advertising content than the other two segments measured.

In the past, researchers studying attitudes toward advertising have rarely measured what consumers think about the psychology of advertising (Friestad and Wright 1994). Consumers think about and discuss consumer practices and products, and the Internet provides a new forum to do so (e.g., Kozinets 2002). Indeed, ‘buzz’/viral marketing are communication tools that capitalize on our natural propensity to share information with others, and research has shown that online game-players are particularly apt to participate in these practices (Youn et al. 2003).

Importantly, consumers do not merely pass along information; they critically evaluate and discuss marketers’ persuasion attempts (Hirschman and Thompson 1997). How people acquire and use persuasion knowledge to interpret, evaluate, and respond to influence attempts has been captured by the Persuasion Knowledge Model (PKM; Friestad and Wright 1994). Specifically, the PKM is made up of the target’s knowledge and the agent’s (marketer’s) knowledge regarding a specific persuasion attempt (information intended to influence the target’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, such as an advertisement or product placement). Our research is interested in learning about the target’s knowledge, which includes understanding of how the persuasion episode may work, beliefs about the agent’s competency and traits, and knowledge about the specific topic of the message (e.g., political candidate, product). The PKM predicts that targets will consider that persuasion knowledge when interpreting a specific persuasion attempt, then will select appropriate coping tactics and behaviors (e.g., discount the persuasion attempt, purchase the product). According to Friestad and Wright (1994), persuasion knowledge is similar to schema, filtering and guiding attention to certain parts of the persuasion message. This filtering prompts consumers to draw conclusions based on their perceptions of the agent’s intent, to predict the likely effect of the persuasion attempt on other targets, and finally to evaluate the persuasion agent’s “overall competence.”

Also, persuasion knowledge assists the target to reflect on his/her response and coping tactics to a particular persuasion attempt. As a whole, persuasion knowledge acts as a source for targets when evaluating whether a message is a persuasion attempt. For example, if targets develop persuasion knowledge that informs them of the potential for exploitation or deception from product placements, then the targets may associate all products placed in films or games in the same way and may cope by counter arguing the implied message. However, Friestad and Wright (1994) suggest that not all persuasion knowledge is developed relative to a specific persuasion attempt or message. Rather, individuals might simply be interested in thinking about or discussing the agent or uncovering the motivation behind creation of a persuasion piece, out of interest in persuasion or marketing (Friestad and Wright 1994).

This interest may incite targets to discuss advertising with their peers. In fact, individuals develop their persuasion knowledge by discussing persuasion attempts, ads, marketers, etc. with others (Friestad and Wright 1994). Shared cultural perceptions about marketing tactics help to form a socially constructed conceptualization of persuasion. We observe the active construction of persuasion knowledge on a virtual message board. However, instead of developing a grand theory to explain or test all factors in the PKM, or examining consumer response to a particular marketer or agent or topic, we start with a phenomenological examination of how game players share their persuasion knowledge about product placements in games. We do not intend to test the PKM, but we observe the dissemination of persuasion knowledge through daily discussions shared within the game-playing community. We investigate game players’ perceptions and evaluations of commercial practices, with a focus on product placements in games or advertising in general. We gauge the players’ perceived responses and coping tactics to these persuasion attempts. In study two, we statistically test the observed relationships between: (1) attitudes toward product placements in games; (2) attitudes toward advertising in general; and (3) perceived influence on self with another game playing population, by using a questionnaire.

Product Placement Research

Since the films of the 1940s and 1950s, brands have served as background scenery, props, and character developers. Financially, advertising supports media, yet for product placements, the practice began with branded products being donated, bartered, or bought (Spillman 1989). Since the 1960s, product placement has evolved into a multi-million dollar industry with a trade association (Entertainment Marketing Association 2004) of companies who act as the brokers between brands and film-makers. Today, companies usually pay the film-makers to appear in the movies (Chunovic 2002) and that shift is now being observed in the game industry, too. Cost estimates for in-game placements are estimated at $25,000-$700,000 depending on interactivity and visibility (Moran 2004).

Brand props or placements are different from traditional broadcast advertising in at least three ways. First, placements do not interrupt the consumer’s media experience like paid media advertising, which operates between media content (Balasubramanian 1994). Second, placements are not always paid for by the brand (Wasko, Phillips, and Purdie 1993). Third, placements may not be perceived by consumers as commercial messages (DeLorme and Reid 1999). However, paid brand placements are considered marketing communication tools designed to increase awareness, build brand equity, and ultimately increase sales, according to marketing practitioners (Entertainment Marketing Association 2004). As such, brand placements may be considered and interpreted as a commercial practice (DeLorme and Reid 1999). The degree of consumer awareness and knowledge about product placements is considered an important measure in a public policy debate that presents product placements as subversive, subconscious techniques (Balusubramanian 1994), even though others assert that most consumers are aware of the practice (e.g., Ong 2004).

Consumer research on product placements has focused on attitudes toward the practice (e.g., d’Astous and Seguin 1999; Gupta and Gould 1997) and effectiveness (e.g., Law and Braun 2000; Russell 1998, 2002); for reviews, see DeLorme and Reid (1999) and McCarty (2004). Effectiveness studies use experiments, whereby consumers are exposed to the medium then queried with explicit (memory) or implicit (brand evaluation) measures (Law and Braun-LaTour 2004). Free and aided recall are the most common dependent measures (e.g., Babin and Carder 1995; d’Astous and Seguin 1999; Gupta and Lord 1998; Karrh 1995; Nelson 2002), followed by recognition (Babin and Carder 1996; d’Astous and Chartier 2000; Law and Braun 2000). These studies note that brand prominence, high plot connection, and multi-sensory visual/auditory sensory cues can lead to greater recall (see also Russell 1998, 2002).

Evaluations of product placements in films or television have been conducted using quantitative attitudinal surveys (e.g., Gupta and Gould 1997), focus groups (DeLorme and Reid 1999), and ethnography (LaPastina 2001). These studies examined meanings derived from placements and consumers’ evaluations of ad placement practices. Attitudinal surveys and focus groups have shown that U.S. consumers generally find product placements to be acceptable, even enhancing a film’s realism and entertainment value (DeLorme and Reid 1999; Gupta and Gould 1997; Nebenzahl and Secunda 1993). The exception is when the ads appeared to be excessive, repetitive, or used inappropriately (e.g., out-of-context). D’Astous and Chartier (2000) reported that placements were positively evaluated when the principal actor was present, when the placement was manifest, or when the brand was integrated well in the movie.

However, some consumers – particularly women in the United States and individuals from Austria, France or Singapore – are less positive about the acceptability of ethically-charged products such as guns, cigarettes, or alcohol, especially in media targeted at children (Gould, Gupta, and Grabner-Krauter 2000; Karrh, Frith, and Callison 2001). Economically, many consumers believe that moviemakers who receive compensation from placements should reduce consumer ticket prices (Gupta, Balasubramanian, and Klassen 2000).

Some qualitative studies have assessed the meanings that people derive from embedded brands in media. In a focus group study of U.S. movie-goers, DeLorme and Reid (1999) noted that brands serve as symbols, offering important lifestyle information and a reflection of the intertwined nature of real and media life. Indeed, several U.S. consumers indicated that they appreciated the realism and authenticity that brands lent to films, especially when brands appeared as part of the story. Brands also helped to increase involvement and enjoyment of the movie. Respondents liked to notice “their brands” and felt that brand use by actors aided in character identification. In this way, brand placements act as social information tools for purchasing decisions when viewers use social comparison to gauge if a product is right for them.

Games offer a Unique Opportunity for Brand Placement

To date, except for movies or television, attitudes toward product placement in media have received little attention, despite increased product placement in games (Bulik 2004). Product placements in games are similar to movies and TV in that they allow for visual background placements to enhance realism of cityscapes (e.g., Crazy Taxi), sporting arenas (e.g., FIFA 2003), or more prominent placements integrated into storylines (e.g., Darkened Skye-skittles candy). However, product placements in games differ from those in TV/films in a number of ways. First, games allow player-interactivity and sensory immersion (Vorderer 2000), which means games may be more vivid, interactive, and adept at stimulating creative thinking and perception than movies (Steuer 1992). Certainly, movies and TV do not allow for the active control dimension of interactivity, which “enables the player to control actions and often also perceptions by an ability to control the point of view….This leads to several dramatic changes compared to film viewing” (Grodal 2000, p. 202).

User control in games provides players with the unique opportunity to literally feel and/or control a brand (Nelson 2002). For instance, automobiles are oft-used placements in movies (e.g. Mini Cooper, The Italian Job) and in games (e.g., Gran Turismo). While it may be exciting to watch Michael Caine race his car across the screen, a game is more interactive because the consumer actively controls the car, feeling its handling and speed. The interactive experience has been linked to a greater sense of telepresence (the sense of being transported inside a mediated environment, Steuer 1992) and the formation of stronger, often more positive attitudes (e.g., Roehm and Haugvedt 1999).

Second, computer games offer players a changing experience every time the game is played. Changes include players’ choices and responses to game activity. Subsequently, a player can experience different emotions, cognitions, and interactions for the same game played at different times, or if played alone or in groups. The varying levels of learning, curiosity, surprise, and suspense molded by game play affect a player’s emotions, arousal, or orienting responses (Grodal 2000). These variables suggest that a player’s exposure to brands within a game may vary with each game experience, including watching or playing the game. Variation in brand exposure during computer games can be contrasted with watching movies or TV shows, where brands are typically placed within scenes that remain constant for every viewing. The added capability for game players to select brands (e.g., choice of race car or sponsors on the race car) or to customize their character with different brands of clothing (e.g., Tony Hawk Underground), also differs from more passive media. Finally, the interactive and competitive aspects of games may partially explain why games are, on average, consumed for longer periods of time (30 hours per game) than are movies. The increased shelf life of a game relative to a movie also offers advertisers more brand exposure.

Nelson (2002) discussed ways brands might appear in games from background to integrated placements. She also asked game-players how they felt about product placements/advertising in games, focusing on whether players thought the practice was deceptive, added to the realism of the game, or interrupted or impaired the game-playing experience. Game-players responded fairly positively – with mean scores ranging from 4.25 to 5.71 on 7-point Likert scales. Similar to movie-viewers, comments from game-players indicated that placements were viewed positively when the ads fit or enhanced the realism of the game. However, this study did not delve into other underlying reasons for attitudes or for attitudes toward different types of placements.

As a whole, attitudes and feelings about product placements touch upon the same themes as research of attitudes toward advertising. Namely, attitudes and meanings are related to economic and societal dimensions, and beliefs about the informative or entertaining values of placements. However, the nature of each marketing communication device suggests differences with respect to consumer reception. Generally, product placements are deemed less intrusive or annoying than paid media space-advertising (but also more subliminal) and can offer the added benefits of ‘realism’ to an entertainment media context (DeLorme and Reid 1999).

This research extends Nelson’s (2002) study to examine game-players’ assessments of product placements and to gauge their persuasion knowledge of commercial practices (e.g., Friestad and Wright 1994). Our research questions include: (1) How do game-players discuss commercial practices? (2) What are game-players’ attitudes toward product placements? (3) What are game-players’ beliefs about how product placements work (effectiveness)? (4) What coping tactics do players use for these persuasion attempts? and (5) What is the perceived influence on self?

Study One: How Game-Players Discuss Product Placements


Study one used netnography, which applies ethnographic techniques to computer-mediated communications, because it is naturalistic, unobtrusive, and offers a way to understand the interactions of people participating in computer-mediated communication about marketing topics (Kozinets 2002). Since the method examines text that are publicly available online, we downloaded and saved the discussions without the time and expense of transcribing notes from focus groups, interviews, or observations. We largely followed the process set forth by Kozinets (2002), which begins with entrée into the setting, then proceeds to data collection and analysis. Each of these steps will be discussed in turn.

Entrée: Online Forum

The first step involves identifying an appropriate online forum for the research questions posed and then becoming familiar with its characteristics. We selected as our research site. Slashdot was created by a few programmers in 1997 as a web-log to provide ‘News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters.’ Today the Web site is owned by OSDN (Open Source Development Network, Inc.). Site demographics (according to Slashdot’s media kit) claim 2.9 million users, including: developers, IT consultants, e-commerce professionals, and technology folks/early adopters. The user base is 98% male, with an average age of 26 and an average annual income of $73,463. These are consumers who spend 20+ hours per week online, and match the demographics of core game players (Entertainment Software Association 2004). Given that the discussions focused on detailed aspects of gaming, we can be reasonably sure that most of the participants have played or play games.

Promotional materials for the Slashdot Web site claim that it is “the world-leading discussion site for the technically inclined; a ‘virtual gab-fest’ that brings the day’s top technology, science and culture news to the worldwide IT community for comment, debate and scrutiny.” Articles, polls, and discussion topics are posted daily, yielding thousands of unique user comments. Thus, the Web site fulfills the criteria specified by Kozinets (2002). It is a focused and relevant group, with high traffic, and a large number of discrete posters. This forum offers rich data and multiple between-member interactions. The second part of the entrée involved gaining familiarity with the forum. One of the authors is a regular reader of Slashdot and followed postings related to gaming and commercial practices between 2001 and 2004. During this time, she wrote reflexive field notes, including observations, and questions (Kozinets 2002).

Data Collection

This investigation focused on three discussions that closely matched the research questions. Each discussion was prompted by a news article related to the topic posted by a Slashdot participant. The first article, from Reuters, was published February 1, 2002 on (Emery 2002). It focused on a balance between the positive and negative elements of the practice from consumer and game company perspectives; discussion occurred during February 2002 and yielded 345 comments. The second article was linked from the Washington Post (Edwards 2003). It discussed the advantages of advergames and cited statistics by Forrester Research for a one billion dollar industry by 2005. This article yielded 308 postings in January 2003. The third discussion, prompted by an article posted on (Leeper 2004), reported on a session at the Digital Games Summit at an industry conference. The article discussed the changes in industry practices including the predictions for a lucrative industry and cited studies that show recall effectiveness. This article offered 152 comments in January 2004. The initial sample included a total of 805 comments, with approximately 730 unique users. Because discussants that did not indicate their names were referred to as “anonymous cowards,” it is hard to discern the true number of unique users.

As advised by Kozinets (2002), the discussion data were copied verbatim from the computer-mediated communications of the online community members, saved to a Word file, and then printed. These efforts resulted in 400 double-spaced pages. Although all comments are publicly available online, several of the posts were anonymous, and no names or identifying information were included to protect their online identities. To retain the unobtrusive nature of the discussion, the researchers did not identify themselves to the online community.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

The unit of analysis was not each participant, but rather each discourse or discrete discussion comment (Kozinets 2002), although comments were also considered within the context of an ongoing conversation. Discussion postings were independently coded and analyzed for valence (positive, negative, or neutral comment) and content by two of the authors in an iterative constant comparative process. This process involved reading and re-reading the discussion comments, allowing for divergence and convergence in emergent themes and specific instances. Thus, we were each able to generate a list of concepts, categories and instances and note their inter-relationships and discrepancies (Glaser and Strauss 1967) and gauge the evaluative nature of the comments.

The concepts, categories, and evaluations identified by coders were compared and discussed, and then the authors independently read through all of the comments a few more times. Irrelevant comments not related to commercial practices (such as ‘flaming’) were eliminated. When valence categorizations differed, discussion and negotiation between the two coders ensued and resulted in an agreed evaluation of content. In general, most of the comments were obviously positive, negative, or neutral. In some cases, comments reflected ambivalence toward the practice. Subcategories and instances were combined and compared with themes noted in past research related to persuasion knowledge (Friestad and Wright 1994), product placement interpretation in movies (DeLorme and Reid 1999) and attitudes toward advertising in general (e.g., Mittal 1994). The resulting themes and categories are discussed next.


Constant comparative analysis of discussion postings revealed a number of themes related to product placements in games or advergaming, as well as tangential discussions of product placement in movies and advertising in general (see Figure 1). Often these online discussions would weave back and forth between topics suggesting that there are a shared set of beliefs and assumptions related to commercial practices. Many of the discussion topics conform to elements of the persuasion knowledge model (Friestad and Wright 1994) such as perceptions of the agent’s goals and intents and the perceived effectiveness and appropriateness of these persuasion attempts, including individual target’s coping behaviors.

Valence of Comments: Attitudes toward Product Placements in Games

Overall, the comments were split fairly evenly in terms of valence: 163 discrete comments were considered to be exclusively positive, 121 were exclusively negative, and 244 were fairly neutral. The other comments were not considered in the valence categorization as they were not directly related to product placements in games. Most of the neutral comments -about one third of the discussions — related to information sharing and competitive knowledge of instances where brands appeared in games. Gamers iterated numerous times that the practice of product placements was not new and each tried to recall early instances of brand use in games. In this way, they were cynical about the media hype related to advergaming. This thread of discussion often bifurcated into the old-timers knowledge sharing and feelings of nostalgia. For example, one gamer recollects and challenges fellow participants, “Even in the old Amiga days, I remember seeing advertising in the games. Refresh your memories and start thinking of Kickoff. One of the things I was so fond of was, wow, it even has authentic advertisements!” Discussants urged gamers to recall the earliest advertisement they could remember. One participant responded: “Pizza Hut in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games. That was a very non-obtrusive advertisement, but I still don’t like Pizza Hut 😉 I also remember a Kool Aid game for my Atari but I believe Kool Aid paid for the game and I bought it w/ my Kool Aid points. So, in a sense the entire game was an advertisement.”

These conversations reflect the active construction of persuasion knowledge. Game-players were ascertaining when the advertiser paid for the placement or game as a way to discern whether or not it was a persuasion attempt. From an agent’s perspective, the discussions also provide evidence of the long-term recall value of advergames – each of these games is several years old. The brands offered a way for game-players of all ages from all over the world to connect and provided a game-like atmosphere in the discussion thread. The challenge and competitive nature of these discussions reflect aspects of games. Indeed, these types of ‘name the brand’ games occurred in all three forums. Most of the negative comments related to growing trends toward commercialism or to overuse of specific placements, while positive discussions focused on the realism offered by using real brands, although even this discussion offered nuanced views. A discussion of themes reflecting the underlying beliefs, attitudes, and evaluations of product placements follows; see Figure 1 for a graphical representation.

Figure 1: Emerging Themes from Slashdot Discussions
Target: Electronic Game-Players


Antecedents, Attitudes, and Evaluations of Product Placements

Real vs. Versus Fake Brands: Reflections of Reality or Humorous Ploys?

One of the underlying dimensions of attitudes toward advertising is its potential for entertaining the audience (Shavitt et al. 1998). In the same respect, game-players discussed the potential of product placements for offering value to the game. In general, conversations among game players who were positive about brand placements focused on the added verisimilitude offered by including real (as opposed to fake) brands in certain kinds of games. Similar to the respondents in Nelson’s (2002) study of game-players or in DeLorme and Reid’s (1999) examination of movie-goers, the participants on the Slashdot web site generally appreciated actual brands because they were familiar or added realism to game scenarios (see Appendix A). This realism phenomenon was noted by Pennington (2001), who predicted that the virtual world would seem more real when it included symbols that consumers perceived to be legitimate. Importantly, the game-players’ comments reflect the function that real brands allow for greater immersion because they do not psychologically “launch them out” of the game. The jarring nature of a fake or spoof brand may instill humor (see Appendix A), but that function is unheeded among some gamers.

Players who were negative about growing commercialism in general also rejected the notion of enhanced realism and the effectiveness of the ad placement practice. Several negative comments reflected this theme: “It’s about freekin’ time that the advertisers of the world have started realizing that ads in games (or in general) don’t work. I’m playing the game to escape reality for awhile. Stay the hell out of my fantasy. If I want a Coke or a Pepsi or a KFC or whatever, I’ll go get it.”

From these discussions it is apparent that the simple observation that brands lend realism to the game is not sufficient. Among these gamers, realism could be enhanced with real brands in certain games, but there may also be advantages to offering fake brands or leaving brands out all together (see Appendix A for excerpts on fake brands). A sense of telepresence or being transported inside the game (Steuer 1992) meant real brands for some, whereas fake brands offered humor, and the admission that the game-world is virtual not real (commercial) life. In fact, one player noted the irony: “I find it interesting that we can play a game where we play fly or travel to other planets and blow up demons, but putting ‘Supercola’ on a can of soda ‘just isn’t real enough.'” The virtual world for these gamers is both an escape and exaggerated mirror of real life.

Economic Aspects of Product Placements

A second theme that emerged related to the institutional nature of the commercial practices industry – particularly economics; for example, whether or not advertising increases or decreases the price of branded goods (e.g., Shavitt et al. 1998). Economic aspects of brand placements were discussed frequently among game-players. Negative comments reflected on the high price of games without economic relief from ads. For others, however, the possibility of brand placements offers an additional revenue stream for developers, which might translate into better games and a cost reduction for consumers (see Appendix A). For many of these players, a reciprocity view of product placement is offered where each party wins. Game developers gain new revenue streams, marketers reach game-playing consumers, and game-players save money.

The Psychology of Game Placements and Marketing: How Product Placement Works (Beliefs about Marketers’ Persuasion Goals and Placement Effectiveness)

In addition to the evaluative aspects of commercial practices, game players also readily discussed their perceptions of how or why and when product placement worked and reflected on whether or not they personally were influenced. In this way, they were actively creating and disseminating persuasion knowledge in the forum. Many of these views suggested a subconscious level of learning or influence, even when the players could state explicit brand examples; see Appendix B for excerpts from the data. Game players also commented that they might notice brands more over time or if they were in the spectator position.

In opposition to the potentially subliminal nature of subtle placements, other gamers mentioned the ineffectiveness of obvious, out-of-context, or saturated use of placements as opposed to a few, unobtrusive brands. Gamers’ comments reflected similar themes noted by film-viewers (DeLorme and Reid 1999). Placements are deemed to be effective when used in subtle ways (players assume subliminal processing). However, when the placements are used in inappropriate ways, the players consciously reject the placements.

Beliefs about One’s Coping Tactics

To what extent consumers believe that they personally are influenced by persuasion attempts and the ways that they choose to cope with or control persuasion tactics is part of the Persuasion Knowledge Model (Friestad and Wright 1994). The discussant responses ranged from ignoring or boycotting to actively learning from the persuasion attempts. For some gamers, control involved tuning out or boycotts; they did not believe they personally were influenced by product placement persuasion attempts. Such individuals conform to predictions of the PKM because their persuasion knowledge is well developed and they believe they can resist the external attempts. Indeed, these gamers suggested relationships between their negative attitudes toward advertising, the in-game placements, and their perceived purchase behaviors; see Appendix C. Slashdot participants also presented cases when they were and were not influenced. In some cases, gamers liked the game but not the brand; others clearly noticed brands but questioned their influence on their own purchasing habits. However, instances of believed ‘subliminal’ influence from commercial practices were also relayed by gamers; in each case, these players ‘woke up’ or caught themselves being influenced.

Finally, a good number of game-players on the discussion forum offered instances where they were persuaded by game placements. For them, the coping mechanism was to use the brand placements as a learning tool, much like movie-goers do when they identify or emulate certain characters (DeLorme and Reid 1999). The two cases where this was mentioned most frequently were for automobiles and for Red Bull. Automobile placements are often cited by industry analysts as examples of where virtual life translates into purchase behaviors in real life. Indeed, online promotional games for automobile brands such as Ford, Toyota, and Jeep are reported to have increased awareness, product knowledge, trial, and purchase of the cars in real life (Marriott 2001; Vranica 2001). In fact, active ‘buzz’ among game players altered marketers’ persuasion tactics when they caused Mitsubishi to launch the Lancer Evolution in the United States after an email campaign among GT3 gamers, which questioned why the ‘Evo’ was available only overseas (Naughton 2003).The head of marketing for Mitsubishi Motors Corp. in North America now claims that they sell 50 Evos a month to a game-playing audience (Lienert 2004). In our analysis of the comments by Slashdot participants, racing games offered the perfect venue for brand placements in general, but a few participants also mentioned that certain types of auto games may not be appropriate, for example, Grand Theft Auto (GTA) II: “How many car companies do you think want their cars portrayed as being good for killing people and committing felonies?” These gamers are referring to negative associations that may be transferred to the brand as a result of the violent media context. These assertions also suggest that players are aware of the larger societal influence of games on audiences, similar to real concerns about the societal impact of advertising in general (e.g., Shavitt et al. 1998). Media context effects – and the opportunity for ‘halo’ or negative ruboff effects have been noted in other media (e.g., Moorman, Neijens, and Smit 2002). The fact that gamers actively discuss such psychological processes suggests that their lay psychology of how product placements work is actually quite refined.

The second most discussed instance of where a brand influenced gamers’ purchasing behaviors was Red Bull in Wipeout. Several players told stories of how they came to know and use the high-energy drink. Interestingly, players’ comments revealed managerial marketing issues related to localizing brands for regions of the world to coincide with brand distributions. Several of the players within the international Slashdot forum stated that they first thought Red Bull was a fake brand within the game. For example, “I thought Red Bull was this badass futuristic drink (which I could never find at the time),” and another recalls, “my first exposure to Red Bull was while playing Wipeout XL on the Playstation, almost 2 years before I ever saw the product on store shelves. I freaked when I realized that it was a real drink and immediately picked some up (good stuff!).” In other cases, game-players expressed disappointment because they could not purchase the advertised brand where they lived. Discussion comments revealed how the game itself (a high-energy game) helped build the brand image for a new brand. The synergy offered by a shared notion of ‘bad-ass’ and the energy needed to play the game – provided by the virtual drink – led gamers to try the product in real-life. In this case, Red Bull (like the Mitsubishi Evo) is actively sought out by consumers after exposure in a game, even in places where the brands are not yet available. Thus, the game context and the active participation of gamers into the marketing process ‘pulled’ marketers into new distribution strategies.


As a whole, this exploratory investigation revealed a number of themes related to how gamers think about commercial practices and product placements in games. Many of these themes (realism/fake brands=entertainment, economic issues, opportunity for social learning) were found in previous studies of product placements in films (DeLorme and Reid 1999) or in studies of attitudes toward advertising (Shavitt, Lowrey, and Haefner 1998). Yet, the opportunity for character identification discussed among focus group participants/movies did not emerge. Indeed, some gamers’ assessments of brand placements in games appeared to be related to their (negative) feelings about advertising and commercialism in general. Second, although some game-players felt as though they were not influenced by product placements, others cited specific instances where they purchased a brand solely based on its inclusion in a game they played.

Study Two: Survey of Game Players

Overview and Hypotheses

Study one offered an exploratory view of how game-players discuss commercial practices. As such, it uncovered underlying beliefs related to attitudes toward product placements and to how these persuasion tactics work. We noticed that those players who were negative about commercialism in games were also negative about commercialism in general and did not perceive any influence on themselves because their coping tactics were tuning out or boycotting such products. Conversely, those players who felt that real brand placements actually enhanced the entertainment value of games suggested that in some instances the brand placements could be used as learning tools for future purchases (e.g., automobiles, Red Bull). Study two set out to empirically test some of these relationships in a study of game players.

Some research has investigated the relationships between how consumers feel about advertising and how they feel about product placements. For example, Nebenzahl and Secunda (1993) reported that consumers are more positive about product placements in films than traditional commercials. Perhaps that is because the practice of product placement was still relatively unused in 1993 compared to today’s mediated world where brands are seen and heard in novels, songs, reality television, and games. These researchers did note a small minority who were not in favor of product placements on ethical grounds due to the clandestine nature of the practice. In later research, Gould et al. 2000 suggested that attitudes toward advertising and attitudes toward product placement are similar concepts – both offer commercial communications to a target audience. Indeed, they found a positive statistical correlation between the concepts. In another study, Gupta et al. 2000 showed that those consumers who are less favorable to advertising in general also exhibited less favorable attitudes toward product placements. Similar to what Gould et al. 2000 and Gupta et al. 2000 noted among movie-viewers, we predict that those consumers who hold positive attitudes toward product placements will also hold positive attitudes toward advertising in general and will be more likely to claim that they would purchase a brand they saw in that medium.

We also base our hypotheses on a subset of the Slashdot observations and on the premise of the PKM that consumers’ perceptions of the persuasion episode or attempt (in this case, product placements in games) are related to their perceived coping behaviors. Further, we believe that specific perceived behaviors (influence of product placements in games on individuals’ buying behaviors) would be better predicted by individuals’ attitudes toward that same specific commercial practice (product placements in games) than would general attitudes toward advertising/commercial practices. This assertion is based on Fishbein and Ajzen’s (1980) theory of attitude-behavior relationships. However, given that we also believe there are positive relationships between the specific attitudes and the general attitudes, we predicted the following:

H1: Attitudes toward advertising in general will be positively related to attitudes toward product placements in games.

H2: Attitudes toward product placements in games will be positively related to perceived influence of product placements on purchase intentions.

H3: Attitudes toward product placements in games will mediate the relationship between attitudes toward advertising in general and perceived influence on purchase intentions.

Sample and Setting

A purposive sample of sixty-two game players (45 men, 14 women, four no gender identified) ages 18-30+ years was recruited from posters and local newspaper ads in a Midwestern U.S. city. Participants received a cash honorarium of ten dollars to participate in the full study, which asked them to watch or play a racing game that contained background brand placements, to evaluate it, and then answer questions based on their evaluations. The manipulation (play, watch) was related to questions asked for a separate study that explored processing of brand placements; only those measures relevant for this particular study will be discussed here.

To enhance ecological validity, participants were surveyed at an online gaming facility open to the public, which provided 24 identical computers. After arriving at the gaming facility and signing consent forms, participants were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions (play or watch) and told that a game company was interested in their reactions to a particular game. Both groups were then simultaneously exposed to an auto-racing game for three minutes on a 21-inch computer monitor positioned in front of each participant. The game contained product placements (e.g., logos) embedded within the guardrails surrounding the auto race track. After watching or playing the game, an online questionnaire was administered to both groups and participants were given 20 minutes to complete it. The questionnaire contained open-ended and attitudinal statements related to product placements in games, attitudes toward advertising in general, and the perceived influence of product placements on consumption behaviors. Each of these measures will be discussed in detail next.

The Instrument

Attitudes toward Advertising and Product Placement. The attitudinal questions were taken from questions used in previous product placement studies related to movies (e.g., Gupta and Gould 1997) but were adapted for computer games, and a few items were added to focus on realism. Respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with each statement on a 7-point scale. Mean scores were calculated for attitudes toward advertising in general (Aadv) and for attitudes toward product placements in games (Appl) based on their conceptualization in past research (Gupta and Gould 1997). See Appendix D for items, alpha reliabilities, mean scores, and standard deviations.

Perceived Behavioral Effects on Self. To assess perceived effects of brand placements on self, a single-item was employed: “Product placements in games make me want to buy the products” to which participants agreed or disagreed on 7-point scales with 7=strongly agree.


Although the experimental manipulation (play, watch) was not relevant for this study, we wanted to gauge whether the manipulation had an impact on our measures of interest. Given that there were no significant differences in means for attitudes toward product placements in games (players: 3.16, watchers: 3.82, t=1.88, p = .07), attitudes toward advertising in general (players: 3.85, watchers: 4.05, t=.64, n.s.) or perceived influence on buying behavior (players: 2.37, watchers: 2.29, t=-.19, n.s.) between the two groups, all participants were combined into one group. Subsequent analyses were conducted on the full set of participants. Based on our analysis of comments reviewed on Slashdot, we expected that respondents’ attitudes toward product placements in games would be positively related to their attitudes toward advertising (H1). To test this relationship, we ran a regression predicting attitudes toward product placements in games with attitudes toward advertising in general. Results indicate that attitudes toward advertising had significant positive effects on attitudes toward product placements in games (All participants: ß = .39, p < .001). Specifically, individuals who reported favorable attitudes toward advertising in general were more likely to report favorable attitudes toward product placement in games, in support of H1.

In addition, as expected in H2, attitudes toward product placements in games were found to have significant positive effects on the perceived influence of product placements on purchase intentions (All participants: ß = .36, p < .01). Providing support for H2, this result indicates that individuals who had favorable attitudes toward product placements in games perceived greater influence of product placements on their own purchase intentions.

We also expected that attitudes toward product placements would mediate the relationship between attitudes toward advertising in general and perceived influence on purchase intentions (H3). Following Baron and Kenny’s methodology (1986), we tested the mediation by running a series of regressions. Since our findings support hypothesis 1, the first step in Baron and Kenny’s methodology (1986), which is to test the relationship between the independent variable (attitudes toward advertising in general) and the mediator (attitudes toward product placements in games), was verified. The second step is to test the relationship between the independent and dependent variables without considering the effects of the mediator. Before attitudes toward product placement in games were included in the regressions, attitudes toward advertising in general were found to have significant positive effects on perceived influence on purchase intention (All participants: ß = .40, p < .001). The third and final step in Baron and Kenny’s methodology (1986) is to simultaneously test the effects both of the independent and mediator variables on the dependent variable. In order to show mediation, the effect of the independent variable on the dependent variable must become weaker after including the mediator in the analyses. In our analyses, the coefficients indicating the effects of attitudes toward advertising on perceived influence on purchase intention decreased after including attitudes toward product placement in games. These findings indicate that attitudes toward product placement in games partially mediated the effects of attitudes toward advertising on perceived influence on purchase intention (All participants: 37.5%), in support of H3. See Figure 2.

Figure 2: Relationships between Attitudes toward Advertising,
Attitudes toward Product Placement in Games and Perceived
Impact on Buying Behavior (All participants, N=62)
Perceived impact: “Product placements in games make me want to buy the product”

Relationships between Attitudes toward Advertising


The survey empirically tested some of the observations from the netnography. Game players’ attitudes toward advertising in general were positively related to their attitudes toward product placements in games. Interestingly, both attitudes were predictive of participants’ self-reported perceptions of influence on their product purchase intentions. It seems that their persuasion knowledge about the agent’s persuasion attempts are related to the target’s perceived coping mechanisms. Respondents’ attitudes toward the specific practice of product placement in games mediated the influence of the more general ‘attitudes toward advertising’ on self-reported perceived influences on buying behaviors. These findings both replicate results from past research, which has noted a positive relationship between attitudes toward advertising in general and attitudes toward product placements (e.g., Gould et al. 2000), and extend the research to a new domain (games) and measure for perceived influences on self.

Overall Discussion and Conclusion

This research offered a multi-method approach to understanding how game-players interpret commercial practices in their mediated and real lives. Such triangulation across populations and methods suggests a fairly reliable and valid view of our findings. Like film-goers (DeLorme and Reid 1999) and game-players (Nelson 2002), our respondents were fairly positive toward product placements in games overall. The majority of open-ended postings on Slashdot were positive and the attitudes expressed toward product placements were above the scale midpoint.

However, whereas past researchers have noted the benefits of placement for enhancing realism (e.g., Nelson 2002), our analysis of the Slashdot postings suggests that while real brands maintained immersion inside the game world, fake brands might offer a chance for imagination (on the part of developers and players) and could add to the humor or entertainment value of the game. These discussions offer new insight for marketers hoping to employ brands as realism and also provide directions for future research. Do real brands allow greater immersion or telepresence (literally feeling transported into the mediated world, Steuer 1992) over fake brands? Are fake brands – if clever spoofs – considered more entertaining than real brands? Which brands will be recalled and which will be liked more? Do spoof brands activate their real brand counterparts?

Our findings also show the active construction of persuasion knowledge about product placements in games among the target consumers – gamers. We witnessed fairly sophisticated views of how the persuasion attempts work (subliminally or explicitly) and the perceived effectiveness of subtle, realistic placements over blatant, out-of-context hyped commercialism. On-line communities are an important way to learn about persuasion knowledge from topic knowledge to the underlying beliefs about effectiveness. However, our themes from the PKM emerged from the target’s perspective only. This study was not able to witness discussions among the agents (advertisers) nor was it able to gauge the role of persuasion knowledge for a specific persuasion attempt. The agent’s understanding of persuasion attempts in the context of product placements in films has been examined by Karrh (1995) and Karrh et al. 2003. These researchers surveyed members of the leading placement industry trade association and representatives from advertising agencies to discern practitioners’ beliefs about the practice of product placements in movies. Interestingly, the attitudes and understanding of product placements changed in the intervening years. In Karrh et al 2003 study, practitioners were more likely to agree with the statement that “placements can be considered a form of subliminal advertising” and “placements can lead to trade-offs between the financial and creative sides of movie making” than were their counterparts in 1995. Interestingly, the target’s and the agent’s persuasion knowledge regarding product placements seem to match fairly closely, even though some practitioners in Karrh et al. 2003 survey claimed that “the average viewer still does not seem savvy to product placement” (p. 146).

Our mediation shows support for the positive relationships between liking of advertising in general, evaluations of product placements, and perceptions of influence on one’s own buying behaviors. In addition, several players shared instances on Slashdot where they sought out products for purchase simply because they saw the products in the game. These products were mostly ‘new’ to the player and, according to the players, fit with the game’s genre and image (e.g., Red Bull, Wipeout). In other examples, players stated that brand placement prompted the player to try out the brand “in virtual life” by literally taking the driver’s seat (e.g., Mitsubishi Evo, Gran Turismo, other racing games).

At the same time, the Slashdot discussion about Red Bull also appeared to present difficulties or potential avenues for international marketing. Games are available internationally, but not all games offer localized versions, and brand placements are typically not tailored to each market. Therefore, some of the brands offered within the games that may be intended for one audience may reach another audience. When one game-player joked that “after all the franchise wars, all restaurants (in games) have been Taco Bell,” a game-player in Britain responded, “Except in the British release of Demolition Man, when all restaurants are Pizza Hut. No Taco Bell in England, you see.” In this regard, ‘real’ brands may be interpreted as ‘fake’ if they are not available in the player’s location. Local brands may offer potential for better short- and long-term recall (Nelson 2002) and a chance for tailored advergaming.

However, caution is also offered to marketers hoping to capitalize on advergaming or product placements to reach those who avoid advertisements. The positive relationships noted between attitudes toward advertising in general and attitudes toward product placement in games in the questionnaire were expanded in the Slashdot discussions. Consumers who abhor advertising also detest product placements. Indeed, some gamers were very negative about product placements in games, especially when the brand usages were overt, saturated, or did not fit the game context. These game-players’ comments noted the already commercial-filled real world and expressed hope that their game-world be devoid of such images. For this group of players, embedding brands in games may well result in boycotts of brands or games or both.

The results of this study are also important for public policy. Critics have called for investigations into consumer awareness of hybrid marketing communication practices (such as product placements).The concern is that ‘unaware’ consumers may not actively process the commercial content and will be unwillingly persuaded (Balusubramanian 1994). Likewise, the Persuasion Knowledge Model (Friestad and Wright 1994) also suggests that individuals’ level of persuasion knowledge may influence how they process or cope with those messages. Our analyses of postings and comments indicate that this particular game-playing audience is well aware of commercial practices and actively seek coping mechanisms to use or discount them. However, even in their discussions, players tended to rely on a ‘folk psychology’ or persuasion knowledge that regarded commercial practices as somewhat subliminal. Given that practitioners measure top-of-mind awareness and brand share, these lay person views of commercial practices are remarkably accurate. However, it should be noted that the demographics of this weblog did not appear to represent younger game players. Given the growing number of online advergaming sites (e.g.,;; Wade 2004) and games featuring brands (e.g., Lifesavers in Croc2; Kuchinskas, 1999) that are targeted to children, future research might assess their awareness, knowledge, and coping mechanisms.

Although the reported findings are interesting for managerial implications and future theoretical research, several limitations should be addressed. First, the netnography method offers researchers an unobtrusive viewpoint to observe natural conversations without intervention and without any demand effects. However, due to the dynamic and anonymous nature of the online medium, there is a risk of discussants altering social representation and another possibility for social desirability biases (Kozinets 2002). Second, although the discussions included in this data set were drawn from three different time periods (2002, 2003, 2004), they were all analyzed as if within the same period. Given that PKM is a developmental process, the progression of awareness from 2002 to 2004 may have added insight here. Third, participants on Slashdot represent a certain computer-savvy, male-oriented game-playing population. Since game players are of all ages and gender, the conversations noted in study one cannot be generalized to all game players. Still, given the corroborative evidence gained from a different population and method in study two, the relationships between attitudes toward advertising, attitudes toward product placement in games, and perceived influences on consumption behaviors appear to be sound. Future research might assess these relationships among different populations and for different types of games.


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Appendix A

Dimensions of Attitudes toward Product Placements In Games:
Emerging Themes (Excerpts from Slashdot Data)

The Entertainment Value of Brand Placements: The Real vs. Fake Debate

Fake Brands are Strange

“It’s disturbing to see an altered product on screen. It’s strange seeing cola instead of Coke. It’s strange seeing Cheetah instead of Ferrari. Why can’t they just use the real products? I really think GTA, for example, would have been much more interesting if they had used product placement in the game.”

“I think tastefulness is the key issue here, and I think it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that SUPERCOLA takes me way out of the illusion that the game publishers are trying to embed me in.”

Fake Brands Offer Value

“Pizza Hut is a pop-culture icon, and doesn’t need to be imagined by the player, or developed by the developer. How boring. I think any character developer who thinks that sending a character to Pizza Hut is a good idea is damned lazy. It would be relatively easy to send the same character to ‘PizzaWorld’ a made-up pizza emporium with a snazzy logo and ‘A free GookGook doll with every large pizza!’ But, by creating an imaginary pop-culture restaurant, the player gets to imagine the rest.”

“I like the ad/product spoofs in games like Max Payne, throughout the game, little things are scattered around, like copies of the New York Time and fake television shows, that add to the feeling that the game world is a real place, but also have a parody element to them.”

“It may be realistic [real brands], but frankly I find it distracting. While it would be pretty lame to see someone drinking Coke brand Cola, a made up name that’s clever and/or silly can add much more to my enjoyment of a game than the ‘realism’ of product placement. ‘Fried Chicken Restaurant’ isn’t the only alternative to ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ as suggested in the article. How about something like (off the top of my head, not necessarily a good example) ‘Kentucky Fried Sushi?’ Players would get a giggle out of the blatant yet skewed reference, and no one has to worry about integrity.”

Economic Aspects of Product Placements

“I pay $40 for a game (an escape from reality) only to have to watch them rake in more from peppering everything with a Coke logo?”

“He– it might bring the prices of games down to a more reasonable $20-$30 per game. I like it. I know we’re already inundated with advertising everywhere but this could save you money.”

“It might work if it cuts the costs for the consumer. If RTCW was $30 the day it came out because it was sponsored by BRAND X, I might be more open to product placement inside the game.”

Appendix B

The Psychology of Game Placements and Marketing
How Product Placement Works (Beliefs about Marketers’
Persuasion Goals and Placement Effectiveness)

Subconscious perceptions

“….product placement isn’t like this – you’re not interrupting the game for the advert, it’s just something there in the background. Better, I’d say – limited subliminal effect (unless you’re very easily influenced), and far less intrusive.”

“a great deal of advertisment works at the subliminal level. If you are continuously hit by advertisement for a product, it is more likely that you will have a craving for it. I believe that is how advertisement in games works.”

“no advertisement ever works that directly. I don’t think I’ve every looked at a billboard and just said, ‘damn I gotta get me some of that,’ but whatevever’s being advertised still makes its way into my head, and this works the same way.”

“I swear, I must be the most unobservant schlub in the universe: I never noticed any Nokia stuff or McDonalds stuff in THUG either. In fact, the only marketing I noticed were all the lame product logos you can put on your shirt. I must be an advertiser’s nightmare.”

“I didn’t even realize there was a McDonalds advertisement in there until I watched someone else play. Then I realized just how many billboards were visible as you went around the track 🙂 so it counts, both on the obvious and the subtle approach.”

Blatant placements are ineffective

“The Dole stuff was amusing and SO over-the-top it didn’t even seem like a game, it was funny. I couldn’t stop laughing about the Dole stuff everywhere. I don’t buy bananas on brand, so it’s irrelevant…”

“I hate Crazy Taxi – It’s nothing but advertising from start to finish. I was actually pretty sickened that I was paying a lot of cash to have it rammed down my gullet.”

“It’s nothing to do with ‘realism’ it’s just corporates getting more fingers in more pies in the never ending ‘advertise everything everywhere’ game that the world seems involved in.”

“In Shhenmue, I found the products to be unobtrusive and added to the realism of the game. In Crazy Taxi, I found the fact that most customers cited their destinations in terms of products (rather than streets or landmarks as would seem to be the natural case) annoying.”


Appendix C

Perceptions of Coping Tactics and Influence on Self

Boycott Behaviors

“I am so sick of adverts, that I would never buy a game like that again. I already refuse to watch TV or listen to the radio, and now I’m saying it again. Go away advertisers, you p*** me off.”

“The day I start getting barraged with advertisements in the actual game itself is the day I stop playing games….I am barraged with advertisements every single God damn day I am tired of it…”

No Influence

“Games as Adds (like Yo Noid!), which I actually liked…but I’ve only ever eaten Domino’s Pizza once ever…”

“I’ve noticed two Xbox games Project Gotham Racing and NFL Fever 2002 have fairly visible Taco Bell ‘ads’. ….I don’t have any problem with it, it’s a detail that if completely absent would draw some attention, too. Does it mean I’ve gone to Taco Bell since their Xbox media blitz started…Nope.”

Subliminal Influences

“I cannot say that I am completely immune to advertisement. Yes I consciously black-list the companies that seem too insidious, and yes until yesterday I thought it had no effect on me. Then I bought a pack of Trojans and I thought, why Trojan? Advertising! I switched to Lifestyles brand there, but they have had a few dollars from me before I noticed.”

“Super Monkey Ball. I picked up some Dole orange juice at the subway the other day and ended up humming the beginner level music in Super Monkey Ball when I was drinking it. Didn’t even notice it until I caught myself, either. Go figure.”

Consumer Learning: Conscious Influences

“Okay, so it isn’t really an add for any particular product, but I can’t imagine any better advertising for a car. Not only do you get to see it and read specs on it, but then you get to drive it faster than you normally would dare around courses you’d never have access too, and all without red lights or cops. And, when it was time for me to buy my first new car, I picked my favorite from the game and called my local dealers. Took a test drive, and am fairly sure I at least made the dealer’s hair stand on end – nothing like years of practice to know your car. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but I know I’m not the only one who can say ‘I bought my ____ because of a video game’. That’s really the way to go – natural product placement. That way the gamer doesn’t feel like it’s product placement.”

“As soon as I saw this article, I immediately thought of Red Bill billboard in Wipeout – they also got me good. I’m just amazed to see that others were so effected by this ad in a video game. Keep on gaming!”

“I think the only product placement that every made me want to buy the product in question was in Wipeout (Red something?); too bad they don’t sell the product on my continent…”


Appendix D

Study Two: Attitudes Toward Commercial Practices
(Advertising, Product Placements in Games) Multi-item Measures, Reliabilities,
Means, and Standard Deviations

Attitudes Toward Advertising in General (6-item; alpha=.79, mean=4.04 , sd=1.19 )

1. I hate watching ads on television.

2. I watch movies (at a theater or rented) to escape from the barrage of TV ads.

3. While watching a TV program, I frequently flip channels to escape watching ads.

4. When an ad appears on my TV, I stop looking at the screen until the program starts again.

5. Ads provide information about products.*

6. Ads can be entertaining.*

Attitudes toward Product Placements in Games (7-item; alpha=.87, mean=3.5 , sd=1.3)

1. I hate seeing brand name products in games if they are placed for commercial purposes.

2. I don’t mind seeing brand name products in games as long as they are not unrealistically shown.*

3. I prefer to see real brands in games rather than using fictitious brands.*

4. Games should use real brands rather than fake/fictitious brands.*

5. The presence of brand name products in a game makes it more realistic.*

6. I generally prefer games that do not have product placements in them to those that do.

7. I don’t mind if brand name products appear in games.*

Note: each item was measured on 7-point scales ranging from 1=strongly disagree to 7=strongly agree.

*indicates item was reverse-coded. The higher the mean score, the more unfavorable the attitude.

About the Authors

Michelle R. Nelson (Ph.D., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Assistant Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Michelle teaches and studies strategic communications and consumer culture. She has published in Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising Research, and Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. Previously, Michelle worked in marketing for a game technology company. Email: [email protected]

Heejo Keum (Ph.D., University of Wisconsin at Madison), Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Texas-San Antonio, [email protected]. Heejo teaches and studies media effects, consumer and civic culture, and public relations. She has published in Political Communication and Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.

Ronald A. Yaros, is a Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Following several years of working in electronic media and as a developer of educational software, his research focuses on how a mass audience cognitively processes information on the Web.