The impact of brand and product placements in electronic games

Kuhn, Kerri-Ann (2008) The impact of brand and product placements in electronic games. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


In an environment where it has become increasingly difficult to attract consumer attention, marketers have begun to explore alternative forms of marketing communication. One such form that has emerged is product placement, which has more recently appeared in electronic games. Given changes in media consumption and the growth of the games industry, it is not surprising that games are being exploited as a medium for promotional content. Other market developments are also facilitating and encouraging their use, in terms of both the insertion of brand messages into video games and the creation of brand-centred environments, labelled ‘advergames’. However, while there is much speculation concerning the beneficial outcomes for marketers, there remains a lack of academic work in this area and little empirical evidence of the actual effects of this form of promotion on game players.

Only a handful of studies are evident in the literature, which have explored the influence of game placements on consumers. The majority have studied their effect on brand awareness, largely demonstrating that players can recall placed brands. Further, most research conducted to date has focused on computer and online games, but consoles represent the dominant platform for play (Taub, 2004). Finally, advergames have largely been neglected, particularly those in a console format. Widening the gap in the literature is the fact that insufficient academic attention has been given to product placement as a marketing communication strategy overall, and to games in general. The unique nature of the strategy also makes it difficult to apply existing literature to this context.

To address a significant need for information in both the academic and business domains, the current research investigates the effects of brand and product placements in video games and advergames on consumer attitude to the brand and corporate image. It was conducted in two stages. Stage one represents a pilot study. It explored the effects of use simulated and peripheral placements in video games on players’ and observers’ attitudinal responses, and whether these are influenced by involvement with a product category or skill level in the game. The ability of gamers to recall placed brands was also examined. A laboratory experiment was employed with a small sample of sixty adult subjects drawn from an Australian east-coast university, some of who were exposed to a console video game on a television set. The major finding of study one is that placements in a video game have no effect on gamers’ attitudes, but they are recalled.

For stage two of the research, a field experiment was conducted with a large, random sample of 350 student respondents to investigate the effects on players of brand and product placements in handheld video games and advergames. The constructs of brand attitude and corporate image were again tested, along with several potential confounds. Consistent with the pilot, the results demonstrate that product placement in electronic games has no effect on players’ brand attitudes or corporate image, even when allowing for their involvement with the product category, skill level in the game, or skill level in relation to the medium. Age and gender also have no impact. However, the more interactive a player perceives the game to be, the higher their attitude to the placed brand and corporate image of the brand manufacturer. In other words, when controlling for perceived interactivity, players experienced more favourable attitudes, but the effect was so weak it probably lacks practical significance. It is suggested that this result can be explained by the existence of excitation transfer, rather than any processing of placed brands.

The current research provides strong, empirical evidence that brand and product placements in games do not produce strong attitudinal responses. It appears that the nature of the game medium, game playing experience and product placement impose constraints on gamer motivation, opportunity and ability to process these messages, thereby precluding their impact on attitude to the brand and corporate image. Since this is the first study to investigate the ability of video game and advergame placements to facilitate these deeper consumer responses, further research across different contexts is warranted. Nevertheless, the findings have important theoretical and managerial implications.

This investigation makes a number of valuable contributions. First, it is relevant to current marketing practice and presents findings that can help guide promotional strategy decisions. It also presents a comprehensive review of the games industry and associated activities in the marketplace, relevant for marketing practitioners. Theoretically, it contributes new knowledge concerning product placement, including how it should be defined, its classification within the existing communications framework, its dimensions and effects. This is extended to include brand-centred entertainment. The thesis also presents the most comprehensive analysis available in the literature of how placements appear in games. In the consumer behaviour discipline, the research builds on theory concerning attitude formation, through application of MacInnis and Jaworski’s (1989) Integrative Attitude Formation Model. With regards to the games literature, the thesis provides a structured framework for the comparison of games with different media types; it advances understanding of the game medium, its characteristics and the game playing experience; and provides insight into console and handheld games specifically, as well as interactive environments generally. This study is the first to test the effects of interactivity in a game environment, and presents a modified scale that can be used as part of future research. Methodologically, it addresses the limitations of prior research through execution of a field experiment and observation with a large sample, making this the largest study of product placement in games available in the literature. Finally, the current thesis offers comprehensive recommendations that will provide structure and direction for future study in this important field.

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ID Code: 36375
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Drennan, Judy & McDonnell, John
Keywords: advertising brand name products, product placement in mass media, electronic games, electronic games, video games, advergames, product/brand placement, marketing communications, consumer behaviour, thesis, doctoral
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 22 Sep 2010 13:05
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:44

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