A battle of the brands is underway—and even though it's fictional, it's a telling look at how marketing and gamer culture collide.
This week, Polygon introduced "Brand Slam," a YouTube series that aims "to figure out the world's best brand, whether it's fast food, or video games, or anything," says Tara Long, executive producer at Polygon.
"At the end, when we decide to have the final season of the show, [we may] have the winners from all of the previous seasons fight each other," Long says.
It's all based on "WWE 2K18," a video game that allows players to play as some of wrestling's top stars. Gamers can also create their own characters. Polygon saw characters based on brand mascots being added and took it from there, using a mix of ones that were already created in the game by other players and by creating new ones for the show.
The first matchup pits Burger King's King against Domino's Noid from the 1980s. (Each actually had a video game back in the day; BK had more than one) The second battle in the first show was between Wendy's founder Dave Thomas and the panda from Panda Express. Other restaurant brands set to appear in the first four-episode season include KFC (whose Colonel character can be played in the game's Create a Superstar mode), Papa John's founder John Schnatter, Taco Bell's chihuahua and a version of Ronald McDonald that clearly hasn't gotten corporate approval.
The fighting seen in the series was recorded in the game's autopilot mode, says Ross Miller, director of programming for Polygon.
"Our goal was to mimic the feel of 'Monday Night Raw,'" says Long.
Play-by-play and commentary come from Patrick Gill, the series producer and, Long and Miller say, a major wrestling fan.
For the first episode, Gill was joined by Griffin McElroy, who recently announced his departure from Polygon. Next week's show is set to feature Gill and Dan Ryckert, a producer at video game database Giant Bomb and one-half of the couple who wed last year in a chapel at a Las Vegas Taco Bell. (Yes, really.)
Polygon says it didn't work with WWE on the project. It also didn't tell the brands about the series before it began airing. It does plan to call some of the brands out on Twitter, particularly the ones that win the matches. But during the first episode on Monday night, technical difficulties with an attempted Twitch stream diverted Polygon's attention, says Long.
The first episode, with the intriguing title "The Founder of Wendy's FIGHTS A BEAR," has more than 44,000 views on YouTube.
Representatives at each of the brands featured in the first episode did not immediately respond to Ad Age's request for comment.