Not content with the success of its stadium signage integrations in the past three years in such popular video games as "NBA Ballers," "NBA 2K" and "NBA Live," Gatorade upped the ante: It made the product part of the on-court action.
Working with its media agency, Omnicom Group's OMD, and 2K Sports, it created an in-game feature for "NBA 2K9" called the Gatorade Thirst Meter. It alerts users that a player is becoming dehydrated and is in need of a substitution and a Gatorade refill.
Dario Raciti, director of Ignition Factory Gaming at OMD, said the product integration worked because it tied Gatorade's hydration attributes seamlessly into the "true experience of athletes," adding another realistic dimension to the player's experience. "Gamers are always looking for the most realistic experience out of sports games, and [we] felt that this feature positively contributed to making game play memorable and authentic," he said via e-mail. "The integration was designed so that all of the elements worked together to augment realism in game play and place Gatorade where thirst is tied to performance and key to winning."
Once a player hits the bench and is rehydrated, he can be inserted back into the game. Those in need of a Gatorade break who are not given one start to show signs of fatigue and sluggishness. It's that authenticity, introduced in a "subtle, yet impactful way," that Mr. Raciti said has struck a chord with the target audience of 18- to 34-year-old males.
The Gatorade Thirst Meter is accompanied by the energy drink's usual branding elements, including signage and coolers and cups behind the bench.
Gatorade spent less than $1 million on the effort but got a sizable return on investment, according to brand research. A majority (82%) of gamers who recalled Gatorade in the game were able to attribute it to a specific location in which the brand appeared, and nearly three-quarters (70%) of those who recalled it appearing in the game said they liked it as part of the experience. More important for Gatorade, the research showed that the integration positively affected gamers' willingness to recommend the product to someone they know.