Clutter-busting: Video games try product placement

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James Bond is well known for high-tech high jinks in exotic locales and a few femme fatales draped over his arm. The rakish spy's Aston Martin is also a familiar presence. Now the Ford Motor Co. luxury brand will not only have a star turn in MGM's next Bond movie, it will also star in "James Bond 007: NightFire," a video game created by Electronic Arts.

Gamers embark on several missions driving the Aston Martin Vanquish and at one point, the Vanquish plunges off a ship's deck, transforming into a submarine. The game is due out two weeks before the Nov. 22 movie release.

Product placements have always been part of the TV and movie landscape, but are less common and more selectively deployed in video games.

Software publishers say gamers won't tolerate promotional clutter and that product placement, billboards and other forms of advertising must enhance the realism of game play in order to be effective. "It is challenging because we want to make sure the placements are seamless and credible among the target audience," said Will Kassoy, VP-global brand management, Activision.

The company incorporated Yum Brands' Taco Bell signs and stores in "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x" for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox. The Chrysler Group's Jeep appeared in Activision's "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3," which made its debut last fall on all console platforms. The company anticipates more product placement deals on titles in its fall lineup. "We're being approached by advertising agencies asking for rate cards," Mr. Kassoy said.


For Electronic Arts, including the Vanquish "was a no-brainer," said Don Mesa, product-marketing manager. Some deals are done on a barter basis and others for cash. In the case of Bond, EA's use of the Aston Martin was part of a deal with MGM. EA hopes to incorporate one or two more products into the Bond game, most likely gadgets. Mr. Mesa cautions, however, "We have to make sure we can maintain the integrity of the Bond license."

EA's forthcoming "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" games have no product placements. The same is true for Activision's "Spider-Man." Taco Bell also figured prominently in Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox racing title "Project Gotham Racing." The fast-food chain was an Xbox promotional partner for the console's inaugural year. "Raw," the Xbox title based on an alliance with World Wrestling Entertainment, features WWE logos.

Crossover between Hollywood and the $9 billion interactive entertainment industry is increasingly common. "People [in the software-publishing industry] are taking product placement more seriously now," said John Davison, editorial director, Ziff Davis Media Game Group.

Video games based on summer and fall movies include Lucasfilm/Twentieth Century Fox's "Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones" and Twentieth Century Fox's "Minority Report." Increasingly, games are released on the movie's release date or close to it.

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