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5 brands pushing the envelope in gaming

5 brands pushing the envelope in gaming Tom Edwards

The impact of gaming

Video game culture has evolved and now impacts politics, television, music, and Hollywood more than ever before. The power of the mainstream games market was recently on display on November 17, 2011 when Activision launched its latest entry in the "Call of Duty" series, "Modern Warfare 3." The release quickly set new sales records with 6.5 million copies sold on launch day and raked in $775 million in sales in just five days.

This figure has beaten theatrical box office, book, and video game sales records for five-day worldwide sell-through in dollars.  Once thought to be more of a niche market, gaming has become a part of everyday life with new releases rivaling the biggest summer blockbusters in terms of revenue.

In 2011, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reported that the average age for a gamer was now 37 years old. This is attributed to more individuals from the first console days adopting the current systems. The ESA also reported that the gender distribution of console gamers shows 58 percent of gamers as male and 42 percent female.

Those numbers flip when discussing casual and social gaming, but equilibrium is close when it comes to reaching both segments. Another telling statistic from the ESA is that 71 percent of people age six to forty-nine in the U.S. played video games, with 55 percent of gamers playing on their phones or mobile devices.

With such reach and engagement potential, brands have capitalized on this cultural shift in many ways. Brands have historically executed many types of gaming programs. Above the line tactics -- such as the original 1996 cult classic Chex Quest (based on the Doom engine) -- was available as a free CD-ROM on pack to consumers have been a staple of gaming programs.

Below the line tactics such as Adidas billboard displayed in the foreground of the multi-console1994 FIFA International Soccer are now standard in many of today's sports simulations as are product placements.

Brands have also attempted to capitalize on through the line advergaming such as the recent "Lost Experience" (Based on the show "Lost") with the likes of Jeep, Sprite, Monster.com, and Verizon integrating traditional and digital programs into the expansive gameplay with the goal of creating immersive digital experiences and campaign extensions brought to you by the brand.

Brands have found innovative ways through the years to create compelling gaming related experiences. Below are five brands that are leveraging different facets of advergaming, social gaming, branded games, and total immersion to reach new audience segments and reward brand enthusiasts.


Jeep has had a long association with gaming over the years. In 1992, they released "Jeep Jamboree" for Gameboy and the titles kept coming.

In 1998, it launched the multi-platform "Jeep Thrills" and then proceeded to produce branded games including a geocaching focused title as well as a fantasy title called "City Bounce." Jeep definitely understands the reach of the medium.

Jeep's most recent effort is tied to its current association with Activision's "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3." Jeep executed an integrated marketing campaign during the pre-release buildup of "Modern Warfare 3" and on November 8 released a special edition Jeep Wrangler titled the 2012 Jeep Wrangler "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" special edition.

The release was also supported by traditional media:

This was the second time they partnered with the Call of Duty franchise, as they released a Black Ops edition in 2011.

By timing the release of the vehicle close to the game release, and driving traditional broadcast, print, innovative OOH, and social media -- including a Facebook Jeep-Ops promotion giving away one of the Special Editions -- Jeep truly capitalized on the synergy between the "Modern Warfare 3" game and it's product.


Frito-Lay's Doritos brand has immersed itself into the gamer community. Having initially showed up as in-game sponsors in the 1999 title, "Jet Moto 3," Doritos then went on to create Xbox live gamer pics and branded advergames -- in addition to executing creative crowd sourcing -- proving that the brand has created truly innovative and relevant user driven programs.  

My first exposure to Doritos association with Xbox Live was their 2009 "Dash of Destruction" Xbox Live arcade game. It was one of the first branded advergames that also offered real Xbox Live achievement points (200). This proved to be a key driver in the success of the game as Xbox Live achievement points have become incredibly relevant social currency to gamers. As an Xbox Live gamer, your gamerscore affords you status and bragging rights to your peers.

Doritos has also executed a number of promotions tied to Xbox Live and retail activation including their "Halo Reach" campaign, "Honor the Code" -- which tied directly with "Halo Reach," and Mountain Dew which gave away multiple Halo and product related prizes.

In 2010, Doritos held the first Unlock Xbox advergaming competition. This was an incredibly innovative execution as it leveraged the power of gamers to crowd source game ideas that led to two finalists working with Microsoft developers to create what became two new advergames, "Doritos Crash Course" and "Harm's Way."

Also In 2010, Doritos partnered with EA Sports for a yearlong "Change the Game" program that covered three phases of the launch of Madden 11. 

I recently connected with Chris Erb, vice president of brand marketing at EA Sports, to talk about the Madden 11 program and the partnership with Doritos.

"Doritos has proven to be an incredibly innovative partner. Both brands want to deliver unique experiences that have never been done before. From the first time EA Sports enabled users to vote for the cover of Madden, to the creation of two new promotional flavors of Doritos tied to exclusive Madden content, Doritos has been a great partner for our content." 

The first phase of the program was tied to the "Pick the Cover" program. Doritos partnered with EA Sports to crowd source the cover athlete for Madden 11. Doritos offered specially marked packages with former Madden cover athletes that drove to a Micro-site where the voting occurred. The voters eventually selected Drew Brees for the cover and a dozen winners got to meet with Drew Brees in Times Square.

For the launch of Madden 11, Doritos developed two new promotional flavors of chips, Stadium Nacho, and Tailgater BBQ. This was the first time Doritos created flavors that were truly inspired by the game and the NFL experience. This was also one of the only times a promotional chip ever outsold Nacho Cheese and Cool Ranch. The sales were also driven by exclusive Madden content in each bag.

For the holiday season, Doritos and EA Sports wanted to do something unique for consumers. Prior to shipping the game, EA Sports had built a 3D mode into Madden 11, but the only way to play Madden in 3D was to unlock it from a bag of Doritos.

In August 2011, Doritos and Mountain Dew supported "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" with a 7-11 retail activation by placing a buy one, get one free coupon in each copy of "Modern Warfare 3." By offering an incredibly relevant incentive -- double XP to allow gamers to level up faster in the multi-player mode of "Modern Warfare 3" to double the rate they accrue experience points for a limited period of time -- they drove their target users to action. The results, between Mountain Dew and Doritos, over 1.8 million consumers redeemed over 18 million codes.

Doritos truly understands its audience and by partnering with another PepsiCo portfolio brand, Mountain Dew, Doritos has garnered the respect and dollars of gamers.


Oakley products have routinely appeared in popular movies, especially action films. From a gaming perspective, Oakley's approach has been to embed their products into relevant gaming genres.

Oakley has shown a very strong connection with first person shooters (FPS). In 2010, Oakley's were worn by special ops operators in the 2010 "Medal of Honor" title.

Recently, two of the heaviest hitters in terms of FPS, "Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3" and "Battlefield 3" both featured Oakley products as well. Action plus FPS equals Oakley

In "Modern Warfare 3," every scene with a Delta Force character shows the tan Oakley hard knuckle gloves.

This constant placement leads to millions of impressions as users trying to reach and surpass Prestige status via "Modern Warfare 3's" multi-player mode are constantly shown the iconic "O" throughout gameplay.

For "Battlefield 3," Oakley SI assault gloves are worn by the Marine Force Recon throughout the game.

Having a pulse on the latest trends in athletics and relying on editorial endorsement of athlete influencers has been a primary awareness driver for Oakley over the years. This applies to gaming and its sponsored athletes.

A recent example is Shaun White's snowboarding games. Oakley's association via product placement is subtle yet expansive as Shaun is one of Oakley's sponsored athletes and his signature Oakley A Frames grace the cover of his initial 2008 game and Oakley branding is on his board for the 2009 follow-up.

Shaun is sporting his signature Oakley Shaun White A Frames on the cover.

Oakley understands the importance of aligning their products to specific genres that are relevant to their core consumers.


As I mentioned above, brands have been placing real world vehicles into games for years. Note franchises such as "Grand Turismo," "Forza," and "Need for Speed." Toyota even capitalized on a free Xbox Live Arcade game in 2007 with its Yaris model as the central character. This was the first time an advertiser created an Xbox arcade game that was distributed over Xbox Live. 

Recently, Hyundai unveiled the Veloster model at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. The very next day you could take the car for a test drive in "Forza Motorsport 4" as free downloadable content.

Not only was the car available in game, Hyundai has also tied an in-game time trials event that awards the winner with the best time with the real car.

Hyundai has also engaged the "Forza" audience with events such as the THR Secret Car Design Contest. The contest allowed "Forza" players to submit their virtual in-game Hyundai-centric custom designs and the winner won a new Hyundai Veloster.

Here is the winning design.

Hyundai also created an iPhone app, "Hyundai Race," and promoted it via a Times Square event allowing people in New York City to play the game on the LED screen on 47th and Broadway. This was an impressive execution as it incorporated mobile as the central gaming platform and also created a significant amount of buzz for gamers and non-gamers alike.

By executing timely and relevant programs across multiple platforms, Hyundai has begun to establish itself as a brand that understands how to leverage gaming to drive awareness of its real world products.


Coca-Cola is a true powerhouse when it comes to gaming innovation. With partnerships with EA Sports, downloadable content, retail promotions, and even a gaming zone on MSN, Coca-Cola understands how to harness the power of the medium.

Once again, I spoke with Chris Erb, vice president of brand marketing for EA Sports, about his partnership with Coca-Cola and some of the innovative programs that he has executed in partnership with the Coca-Cola Zero brand.

"Coca-Cola proved to a be a great partner for us. EA Sports is a great content supplier and Coca-Cola provides an incredible channel for content distribution. Together over the past four years, we collaboratively worked to provide positive experiences and reward our customers."

The Coca-Cola Zero brand and EA Sports partnered together to crowd source the cover athlete for NCAA Football 2012 via EA Sports NCAA Football Facebook Page.

The team also partnered with EA Sports and AMC Theaters to drive purchase at a participating theater that would lead to $10 savings on EA Sports NCAA 2012 title plus free shipping on NCAA 12 Football.

EA Sports, Coca-Cola Zero, and Wendy’s partnered together in 2010 to allow users to play the Big Score. This expansion of NCAA Football 10 allowed users to play with customized teams of Coca-Cola Zero and Wendy’s branded teams.

Coca-Cola has been involved with the World Cup since 1978. In 2010, they partnered with EA Sports to build a mode inside the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa game. The mode allowed users to recreate compelling moments as they happened brought to you by Coca-Cola Zero.

Coca-Cola Zero also partnered with EA Sports for a custom black cover of NCAA 12 in addition to sponsoring the online dynasty mode within game.

Coca-Cola has also partnered with publishers to deliver compelling downloadable content for the "Guitar Hero" and "DJ Hero" franchises.

For "Guitar Hero," Coca-Cola sponsored "My Chemical Romance" DLC that consisted of four songs.

The company also partnered with DJ Tiesto to create a "DJ Hero 2" mix pack that users could gain access to the DLC via http://www.mycokerewards.com/. I personally downloaded the Tiesto mix pack via the mycokerewards site back in 2010 and thought it was a great idea for a brand to sponsor DLC that would normally cost 600 MS points. 

In June of 2011, Coca-Cola engaged NASCAR fans with a socially driven trivia game that was featured on both NASCAR.com andYahoo.com which generated over 500,000 total views in June and nearly 20,000 "likes" on Facebook. 

Recently, the Coca-Cola Zero Gaming Zone set MSN records with over two million visits. This is an interactive gaming platform that the brand launched across nine European markets in May. Coca-Cola is using gaming as a relevant way to actively engage its core audience of 18 to 25 year-old men. The gaming zone consists of the latest in gaming news, reviews and access to games, quizzes, cheats, and trailers as well as exclusive contests.

With incredible global reach, Coca-Cola understands the importance of compelling programs that add value to gamers while driving brand affinity.

There are many other brands that warrant mention. Nike, Adidas, 7-11, Burger King, Dodge, Reebok, and Sobe have all shown great strides in terms of integrating their product offerings and driving innovation through gaming.

The key is to create programs that truly add value by enhancing the experience and offering incentives that are compelling to the target audience. Social currency, virtual currency, physical, and downloadable products are key elements to driving awareness and engagement in this medium.

Look for me on Xbox 360 -- my "gamertag" is TheBlackFin.

Tom Edwards is vice president of digital strategy for The Marketing Arm (Omnicom).

On Twitter? Follow Tom Edwards @BlackFin360 and Chris Erb of EA Sports @ChrisErb.

Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Two e-mail vector icon" image via Shutterstock.

Epsilon is a global leader in data, marketing and technology enablement. As the Chief Digital Officer for Epsilon’s agency business, Tom is guiding Epsilon agency clients as a trusted advisor to meet the business needs of today while...

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