Video Game Product Placement In Film And TV


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If you were a fan of the show The Office, you may remember the sad moment when Jim relocates to the Stamford branch to get his mind off, Pam. One of the favorite pastimes of that branch is playing Call Of Duty as a way to unwind during the work day. Of course, Jim is horrible at the game and spends most of his time either stuck in a corner or shooting his own teammate. But what you may not have realized is that was product placement for Activision, the company that makes Call of Duty.

Video game manufacturers offer opportunities for brands to become part of their own games through sponsorship and product placement.  But those same video games also leverage pop culture because they know the marketing tactic works - and embed themselves into popular movies and TV shows.

In this blog, Hollywood Branded looks at instances of video game product placement in film and TV and how those placements boosted both the awareness and image of the brands.

Video Game Product Placement (1)

Gaming Is An Emblem Of Modern Culture - Seinfeld and Friends

Ever since video games became a symbol of youth culture in the 1980s, film and TV have reflected this trend. From movies about living inside of a video game (Tron) to TV episodes that feature a main character who really loves his video game.  

Our favorites include Chandler bringing the Mrs. Pac-Man arcade game up to the apartment in Friends and Seinfeld's Frogger episode when George Costanza risks his life when he wants to save his winning highest score of the machine and pushes it across the street - only to have it smashed by a Freightliner semi big rig (our agency's CEO was responsible for that placement!).  


Both of these TV show product placements lived on past their original episodes - and have aired hundreds of times since, around the world.  Just google "Frogger and George" or "Frogger and Seinfeld' and see what you find!  George and Frogger even have their own Wiki page.  The internet loves "Chandler and Pacman" too!

Film and TV reflect our culture’s obsession with video games. And they sell them too!


The House Of Cards Phenomenon

House Of Cards is a brilliant case study for video games in TV shows. Throughout the first season, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) plays Call Of Duty religiously to take his mind off of things and relax… when he’s not cutting throats as the majority whip.

This plot point changed the conversation around video games - from a teenage pastime to a thought-provoking and interesting hobby for smart and successful people.

In fact, Kevin Spacey/Frank Underwood was the inspiration for, and became the voice of, the main antagonist in Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The game and the TV show act as promotional materials for each other. 


House of Cards also skyrocketed a small indie app called “Monument Valley” to number one on the app charts after an episode where Frank plays the game.

Not only does Frank visibly play the game on his iPad, but he also explains the premise of the game, how he found it, and why he loves it so much.  And he says "Either of you play Monument Valley" sending the app downloads for the game to skyrocketing success.

On top of this, the company that distributes “Monument Valley” reportedly didn’t pay a dime. They simply cultivated a relationship with the show’s production team and created a version of the game specifically for the show. After appearing in Frank’s hands, the game was downloaded over 660,000 times and generated over $1,665,864 in app sales for the company.


The "Nerd" Stereotype 

A common stereotype that finds video games in movies is the nerdy kid who would rather sit at home on his video games than go out with his friends. A perfect example of this is Michael Cera playing The Getaway in Superbad. 

Other times, nerds show off their skills on video games to impress, like Nick Swardson’s unforgettable scene playing Dance, Dance Revolution in Grandma’s Boy. These nerd stereotypes help the brand by being funny, likable, and above all memorable.


While we're on the nerd topic, one of the most interesting examples of video game placements is The Big Bang Theory. This TV show features almost every Wii game there is, including Bowling, Archery, Fishing, and Boxing. The gang also plays World of Warcraft, Age of Conan, Zork, and Star Wars Online.

Adding to the barrage of video games Sheldon and friends play on the show are Rock Band, Halo, and Red Dead Redemption. Most of the video games are mentioned by name on top of being played by the main characters. As far as a TV show goes, TBBT is a gold mine.


Character Bonding

Another way video games make their way into film and TV is as a way for characters to bond with friends or colleagues. Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle bond over Shadow of the Colossus in Reign Over Me and the bomb squad in Hurt Locker plays Gears of War together.

In the holiday-themed Seth Rogen film, The Night Before, Joseph Gorgon Levitt and Anthony Mackie duke it out while playing the vintage GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. And perhaps one of the most classic comedy man's men, Vince Vaughan, is a video game maven,  playing both NHL Hockey in Swingers and Madden in The Break-Up.

And we couldn’t possibly forget Steve Carrell playing Tony Hawk and Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen having their famous “You know how I know?” conversation while playing Mortal Kombat in their special and intense gaming chairs, both in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.


Video Game Cameos As Pre-Release Promos

Another way video games use product placement is by using a sneak peek of a new game in a movie as a pre-release promotional opportunity. For example, Jesse Pinkman was seen playing with a new sensor gun add-on for the video game RAGE in two episodes of Breaking Bad.

This new version had yet to be released and sparked much conversation and speculation about the game's release.

Another example of this is a moment in John Wick where the main villains are playing a Dust game, called Legion, that hasn’t been released yet.

The Dust online forums are flooded with comments and speculation, no doubt heightening interest in the game.


Video Game Licensing Plus Product Placement Bring The Two Worlds Together

In 2019, "Fortnite" partnered with Marvel for a limited-time mode based on Avengers: Endgame.  The game was free to play on Android, iPhone, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC, and iOS, and was part of a bigger overall partnership that also included product placement in the film. Take a look at the clips below.

This is - to me - the perfect storm and the ideal of what a video game company should aspire to.  Having the game be featured within the content (if it makes sense to do so) where the characters are playing it or talking about it, or there is some level of prominent branding or signage is going to provide that game manufacturer millions upon millions of engaged viewers.  Who is absolutely going to sit up and take notice when the game also has the reverse product placement within it, and the characters and storyline of the film featured as part of a licensing partnership?

There are two ways to approach a partnership with a studio. 

The first is as a co-promotion, where the game manufacturer is going to help bring massive amounts of more eyeballs to the film through not only a limited window of a special module download or game extension but also advertising that fact - and the film's release date which is likely going to coincide similarly to that game module release date.  The goal here is to help advertise the film to a core audience the filmmakers also want to target - which should help lower licensing costs.  If the game is going to feature an actor's likeness or voice, then there will be additional fees required as part of the celebrity endorsement.

The second is as a licensing partnership where fees will be paid to the studio to have access to the intellectual property of that film - the storyline, the characters, and even the music.  For actual voice or character likeness, just as with the above model, there will also be fees paid to the celebrity being featured, and it's a deal that is negotiated hand in hand with the overall partnership.  

Video Game Placement Is Subtle But Effective

It is often forgotten how valuable one media brand can be in the promotion of another, as you can see in this blog. Video game companies are turning from traditional advertising to entertainment marketing in order to market their brand effectively to the right audience. And your brand can do the same.  

Interested in seeing what other video games have been featured in movies or TV shows? Then check out Complex's 50 Top Video Game Moments In Movies here.

To learn more about brand partnerships with video games, check out some other blogs we’ve written:

Have you ever wondered how a comprehensive product placement program works?  Or do you want to know how to create a promotional partnership strategy with a movie partner?  This video will answer all of your questions as it shows the steps and processes taken by Hollywood Branded that lead to your brand increasing both consumer engagement and sales!

Watch The Video Now!

How Product Placement Works Video