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Inside the Hive mind

How 'situation placement' is changing the way we view advertising in videogames, giving consumers greater content and small developers the support for survival

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Although technically static branding is still interactive product placement due to the fact that it is within an interactive environment, situation placement is where the gamer gets to experience a product first-hand, and in a considered gameplay context.

This would be what we've already seen in Dredd Vs Death and Worms 3D with Red Bull?

Bartlett: Correct. In both cases we've worked extremely closely with the game developers and the brand to create totally seamless implementations for the product. Actually those two placements side-by-side make a good case for the huge variety of possibilities available to brands in this sector: polar opposite game genres and target consumer demographics, completely different product integrations (one as a performance-enhancing power-up and the other as a cleverly-themed game mission) but both with the same product. Further integrations we are currently working on will continue to show the almost endless range of possibilities.

Since titles like the shamelessly McDonalds-themed Global Gladiators on Mega Drive gamers have become increasingly resistant to advertising. How can you be sure situation placement isn't going to turn people off in the same way?

Bartlett: Consumers live with static branding in practically every waking minute of their lives, and even with the advent of so-called ambient media, it just doesn't have the same impact anymore. Consumers have developed a naturally inbuilt propensity to screen out static advertising, and a recent consumer study by mediaedge:cia even went so far as to report that 40% of UK consumers actively avoid advertising.

With situation placement we make the brand or product an active part of the gameplay experience, which not only guarantees a captive audience, but uniquely it enables us to actively demonstrate to the consumer the qualities and the benefits of a product.

It's critical here to understand the difference between passive demonstration such as watching a sports person or a film character interacting with a product on a screen or in a magazine, compared with an active experience where the consumers themselves use the product.

At the most basic physiological level, this extra sensory input helps the brain make those vital object recognition links much more effectively, but even on a more nebulous brand recall level, being able to integrate a product so specifically into such an engrossing medium as videogames, particularly given the range of demographic profiles we have as gamers today, is a dream come true for most brand managers. The all-important 15-35 male consumer has simply dropped off the radar for many.

Why should gamers be excited about what you are doing?

Bartlett: The gamer has been our first consideration from day one. To put it bluntly, if you piss the gamer off you risk potentially permanent damage to the host brand, the partner brand and ultimately the industry as a whole. It's very dangerous for publishers and brands to be 'dipping their toes' into this market as they could easily do more damage than good. As lifelong gamers, and award winning ex-developers ourselves, we simply wouldn't undertake a placement that ultimately proved detrimental to the game experience.

Our immediate aim is to create compelling and complementary brand-funded additional game content, but our longer term aim is to drive sector growth to a stage where publishers can almost guarantee a certain amount of revenue from product placement and brand partnerships from concept stage, allowing them to take on more commercially risky, but creatively innovative products that are so lacking in this consumer-driven market.

I can also foresee a point in the near future, particularly next-gen and with the gradual proliferation of broadband and online where we will see 'free' brand-subsidized add-on content and even standalone titles.

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