Product placement in videogames
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Are we influenced by product placement while playing video games?
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Product placement is an increasingly prevalent marketing communication technique in video games. It allows a direct connection between the brand and the consumer in a non-intrusive way, taking advantage of the enjoyment of the game experience. In this post, we will offer a first approach on what product placement is, how we can detect it in videogames and some initial results on its functioning at the cerebral and psychophysiological level derived from a research we conducted.

What is Product Placement (PP)?

Product placement, also known as brand placement, is a commercial communication technique that consists of intentionally integrating distinctive elements of a company or commercial brand (e.g., logotype, product) in an entertainment or communication medium in exchange for a remuneration (Gupta & Gould, 1997; Lee & Faber, 2007; Russell, 2019). Its origin dates back to the appearance of cinema in 1895, although it was not regularized until 1991 in the United States and until 2010 in Spain (Méndiz Noguero, 2007).
Its purpose is to increase brand awareness, i.e., to be remembered and recognized, seeking to generate positive attitudes and greater likelihood of future purchase at a physical and/or virtual point of sale (Lewis & Porter, 2010; Williams et al., 2011).

Application in video games

Although PP can be applied in a multitude of entertainment media, it is becoming increasingly popular to find it in video games. There are two main reasons for this:
1.    One of the entertainment media that stands out in society is video games. Proof of this is that, of the 7.87 billion people in the world in 2021, 2.7 billion of them were gamers. Likewise, of the 47.5 million people in Spain in the same year, 15.9 million were gamers (Statista, 2021). These numbers reflect the positioning and relevance of the video game industry and are expected to increase year after year.
2.    Compared to other devices, video games allow for greater brand interactivity and longer brand exposure time (Herrewijn & Poels, 2013). Players are more receptive to the brand message since they are the ones who decide to play (Winkler & Buckner, 2006) and the message will always be present every time the video game is played (Terlutter & Capella, 2013).

How can we detect it in video games?

There are commonly two ways to use product placement in video games:
1.    Advergames (AG), which consist in the inclusion of PP by creating short and simple games designed around a specific brand. In this way, all attention and action are focused on the brand (Besharat et al., 2013; Terlutter & Capella, 2013).
2.    In-game advertising (IGA), which consists in the inclusion of PP in video games that are already on the market, being able to integrate more than one brand in the game and without these being the protagonists (Herrewijn & Poels, 2014; Martí Parreño, 2010).

Techniques to measure its effectiveness

The main question of product placement is whether its inclusion is effective, i.e., whether the brand message succeeds in connecting with consumers. In order to test this, many researchers have followed the Balasubramanian, Karrh and Patwardhan model or BKP model (Balasubramanian et al., 2006). It establishes that depending on how the PP is designed and the medium in which it is inserted, the level of message processing will be more or less profound and more or less conscious, with repercussions on consumer responses. It also establishes that there are a series of individual factors that could mediate this process, as they could vary from one person to another.

Brief explanation of the research conducted

The objective of our research was to investigate whether it is really effective to include product placement as in-game advertising in video games; that is, if the brands placed in video games are able to communicate the brand message and favorably influence consumers' responses to them.
For this purpose, we took as a basis the BKP model and previous research (Aliagas et al., 2021), considering that the design and inclusion of the PP would influence the game experience and its processing, ultimately impacting cognitive, affective and behavioral responses to it. However, the novelty of our model lies in the inclusion of neuromarketing measures to obtain information of a more implicit, neurological, psychological and physiological nature. Specifically:
1.    Electroencephalogram:
•    Cognitive load of the PP and the video game: amount of cognitive resources required to process both the placed brands and the video game elements (Fernandez Rojas et al., 2020).
•    Memory encoding: degree to which new information is elaborated about the placed brands (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1971; Michel et al., 1993).
2.    Galvanic skin response biosensors:
•    Physiological activation during video game: level of relaxation or stress experienced while playing (Bell et al., 2018).
3.    Eye tracking:
•    Visual attention: total fixation time on the placed brands throughout the video game (Foulsham, 2019).


Framework
product placement design framework

Summary of findings

Stimulus design
Only familiarity directly influences consumers’ responses to PP. Familiar brands with positive attitudes are the most memorized and most likely to be purchased. Unfamiliar brands must be encoded to create brand awareness and be a valued option at the point of sale. 


Mediating variables during the game experience
The variables proposed as mediating variables between the PP and their responses, that is, all those measured during the execution of the video game, did not mediate. However, they did influence the responses to the PP, as discussed below. In fact, the mere inclusion of the product placement in video games manages to capture consumers' attention and influence their memorization, whether it is familiar or unfamiliar, and regardless of its position or congruence.

Influence at the affective level
The more positive the attitude towards the placed brands, the less nervous one is when playing the game. Therefore, it is advisable not to include unpleasant or very activating elements (e.g., sounds) or scenes when presenting the PP.

Behavioral influence
There seem to be two strategies that lead to a higher future purchase intention of the placed brands. The first one would be to get unfamiliar brands encoded in memory, because if there is no previous information about them, they are not valued as an option to be purchased. The second one would be to generate positive attitudes to help them to be acquired before others at the point of sale.

Conclusion

The application of neuromarketing devices to analyze the effectiveness of product placement in video games is a necessity, as they allow access to information that the consumer himself is not able to declare. Thus, this first approach from a new perspective establishes a starting point and advocates the establishment of more specific regulated guidelines when implementing this technique in video games.

About the Authors

Irene Aliagas Ocaña, Ph.D. – Lecturer in Consumer Psychology and Neuromarketing
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/irenealiagas/ 
Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Irene-Aliagas 
Irene holds a PhD in psychology and teaches at the Universidad Internacional de La Rioja, Spain. She teaches subjects related to consumer psychology, neural bases in decision making, neuromarketing and ethics. Her scientific activity is mainly dedicated to consumer psychology and neuroscience, product placement and video games, researching also topics based on marketing, advertising and communication. She has experience in the application of neuroscientific, psychological and physiological techniques such as electroencephalogram, eye tracking and galvanic skin response. In the professional field, she has worked in market research and neuromarketing projects.

María Dolores Merino Rivera, Ph.D. – Lecturer in Consumer, Social, Organizational and Differential Psychology
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lola-merino-4337ab11/ 
Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ma-Merino
Lola holds a PhD in Psychology and received an extraordinary thesis award. She teaches subjects related to social, work and differential psychology, as well as consumer psychology, in Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain. Her main line of academic research deals with welfare and social, physical, psychological and material resources. In the applied field, her research has focused on consumer psychology and has led to the signing of several contracts with private companies through Article 83. In addition, her research work has been awarded by the Community of Madrid, the Catalan Institute of Consumption and AEDEMO.

Jesús Privado Zamorano, Ph.D. – Lecturer in Behavioral Sciences Methodology
Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jesus-Privado 
Jesús Privado holds a PhD in Psychology and teaches at the Complutense University of Madrid. He teaches subjects such as statistics, research methods and designs, psychometrics and evaluation of psychological processes. He has participated in research groups studying the neural correlates of psychological measures, attention, working memory, intelligence and personality, among others. In addition, he has collaborated in statistical consulting for several companies such as Giunti-EOS.  


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