Marketing Essays - Product Placement

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Product Placement

Does Product Placement in Computer Games Affect The Consumer’s Buying Behaviour?

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Can you remember a movie in the cinema without some kind of product placement (a product and/or a brand intentionally placed in a cultural medium (Lehu, Bressoud (2007))? Placing branded products in entertainment media like movies is not a new developed concept.

This kind of advertising nowadays is very common. People often ask themselves what exactly advertising is. The term advertising describes any communication effort that might influence consumer purchase decisions (Rotfeld, H. J., 2008). Different types of models can therefore be used like product placement used in movies or in computer games.

Everything started with investments in the production of radio programs at the beginning of the 1930s. Consumer product manufacturers tried to reach their target audiences via the radio through so called sponsor-owned shows (Lavin, 1995). Product Placement, also called brand placement and “brand casting”, appeared first in motion pictures as early as the late 1940s and early 1950s. One example was in 1948 in the drama Mildred Pierce where an actor in the movie drank Jack Daniels whiskey (Nebenzahl & Secunda, 1993). In the beginning, using branded property by donating, loaning or purchasing them for particular movie scenes just to enhance their artistic qualities (Spillman, 1989). Since Reese’s Pieces appeared in the blockbuster movie E.T. The Extraterrestrial, over 20 years ago, product placement has developed and evolved significantly. That implicated that after the film release, Hersey claimed a 65% increase in sales of Reese’s Pieces (Karrh, 1998). Today, almost every movie contains product placement. While in the “James Bond”-Movies 007 drinks Martini, Will Smith drives a Porsche 911 Turbo in Bad Boys. (Quellen) There could be mentioned thousands of examples like this as today ads in movies are very common.

Beside movies, another media based method to reach a wide range of consumers, can be seen in ads turning up in computer games. To date, except for movies or television, attitudes toward product placement in media have received little attention, despite increased product placement in games (Nelson, 2004). Computer and console games are getting more and more interesting for marketers due to today’s households own at least one PC and playing computer games nowadays is very common. This applies not only for the youngsters in a family but also for their parents who also play games.

Computer games are emerging as a new medium for advertising but yet there is comparatively little empirical independent research investigating the outcomes of marketing communications using this medium.

Ads in computer games have not a very long tradition like ads in movies but nowadays it is more and more often used. To reach key consumer segments, marketers are turning to games in order to improve their chances. In 2005, advertisers spent $80 million to reach video game players. Experts expect this spending to top $400 by 2009 (Park Associates 2006). Whether it is billboard ads, sponsorship and product placement, or the game character experiencing the product by drinking, wearing, driving or listening to it as a part of the game, the opportunities for branding in computer games are vast (Townsend, J., 2007).

While European gamers’ most popular form of entertainment is watching TV, the $25 Billion gaming is even bigger than the $10 Billion film, as well as the $20 Billion home video industry. If we believe analysts from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the worldwide game industry is set to rocket to revenues in 2009 of about $54.6 billion (Ferrand et al., 2006). In regard to those numbers for today’s companies advertising in computer games has also become important to gain popularity. As 75% of people who have internet access also play online games for more than an hour per month (NEUE STUDIE IGDA Online Games SIG Steering Committee 2005).

Another important issue today is subliminal advertising in media. Beginning in 1982 many people were concerned about subliminal messages in rock music claimed that messages had been recorded backward into popular rock music (Vokey & Read, 1985). They feared that these messages could be perceived while listening to the music in the normal way. Even in computer games there is advertising that is perceived just incidentally. This might be true for example in racing games. Here might raise the question whether the player perceives billboards while driving with a speed of 130 MPH. Nobody can say if some kind of messages have an impact on our decision making process. Yet no empirical study has explored incidental effects on computer game players by advertising. Furthermore, it has not been investigated if the placement of the ads is designed to be subconsciously processed.

1.2 Reasons for Choice of Topic

The topic in this paper was specifically chosen due to the writer’s interest in the area and desire to learn more on the subject of game related advertising issues and effects on the consumer of computer games.

1.3 Research Objectives

This paper explores recent developments in the video game market in marketing practice that have resulted in brands being found in an increasing number of computer games. The main target of this investigation is to work out if product placement has any impact on the consumer in terms of the buying behavior and actions that the consumers enforce as a result of brands appearing in computer games.

To investigate the prior research question, there will also be investigated if product placement is perceived by the respondents and their attitude towards product placement will be examined. As the subconscious as a component that should not be neglected in terms of subliminal advertising, it should be questioned whether it has any influence on the consumer or not.

All these questions are coherent as if people perceive the product placement and have a positive attitude towards product placement it is possible that they subliminally perceive the placements. As all this is coherently, it is also possible, that buying decisions are predicated on these variables.

1.4 Computer Games - Limitations

Academic and professional literature on gaming often makes distinctions between computer games, video games and electronic games. These boundaries are blurred and moreover the situation is complicated by the availability different types of games. There are console games, PC games, mobile games, handheld games, interactive entertainment and virtual worlds that could be differentiated. Some of these distinctions are made to describe the hardware on which the games are played. Others also refer to a particular characteristic of the medium or the social aspects of playing.

This variety of different types of consoles and handhelds is not helpful especially considering that today many games like for example the game Doom can now be played on cell phones, calculators in addition to PCs and tricked out consoles. Creating and using a separate name for each case/instance of a new hardware group would quickly become obstructive. The term “electronic games” might be too broad as it could also include games that are technically electronic like for example pinball machines. This kind of media is rarely discussed in the context of “video” or “computer games”.

Like a good fit on the other hand seems to be “computer games”. The term “computer games” refers to games that are controlled or used by a computer which is a machine that digitally processes data according to a set of instruction. This then again includes a large range of devices that contain an embedded computer. Computer games that use a video display as the primary feedback device can be described by the term “video games”. Since most of the games discussed in this paper rely on computer monitor or a television screen for the visual playback, “computer games” and “video games” will often be used alternately. Below there will also follow a contextual definition while clarifications will be provided when necessary.

1.5 Chapter outline

Following from this chapter; chapter two gives a crucial review of the literature available on the chosen subject matter and identifies an apposite theoretical framework for this study. It looks at the issues raised by academics and provides a basis for what has been observed.

Chapter three discusses the quantitative methods used in this dissertation to collect the research required. The set up of a questionnaire is depicted as well as the appropriate methods that need to be factored in.

Chapter four presents the findings of the primary research undertaken for this dissertation and the findings will be analyzed using content analysis in order to put some figure to the numeric nature of quantitative research. It will present the participant’s answers to the questions asked for the research of this project, and reiterate statements made in the data collection process (questionnaires).

Finally in chapter five the research findings and analysis and attempts to draw conclusions from this are considered. To resolve the matters discussed and argued in this paper, the conclusion will help to draw an end to this dissertation.

Chapter 2 - Review of Literature

2.1 Introduction

This chapter deals with the academic literature and pre-existing studies on the subject of product placement in computer games and its impact on the consumer. This chapter’s aims and objectives are to afford better clarification of the topic and the variables that affect consumers. Existing studies will be explored further and perhaps bring new understanding to the subject. This is achieved through the way in which this chapter is structured; by looking at the definitions presented by academics of product placement; subliminal advertising; brand recognition and recall; brand equity and trust; considering various studies and selecting the most appropriate ones for this dissertation to prove the research questions.

2.2 Product Placement

From the time when movies provided brands in the 1940s and 1950s, they have been served as background scenery as well as props and character developers. Advertising supports media economically, yet for product placements but when the practice began with branded products it was donated, bartered or bought (Nelson et al., 2004). Today, companies generally are paid by film-makers to appear in the movies (Chunovic, 2002) and that change was then being followed in the game industry, too.

Brand properties or placements differ from conventional broadcast advertising in leastwise three ways: At first, placements do not suspend the media experience of the consumer like it is done by paid media advertising which operates between media content (Nelson et al., 2004). Secondly, placements are according to Wasko et al. (1993) not always paid by the brand. Thirdly, Nelson et al. (2004) claim that it would be important that placements are not be perceived by consumers as commercial messages.

In a public policy debate the extent of the consumer awareness and knowledge about product placements is considered an important measure. Product placements are presented as subversive, subconscious techniques, even though others assert that most consumers are aware of the practice (Nelson et al. 2004).

The continuous advances in technology have made it incrementally easier for consumers to circumvent traditional advertising messages. Whether bypassing advertising by switching to another channel via the remote control or VCR and DVR make it necessary for advertisers to find other ways to catch the attention of the consumers to make them buying the company’s products. One such strategy that marketers have begun to make use of is product placement in entertainment media (Lee, Faber, 2007).

2.3 Definition of games and information about the people playing them

While taking all the time about games; what is a game in the sense used in this paper? Jesper Juul (2003), a video game theorist, investigated seven well-known definitions of games which have been provided by different academics. Based on a screened listing of features which describes issues that are necessary for something to be a game, he then identifies it as “a rule-based system with a variable and quantifiable outcome, where different outcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome, the player feels emotionally attached to the outcome, and the consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable” (Juul, 2006). To be able to understand the distinctive features of the computer games particularly as a medium, this description will become helpful later.

To understand the entire matter around games, there should be explained the type of people who play games. According to a study conducted by the Interactive Software Federation Europe (2008) the average gamer in Europe today is 33 years old. It is also claimed that in a typical week 45% of the PC owners play games more than 1-5 hours while 29% play more than 5 hours. In case of console owners it is more or less the same so this does not need to be considered separately as in this paper this component is not taken in account. The main reason of playing is for most of them to play just for fun (80%) followed by relaxing and de-stressing (55%) and playing when they are bored (41%) (Interactive Software Federation Europe, 2008).

Gamers are people who immerse themselves in an alternate reality which allows brands having the permission to act in a way that helps players to do this. Shortly this means, as brands appear in or around a game, it makes sense to use them to enhance the virtual reality (Mediaedge, 2005). Nevertheless it would be pointless to place billboards of real world advertising like Coka Cola in games with a fantasy setting like for example the well known World of Warcraft. That kind of product placement would not turn up realistic and it would disturb the player’s experience. World of Warcraft is an ongoing multiplayer world that was subscribed by about 8 million at the beginning of 2007 which (Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., 2007) has increased to 10 million in 2008 (Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., 2008). The expert Samuel Turcotte (Lehu, 2007) claims that ‘product placement isn’t about sales; it’s about brand awareness’. Aiming on increasing sales and making the customer aware of one’s product, marketers should not try to disturb the player’s word but enhance it. Examples like World of Warcraft show that those players or subscribers are out of advertiser’s reach.

Today in generally things have changed as product placements are part of many games. Depending on the setting and the kind of placement, many products found their way into the games. Whether BMW in car racing games like for example Need for Speed or ordinary products like Axe deodorants and Airwaves chewing gums in Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory, most products that appear in the games are products that surround gamers and non-gamers daily.

According to a study conducted by Nielsen BASES and Nielsen Games on behalf of in-game advertising network IGA Worldwide, 82% of gamers react positively to contextual In-Game Ads (Androvich, 2008). Results of this study showed that of consumers with the strongest opinion about in-game ads, both positive and negative, over 70% felt the ads made them feel better about the brand. They felt more favourable toward the brand and it made them more interested in the brand. Ultimately they believed that the ads are for innovative/cutting edge brands. More than 60% of these most opinionated customers feel ads do not interrupt their attention while experiencing the game. Also, the ads catch their attention and make games more realistic as well as the brands shown in the games are promoting relevant products. According to Lockergnome (2007), most of today’s computer games give the impression being made for men. An industry report published by IBISWorld (2008) reveals that women and older adults are the new driving force behind the success of the video games industry. According to IBISWorld (2008) it is also claimed that today, more and more women begin to play action games.

Today in general the consumer research on product placements has focused on attitudes towards the practice and the effectiveness (Nelson et al., 2004).

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2.4 Gamers’ attitude towards product placement in computer games

Advertising placements that mimic real-world ads – such as billboards in sports or racing games – are generally accepted by gamers because they have perceived to add to the realism of the game (Thompson, 2006) which is also in accordance with Nelson (2002). He claims the research on consumer attitudes to in-game product placement shows that participants were in the main positive about practice and did not perceive any disruption in the experience of the game used in the study. As already mentioned above, brands should be used as enhancer of the virtual reality (Mediaedge, 2005), some participants of the study just mentioned reported that product placement enhance the realism of the game as well as it would add value to the gaming experience (Nelson, 2002).

The argument that consumers are more positively disposed towards brand placements relative to more conventional forms of advertising is also supported by research investigating consumer’s attitudes to product placement in other media (Nebenzahl and Secunda, 2003). They also found that product placement was related favourably by 70% of people going to the cinema, extensively higher than ratings for pre-movie advertisements.

As attitudinal surveys and focus groups showed, questioned consumers generally find product placements to be acceptable. They even said that it would enhance the value of the media as well as the entertainment value (Nelson et al., 2004). On the other hand, some of the polled consumers, in most cases women from countries like the U.S., Austria, France and Singapore are not that positive about the acceptability of ethically-charged products. They claim that such things like guns, cigarettes or alcohol in media would be targeted at children (Nelson et al., 2004). According to information from PRNewswire (2008) women do also play computer games with that kind of content like action games or shooter. So it depends on the attitude of the individual and the kind of placement used in the media.

In most cases when guns are placed in a computer game, it target adults (PRNewswire, 2008). In Germany for example, it is controlled by law what kind of games need to be censored or not. All this is the executed by an institution called USK. If a computer game is not checked by the USK, it is not coming out. And if it contains explicit violence and language, it may only be sold to adults which is from 18 years on.

2.5 Brand Equity and Social Trust

Many customers buy needed goods by habit, are drawn to purchase by promotions, or simply do not pay much attention to which brand they buy (Walshe and Fearn, 2008). Therefore it is important for marketers to draw customers’ attention, convince them to prefer their product blindly and make them to trust in the product.

Brand equity is depicted to be known by Yoo and Donthu (2002) to create customers’ blind preference for a brand over its competing brands. Brand equity also increases the company’s value by affecting the decision making in terms of merger and acquisition, stock market responses and the extendibility of a brand name. Brand equity measures most of which have long been used by marketers but which are only now being brought together as single intangible asset which in accounting terms, is brought forward at the start of the period and carried forward to the next (Ambler, 1997).

As long as the marketers don’t do anything dreadful, traditional brand leaders will stay brand leaders. This can also be seen in the fact that the brand leaders in the 1920s were mostly the leaders 60 years later (Wurster, 1987). Brands with lower rankings normally hold their places.

Ambler (1997) claims that the awareness is cognitive, as is our knowledge of a brand’s functional performance characteristics and price. Attitudes towards the brand are primarily affective. Most essentially, making use of regularly purchased brands is likely to be merely reinforced by advertising.

Believing in a product blindly requires people’s trust in the company. To comprehend the importance of trust a definition of trust will now follow. ‘Trust is one of the most important synthetic forces within society’ (Simmel, 1950). Trust is needed to gain customers’ blind preference for a brand. Customers that trust in company’s products as well as in its established brands will buy these products in the future. Referring to this, for marketers it is an essential factor, that trust is built. This signifies that trust is controlled mentally. Ambler (1997) claims that as long marketers are engaged with what changes customer’s behaviour, mental stages of the customer cannot be ignored.

While the customer perceives that a product represents a high profit, it is probable that the product will be bought in the future. Convincing a customer to consider another - the own - product to be better is very hard for a company to. If a product is favoured by the customer, then good arguments are needed by the marketer change the preferred product.

By looking at features like customization in computer games like in many car-racing games it can be seen, that product placement can be implanted differently. Even the design or the car’s power can be adjusted. Very famous for that is for example the car racing game series Need for Speed. By implementing such features the player identifies himself with the brand, which in real life can results in an increased brand loyalty of the respective player. The virtually perceived quality then may have an impact on the gamer.

A possible indicator of future performance might be the perceived quality which has been identified as a key; possibly it is the key (Gale, 1994). However, as we do not know the correlation it is hard to forecast which seems probable between perceived quality and trust. In a computer game, the perceived quality in a racing game may lead the player to believe the car he is driving with is unbeatable, but it is questionable whether it can be trusted in that car to be equal in reality. These examples show that the options of marketers in the game segment are enormous.

Brands simplify the process of making decisions by acting as ‘summarized knowledge’. A brand reduces the need of the customer to undertake the time-consuming activity of ‘researching’ products (Morrison and Firmstone 2000).

2.6 Subliminal Messages in Media

As already mentioned above, subliminal messages also appeared in media or still do. Embedding material in print, audio or video messages so faintly that they are not consciously perceived is called subliminal advertising (Rogers and Smith, 1993). Besides the attention, the capacity and the perception of in game advertising, there exists another theory. A lot of scientists say that subliminal messages do leave a mark on the brain. By using brain scanners, they found “we often record images we are not even aware of having seen” (Jha, 2007). Researchers from the University College of London proved on a psychological level that invisible subliminal images catch the brain’s attention on a subconscious level. Using a method called fMRI, this study investigated if it is possible images which the customer is not aware of – but ones that reach the retina – have any impact on activity of the brain in the primary visual cortex, part of the occipital lobe (Smith, Lewis, 2007). The brain of the subjects did act in response to the object even when they did not know about having seen it (Smith, Lewis, 2007). At a basic level, people perceive messages differently when they are presented in the form of an advertisement than when they are written in the form of other types of communications as the same literal content can result in different consumer perceptions (Rotfeld, 2008). The research of the University College of London tackles the theory of William James, a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher (1842-1910), who once said: “We are conscious of what we attend to, and not conscious of what we do not attend to” (Subliminal Advertising Leaves Its Mark On The Brain, 2007). Within several tests scientists found out that there are situations where consciousness and attention don’t accompany each other. Nevertheless, the research also indicated that when the brain doesn’t have enough capacity to attend to an image, even subconsciously perceived images simply do not get realized (Subliminal Advertising Leaves Its Mark On The Brain, 2007).

According to Rogers and Smith (1993) many people in the public have heard of the term ‘subliminal advertising’ and know about its importance. They also claim that as the public understands the basics of the concept they believe it not only to be used by advertisers but also to be successful in influencing brand choice and purchase behaviour. Zanot (1984) examined 38 studies of American attitudes to advertising from the 1930s to the 1970s. He found that these became increasingly negative over time, perhaps reflecting increases in the volume of advertising, the growth of consumerism and rising concerns about the social responsibility of business.

According to studies conducted by Zanot, Pincus and Lamp (1983) after a survey of 209 adults in Washington, DC it was reported that 81% had heard of subliminal advertising and that respondents believe that subliminal advertising is widely and frequently used and that it is successfully in selling products. According to Rogers and Smith (1993), these results were confirmed in separate surveys conducted later. They also conducted an own study to prove whether the results are still valid or not, and it was proved again.

Heyder et al. (1992) compared attitudes across several East and Western Europe countries. They also found more positive attitudes in Britain than in France or West Germany, although Czecheslovakia emerged as the country best disposed to advertising. Attitudes were however less favourable in Poland, Hungary and East Germany.

2.7 Effectiveness of Product Placement - Brand Recognition and Recall

Even though advertising through digital games appears widely in popular print media and industry magazines there are only a few empirical studies attempt to explain the effects of the ads that target game players.

Today the increasing brand awareness is amid the most ordinary goals advertisers have when product placement in games is used. Often it is assumed that the amount of people playing a game is equal to the number of people that actually pays attention to brand names turning up in the game. As a game player is busy playing the game then this is what occupies primary attention. It is important for advertisers to find out whether their brand name is being noticed at all since brand names displayed in a game are not the focal object of attention (Lee and Faber, 2007).

According to Lee and Faber (2007), “most cognitive psychologists believe that attention is the progress of allocating cognitive capacity to an object or task”. Furthermore, researchers frequently focus their attention on two issues: on the one hand on the selective aspect on the other on the intensive aspect. Lee and Faber (2007) also claim that the intensity of attention relates to the amount of cognitive capacity. This intensity of attention is allocated to a particular task as well as the selectivity which refers to selective allocation of cognitive capacity to a certain task in preference to others. Beside the attention, there is also the capacity that should be thought of. As the player is attentive it might be that the brain does not have enough capacity to handle all the absorbed information.

To explain both, the selective and intensive aspects of attention, the limited-capacity model of attention was generated (Kahneman 1973). This model makes use of the assumption that one's entire attentional capacity is limited at any moment (Kahneman, 1973). Even with a strong attention, it might be difficult as there is no capacity to handle the mass of information. Kahneman (1973) claims that the entire capacity that is allocated to execute all actions can be split into two parts: on the one hand there is capacity devoted to the primary task and on the other hand there can be regarded spare capacity (Kahneman 1973; Lynch and Srull 1982).

According to scientists, spare capacity attends to secondary tasks and other surroundings. They also say that the capacity that is used to perform the primary task cannot be used for the secondary task as the more capacity is used for the primary task, the less is available for the person – in the context of this paper the gamer – to accomplish any secondary task.

Both, primary task capacity and spare capacity are central to understand the how in-game ads are working in terms of product placement on brand memory. According to Lee and Faber (2007), playing the game is the primary task that players perform. Processing advertisements embedded in the game is then the secondary task. As more attentional capacity is needed to apply oneself to playing the game, the less will be accessible for handling brand information.

Similar to industry measures, academics have relied seriously on memory-based measures. Examples for those can be aided and unaided recall, recognition, and sometimes on acceptance, reported usage behavior and perceived ethical factors related to product placement (Gupta and Gould, 1997; Karrh, Firth, and Callison, 2001; Morton and Friedman, 2002; Russel. 2002; Sargent, 2001).

André Sonder, New Business Director of IGA Wordwide, subsidiary of Microsoft responsible for co-oper sations in matters of advertising, provides reasons for computer games as advertising medium. On one hand, he claims, that investigations showed that in particular men between the age of 18 and 34 have a six to seven times higher cognition while gaming than while watching primetime TV-Shows. In-game ads are for that reason very effective as the player is very concentrated and ads can be better recognized than in television. (Aichinger, 2006)

Displaying brand identifiers in the games may be comparable to product placements in TV shows or in films in various ways. However in other ways, playing games is in some way different compared with watching a movie or TV program, and the force and consequences of product placements may, as a result of that differ. The major difference may be in the scope of involvement and its effects on the resources concerning attention. While gamer interact with the game actively by managing and influencing what happens in the game a ‘TV watcher’ passively just ‘watches’ television or movies (Nicovich 2005). Compared with movie or TV product placements, noticing a brand and remembering it may be more difficult in the game context to a considerable degree. This might be due to its immersive nature (Chancy, Lin, and Chancy 2004; Nicovich 2005). To create a to some extent on-of-a-kind situation for in-games this distinction may also interact with other variables.

According to a study to investigate the effects of product placement in games on brand recall which was analyzed by Nelson (2002), it was found that 95% of the participants were able to recall the brand of the car they drove during the game spontaneously. Nevertheless, on the other side, recall declined to 0% after a five-month post-play period.

2.8 Effectiveness of in-game ads - studies

There are a few studies around product placement concerning computer games. The British company Bunnyfoot offers the opportunity to measure the effectiveness of in game ad investment for companies that intended to place their products in computer games. Bunnyfoot claims that it would not just be about brand awareness or brand recall anymore as the new era of digital improvement provides an array of rich media to communicate with the increasingly cynic consumer (Walton, 2008). They also argue that games would offer a huge untapped market with a broader profile than assumed before. Beside Lee and Faber’s (2007) limited-capacity model of attention, Alison Walton (2008) also claims that the key benefit to a gaming environment is the ability to capture consumer attention. For that reason, as the player is confronted with a rapid gameplay, it’s a moot question whether he has enough attention to notice the in-game ads or not. Virtual environments often are not diluted, so that the player can be bombarded with irrelevant advertising. Games rather provide a virtual environment where campaigns can be contextually important, relevant to the game content and consequently this has a greater impact on the player (Walton, 2008). Bunnyfoot analyzed and captured attention by developing an emotive engagement model that can measure, quantify and predict consumer response to advertising in games. For the study, a methodology that contained eye tracking in order to find out the effectiveness of ad location, dimension and design, was implemented (Staff, 2007). Eyetracking is a technique used to determine where a person is looking at. With reference to this independent study which was performed by Bunnyfoot, a lack of engagement between video game players and in-game advertising in sports titles was revealed (Usher, 2006). The titles used for testing were for example racing games like Gran Turismo 3 and Project Gotham Racing. Also other types of games like wrestling (Smackdown vs. Raw) and basketball games (NBA Live) were used for determining the results (Usher, 2006). When it comes to video games capturing consumer attention Usher (2006) also claims that the study results apparently reflect a low level of player engagement, recognition and attention. Often it is deliberated whether in game ads disturb players while playing or not. According to Staff (2007), a Study conducted by Double Fusion showed what many scientists have recently assumed but which has not been proven before – that gamers are impacted by in-game ads in a positive manner and that they not only notice them.

Double Fusion’s study surveyed the influence of 36 different kinds of in-game ads. The study included 10 games of different genres which included FPS, action, racing and sports which have been investigated. Same as in the Bunnyfoot study, the Double Fusion used the method of eyetracking. 75% of gamers engage with at least one ad per minute across most, but not all game types; 81% of gamers engage at least every other minute. The findings of the Double Fusion study also showed that less-cluttered ads are three times more effective at garnering gamers notice than ads that are either cluttered or within cluttered environments. In addition, placement of the ad in the primary camera plane (eye-level) is more important than large size ads (Staff 2007). This study shows, that depending on different variables, the results may vary.

Chapter 3 - Methodology

3.1 Introduction

This chapter describes in detail the research methodology used to investigate the research question. There are different approaches of research. According to Saunders et al. (2000) people often think that one research approach is ‘better’ than another. Contrariwise this would miss the point as the different methods are ‘better’ at doing different things. To explain the advantages and disadvantages of research methods, academic theory is used. In the case of this paper, to collect data, quantitative research methods were applied.

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3.2 Primary and Secondary Research

There are two options for research, primary and secondary research (Saunders, 2000). The major focus of this research project is based on primary data, which is data collected at source. Before primary research was carried out, secondary research was undertaken. Secondary research was accomplished by reviewing the existing literature available on the subject completed in chapter two of this dissertation.

Primary data can be collected in a quantitative or qualitative manner. The method used in this exploratory study adopted a survey research strategy and employed an online questionnaire to collect the data. ‘The questionnaire is one of the most widely used survey data collection techniques’ (Saunders et at., 2000).

On the other hand, there is secondary data which is referred to as observations that have been previously collected by other people with other thoughts in their mind. When taking into consideration how to answer the research question or meeting the objectives, few researchers think about the possibility of re-analyzing data that have already been collected for some other purpose (Hakim, 1982). In this paper, secondary sources will only be used to support or disprove the primary resources.

3.3 Set up of an e-questionnary

According to Saunders et al. (2000), questionnaires delivered and returned electronically using either email or the internet called online-questionnaires or e-questionnaire. The questionnaire for this paper is self-administered and was completed by the respondents. It was designed and implemented online via an e-questionnaire called “fragebogen-tool”. The respondents were invited to access the questionnaire via a link that was sent to them. The questionnaire includes prefabricated questions to make it easier to evaluate the results. That way, the data is more reliable (Foddy, 1994:17).

As a question is valid, it will enable accurate data to be collected while one which is reliable will mean that these data are collected consistently (Saunders et al., 2000). ‘The question must be understood by the respondent in the way intended by the researcher and the answer given by the respondent must be understood by the researcher in the way intended by the responder’ (Foddy, 1994:17).

By means of the homepage of the e-questionnaire, the questionnaire’s initiator is able to implement the questions and examine the results well arranged. Thereupon, by using Microsoft Excel, the results can be put into graphs.

3.3.1 Explanatory variables for questionnaires

According to Dillman (1978) there are 4 sorts of data that can be collected through questionnaires.

  • attitude
  • belief
  • behaviour
  • attribute

For this questionnaire, questions on the player’s attitude, belief, behaviour and their attributes were integrated. According to Saunders et al. (2000), these distinctions are important because they influence the way the questions are worded. As attitude and belief variables record how respondents feel about something, think or belief what is true (Saunders, 2000), attributes on behaviors and attributes in contrast are more straightforward to collect (Robson, 1993). While recording what respondents do, their behavior is recorded as their beliefs are recording a concrete experience. Attributes contain characteristics like age and gender (Dillman, 1978). In this survey, different types of variables were implanted to receive a wide range of information about the respondents.

Also important is to improve the validity of the questionnaire. Clear wording of the questions using terms that are likely to be familiar to, and understood by, respondents can improve the validity of the questionnaire. A combination of open and closed questions is in most types of questionnaires included (Saunders et al., 2000). According to (Fink, 1995) open questions allow respondents to give answers in their own way. Closed questions are sometimes referred to as close-ended questions (Salant and Dillman, 1994). Here, a number of alternative answers the respondent is instructed to choose, are provided (deVaus, 1996).

3.3.2 Advantages of an e-questionnaire

As the choice of questionnaire is influenced by a variety of factors related to the research question(s) and objectives (Saunders et al, 2000), the advantage for choosing an e-questionnaire was the target group. E-questionnaires make it possible to reach a large group of people within a short time with little effort. Since the questioned people should be gamer, it was obvious for this research to use the internet for reaching them. That is why the online community platform of two German gaming magazines was used as there the target group could be reach easier. By advertising the survey on the Internet and inviting the respondents to access a web site to fill out the questionnaire, observes netiquette and means that the respondents remain anonymous. Of equal importance, they are not able to modify the questionnaire (Witmer et al., 1999). Online-questionnaires also prevent the contamination of respondents. According to Saunders et al. (2002) this contamination would reduce the data’s reliability as the respondents would be questioned in a group while being able to discuss with other respondents.

To increase the success of questionnaires five factors have been highlighted by Saunders et al. (2000):

  • Careful design of individual questions;
  • Clear structure of the questionnaire form;
  • Lucid explanation of the purpose of the questionnaire;
  • Pilot testing;
  • Carefully planned and executed administration.

3.3.3 Disadvantages of an e-questionnaire

One of the main limitations associated with self-completion questionnaires may include people answering incorrectly to certain questions. Also with regards to the questionnaire design, for the question type, when a respondent does not answer a question, this could be for a number of reasons, for example a negative response, however, it could also mean that the respondent is unsure or that it does not apply to them (Saunders et al., 2000). Another negative factor is that questions that go more into detail and need information that cannot be prefabricated. Using for example interviews would simplify that matter.

3.4 Focus Group

For the research of this paper, an initial sample of 88 subjects playing computer games has been conducted to investigate the research question. To select participants there has no particular criteria been employed. The only limitation was that the participants had to be of an appropriate age, and hence for ethical reasons no children or teenagers were included in the study. Table 1 provides an overview of the initial sample.

For this research, the respondents were subdivided into three groups. First of all, a few of the subjects were acquaintances of the researcher. They were asked to hand on the link of the

e- questionnaire to friends to reach as many people as possible. This strategy is also referred to as snowball sampling. This is commonly used when it is difficult to identify members of the desired population (Saunders et al., 2000). Secondly, a sample of subjects was drawn from different undergraduate level courses at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. The questionnaire was handed to those students through the university email distribution system. The third channel that was used, were random people reached through the internet forum of the two biggest German computer magazines, Gamestar and PC-Games. Using this channel, it can be proceeded from the assumption that gamers are reached.

3.4.1 Advantages

Examination of the literature reveals that focus groups provide a number of advantages relative to other types of research. In the case of this paper, focus groups have to be considered as electronic or online focus groups as the questionnaire conducted is online. According to Edmund (1999), there are several advantages for focus groups. Focus groups data from a group of people is much more quickly and at less cost than it would be the case if each individual were interviewed separately. They also have potential to reach a broad geographic scope as well as hard to reach participants such as business travellers and professionals who have little time during normal hours to participate. It also provides a convenient and comfortable way of participation. Furthermore focus groups have an apparently high validity, as results obtained are easy to understand. Edmund (1999) also states that doing the research online helps to speed up the process and provides for anonymity which can lead to greater openness.

3.4.2 Disadvantages

Besides the huge amount of advantages, there should also be mentioned disadvantages, e-questionnaires have. To a large extent, the focus groups that are conducted for the purpose of market research are limited. Necessarily the participants must have access to the internet and be inclined to participate (Edmund, 1999). Thus, the participants would not represent a true cross section of a group unless that group was a population of Internet users willing to participate in online research—and that is a limited group.

Another issue mentioned by Edmunds (1999) is that facial expressions can not be seen when conducting research online. This is also true or at least very difficult when a small video camera is used and the participants are interviewed over the internet as the bandwidth may be limited.

From the standpoint of communications Newhagen and Rafaeli (1996) argue that some qualities of the Internet have the potential of changing the dynamics of communication.

3.5 Limitations

There are a number of limitations to this study. As there are too many variables that need to be considered in terms of product placement in computer games, it is impossible to capture and evaluate all data. For that reason, this paper includes only the variables that are from the author’s point of view and evaluating from literature the most important. It is also not obvious, whether participants have completed the questionnaire twice as well as the trueness in answering the questions was given. Furthermore, there cannot be guaranteed, that the sample of the survey represents the whole gaming community. As there has been a sample of 88 participants, there is no evidence, that the whole gamer community thinks the same way. Finally another possible limitation of this study was accessibility to the research participants needed for the research. This could have caused problems in accessing data required to carry out the analysis and conclusion, as the people were unwilling to give up their time.

3.6 Ethics

Ethical issues were considered when looking at obtaining the data. Before the questionnaire was carried out the participants were asked to be over 18 to ensure that only adults answer the questions. Also anonymity was guaranteed to the participants. Altogether, 86 of the respondents were 18 years old while 3 were under that age. Participants under 18 were excluded from the results of the questionnaire. This was necessary due to the guidelines demanded by the Northumbria University.

Chapter 4 - Findings and Analysis

4.1 Introduction

The findings from the 88 questionnaires (Appendices X, X,X,X-X) have provided quantitative statistical analysis of how the gamers recall, think about and react on product placement. All this data is necessary to say something about the gamers’ changes in the buying behaviour as the analysis of the questionnaire also includes an evaluation of the gamers about the subconscious and what they think about the influence of subliminal advertising. By means of the questionnaires and appropriate literature, the research questions will be answered in this chapter.

In order to answer the research questions, investigating brand recall, whether subliminal messages have an impact on our sub consciousness or if the buying behavior is influenced by product placement in computer games. In terms of the subliminal messages it was important to obtain an evaluation of the gamers via the questionnaire as if they know about that issue they might also perceive whether there is any influence or not. The general public was the most appropriate group to question, rather than advertising professionals, as the gamers might perceive the influence of the placements by themselves.

4.2 Analysis of the questionnaire

Altogether, 88 people took part at the questionnaire. The first question of the questionnaire was a confirmation of the participants to be over 18 which was necessary due to the regulations of the Northumbria University. The following questions (2-15) will be delineated subsequently. As can be seen from the attached questionnaire (Appendix B) the questions will be evaluated below.

The first question of the questionnaire was implemented to guarantee that the participants questioned are at least 18 years old. From the overall result of 88 samples, 3 of the participants were under the age of 18 and will not appear in the analysis of the following questions.

To ensure this, the e-questionnaire internet page used for the questionnaire supports the option to show any result while blinding out the bad data. This offers in general the opportunity to investigate any question by using other questions to isolate designated conditions.

4.3 Structuring of the questions

The collectivity of the questions can be divided in several subclasses. This is necessary to answer the main research question by using the results of the subordinate research questions.

  • Demographics
  • Player’s habits
  • Perception
  • Recall
  • Attitude towards product placement
  • Changes in the buying behavior caused through…
  • … simply perceive the advertising (see recall)
  • … perceive it subliminally (gamer’s estimation)

4.3.1 Demographics

The demographics selected for this study aim at differentiating some of questions of the questionnaire. In this paper they were divided in several groups to allow answering the main research question and the particular research questions needed to do so. The main variables of the demographics are the age and the gender whether it is male or female.

In the questionnaire conducted for this paper, the sample was divided into 4 groups: 18-20, 21-30, 31-40 and 41- over 50 years old. According to the study conducted by Interactive Software Federation Europe (2008), where among other things, demographic and usage data was analyzed the data surveyed by this paper’s questionnaire shows slight up to big differences.

The majority of the gamers that completed the questionnaire were between 21 and 30 years old, which is 71.6 % (63 of 88 gamers). This can also be seen on the Appendix XXX in graph no. XXX. The average age of this paper’s questionnaire must be below as the main group of participants (71.6%) is between 21 and 30 and the second largest remainder of 17% is between 18 and 20. This shows that the average age must be fewer than 33 as the minority rest together is only 10%. Compared to the average age of the study conducted by the Interactive Software Federation Europe which is 33, this shows a slight difference.

The importance of the age at this point is that depending on age and habits of playing, the perception and the types of product placement people are aware of might differ. Also based on the age, the perception might also be different. As the experience of the participants in gaming in most cases is different the perception may vary because the inexperienced player might not take notice of the placements as he is too busy with gaming.

As only 11.4 % of the questionnaire’s participants were over 30 it might come from the fact that a few of the subjects were acquaintances of the researcher and friends of those. Also the two forums, where the link to the questionnaire was posted in are more often read by younger than by older ones but there cannot be made any statement about this as this is not discoverable.

In recent years, women playing computer games was more uncommon than it is today. According to Interactive Software Federation Europe’s (2008) study, respondents were aged between 18 and 49, with 70% being male and 30% being female. The results of the questionnaire show that this can not be confirmed for this research as the percentage of male in this paper’s research is 90.9% and female is 9.1%. The reason for that could be the smaller sample size and for this reason this result will not carry authority that much but it will be considered min the research. As the sample size of the study conducted by the Interactive Software Federation Europe showed that by now women are playing computer games more and more, this can be manifested as the games developed fitted on girl’s concerns. Game developers began to develop games that are also suitable to the girl’s interests.

Besides the demographics, the player’s habits do play an important role as they are in some way responsible for the way of perception as the quantity of time playing computer games may have an effect on matters like perception, recall and the attitude towards product placement as all those variables are in some way cohesive.

4.3.2 Player’s habits

The habits of the gamers in context mean generally their habits in terms of playing computer games. Frequency of playing computer games and how long it is played may be an important issue as if it is played often, the probability of perceiving product placement is considerably higher. Lee and Faber’s (2007) statement confirm that predication as they say that the number of people playing a game is equal to the number of people actually paying attention to brand names embedded in games. For that reason, this matter was also observed for this paper.

Results of the questionnaire showed that 25.0 % of the respondents play computer games more often than 3 times a week while 54.5 % of the participants play more than 5 hours. The study conducted by the Software Federation Europe (2008) showed similar results. There it has been found that in a typical week, 45% of PC owners play more then 1-5 hours whereas 29% play more than 5 hours. An interesting result of the questionnaire is, that 75% of the women play computer games more often than 3 times a week and 62.5 % of the women play more than 5 hours.

Altogether, the findings show, that today’s gamers play a lot and so the chance that they are exposed to in-game ads is very high, which is also contingent on the genre that is played.

Depending on the genre and the game environment, product placement is perceived differently. This was investigated by the company Bunnyfoot (Walton, 2008) which showed that the perception varies caused through both, genre and environment. People playing Role-play games (RPGs) emphasize atmospheric environments as this matter of fact is also confirmed by Mediaedge (2005). The coherence whether it is realistic or not depends on the game. Fantasy environments do not benefit from Coca Cola advertisements as it would appear unrealistic in the correspondent fantasy world. Also a knight’s armour fabricated by for example Hugo Boss would not fit into a fantasy environment.

Most games mentioned by the participants were racing games like the very famous, already above mentioned Need for Speed series. In nearly every racing game today, ads are placed. Also sports games like nearly every part of the Fifa or NBA Series published by EA Games where advertising in sports fields can be found were referenced to as games containing in-game ads. An action game very famous for in-game advertising is Splinter Cell. It was often mentioned by the participants as a game, product placement was found in. Furthermore the shooter genre was mentioned like according to the media coverage controversial issued Counterstrike and its follower Counterstrike Source (Appendix XXX). Counterstrike is one of the most famous shooter and since a patch integrated in-game ads, this is also a game element in terms of atmosphere. These results show, that a range of genres is present in the study conducted for this paper.

4.3.3 Perception

As not only the attention for the issue of perception is the main point, also the capacity should be considered. Attention on the one side is necessarily required to perceive the placements. On the other side, to handle all the information that impact on the gamer, there might occur the issue that the brain does not have enough capacity to handle all the absorbed information (Lee and Faber, 2007). Kahneman (1973) also claims that according to the limited-capacity model of attention one’s total attentional capacity is limited at any one point in time. Both points together might then result in a lack of perception.

From the 88 people polled for this paper 75% have perceived product placement in computer games while 22.7 % did not perceive any product placement. About 2.3% of the participants did not answer the question.

All participants female that 87.5 % of the women questioned have perceived product placement in computer games. This might show that women are more receptive as male who have XXX %.

4.3.4 Recall

As Lee and Faber claim that the increasing of brand awareness is among the most common goals advertisers have in using in-game ads, recall is one of the keys to do so. According to a study on brand recall that investigated the effects of in-game ads it was found that 95% of the participants were able to recall the brand of the car racing game they were playing. The most products recalled in the results of this paper’s questionnaire were everyday products like chewing gums, deodorants but also cars were included as it can be argued whether it is an everyday product or not.

The game genres played most were Depending on the genre, the results differ. Depending on this paper’s questionnaire, XXX gamers were able to recall products and the games they saw them in. XXX of those participants were male and XXX female.

Depending on the genre and different variables, games might include less-cluttered ads which are according to a study of Double Fusion three times more effective (Staff, 2007). As above argued, there are many different genres listed in the results of the questionnaire. According to the opinion of the author of this dissertation the genre has a big impact on perception as if the participant allows that the advertisement perceived in the games. If the in-game ads are accepted and perceived, there is a chance of recall.

In this paper’s questionnaire, the participants were able to recall a lot of brands and companies they took notice of during the process of playing. The most products mentioned were everyday products like Axe deodorants and Airwave chewing gums which appeared in the game Splinter Cell. Car brand like Mercedes-Benz, VW and Toyota were also mentioned. According to the result that most products perceived were everyday products, this can be affirmed.

These results show, as if there is attention and enough capacity, the gamers are able to recall the products they saw in the games. While playing and being confronted with real world products this then again may support the brand awareness. Skilled players are easier to reach as there is enough capacity to perform the primary task (gaming) and this on the other hand enables that the secondary task (perception of the brands) can be performed.

4.3.5 Attitude towards product placement

Racing as well as football games make it easier to believe that the advertisement is part of the environment which makes it simultaneously an interesting issue for advertisers. In television football games with advertising in sports fields are common. According to Nelson’s (2002) research on consumer attitudes many participants were positive about ads in computer games. This paper’s questionnaire does not disprove this statement as most of the participants did not show any reaction on the ads in the games they played. This may also show that today, advertisement in media is a common issue. Only 9.1% of the participants found that the placements were disturbing the flow of the game while even 13.6% claimed that they were annoyed after noticing the placements in the games.

Against it, 86.4% of the questioned people showed positive or no reaction (36.4%). This shows that ads in computer games are accepted which is supported by Nelson (2002) who says that gamers are in the main positive about product placement in computer games as they are enhancing the virtual reality and add value to the virtual reality (Mediaedge, 2005). Likewise in other media, product placement is agreed in principle.

Today, the majority of gamers are men but women interfuse themselves more and more. Though Lockergnome (2007) claims that computer games were given the impression to be made for men, the questionnaire conducted for this paper revealed that even women play computer game genres normally referred to men. On the one hand 37.5% of the women questioned play action games and 62.5% shooter and games like the well known Counterstrike were mentioned as examples where the placements have been seen. On the other hand especially women are less positive about the acceptability of ethically-charged products like cigarettes, alcohol and guns (Nelson, 2004) but those games contain that kind of placements.

4.3.6 Changes in the buying behavior caused through perception and subliminally

As argued above, as products are perceived and the gamer can be reached, it can be assumed, that as if there is the possibility of manipulation via subliminal messages, changes in the buying behaviour may be detected. In 1985 Vokey & Read (1985) found, that people were aware as well as afraid of subliminal messages. This is underlined by Nelson et al. (2004) who considered that the degree of consumer awareness and knowledge about product placement is considered an important measure in public policy debate and a subconscious technique. This shows that the knowledge about subliminal advertising is present. According to the results gained from the questionnaire, this cannot be affirmed in this research. Only 30% of the questionnaire’s participants think that subliminal messages have an effect on the sub consciousness. While 3.4% did not comment on the question, 55% answered with ‘No’.

Attention, the capacity and the perception of in-game advertising play an important role for that issue but various scientists also say that subliminal messages would leave a mark on the brain (Jha, 2007). At this point it can be implied that according to Jha’s (2007) statement people can easily be influenced as enough capacity is available to handle the amount of information that acts on the player (Kahneman, 1973). In reference to the study for this paper, it can be argued that t