Top Video Games that Nailed Brand Integration
(and one cautionary case)

Kevin Bahler
PR Manager, Blog contributor
Brand owners entering the video game realm have a great opportunity to connect with gamers, who are notoriously passionate about the brands they enjoy. With the ability to put branding directly into games themselves, a successful integration makes a powerful avenue to build brand familiarity and interest.

Since this is a collaborative effort, we’re highlighting the games that truly understand how to simultaneously bring brands into their world and enhance the gaming experience. We’re also covering one cautionary case to show the delicate balance needed.
Fortnite collaboration characters
Iconic characters from every universe come together in Fortnite
For sure, Fortnite tops this list. Since their first partnership with Marvel, which brought Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet to the game, the list of total brand integrations is fast approaching 200, including beloved characters from cartoons, movies, comics, and even other video games. In fact, since Chapter 3: Season 3, over half of cosmetic items are collaborative.

Part of Fortnite’s genius is that their collaborations are mostly cosmetic. This allows players to be themselves and have fun as their favorite characters, all without any concern with affecting game dynamics or interrupting the gameplay experience. Epic Games clearly understands how to maximize player enjoyment; just look at the turnout for Fortnite’s in-game concerts.

These live events have starred Marshmello, Travis Scott, and Ariana Grande, and have generated hundreds of millions of views on YouTube collectively. The creative directors were brilliant to craft a unique in-game experience rather than merely emulating a traditional concert in the game.
Mastercard banner in League of Legends Summer Split Tournament
Mastercard banners were seen by the audience, but didn’t appear in the competitors’ games
One of the most popular esports, and many people’s definition of a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), League of Legends had an ingenious plan for their first-ever in-game brand integration. The 2020 Summer Split tournament introduced Summoner’s Rift Arena Branding, of which Mastercard and Alienware quickly became the first two sponsors.

What made this branding plan so unique? Riot Games developed the signage so that only observers saw the advertising banners, but the players didn’t see this potentially distracting change in the map. This shows how developers can create unique opportunities for immersive brand exposure, while maintaining a peak level of respect for the esport and its star players.
KFC Island in Animal Crossing New Horizons
Animal Crossing Colonel Sanders gives away real food to players who find him
As a game that focuses on taking time to appreciate the little things and encourages self-expression and construction, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been inordinately popular amongst fans and brands alike. The expansive customization options have let people create their own fashion and art, and make in-game versions of real-world designs.

While many players have created their own unofficial Supreme and Gucci clothing, some fashion labels have made official in-game versions of their streetwear, with names like Marc Jacobs, Valentino and UNIQLO at the forefront. What makes this better is that they gave away the download codes for free, which was great for building brand awareness and affinity.

Some brand owners have gone above and beyond and truly embraced the Animal Crossing spirit. For example, KFC made an exceptional custom island complete with food, decor, and Colonel Sanders himself. They periodically open the island to fans and people who find the colonel have a chance to win free food in real life. KFC weaves the real and in-game worlds in a way that boosts each other perfectly.

Collaborations within Animal Crossing are endlessly imaginative, like the Getty Museum adding an Animal Crossing Art Generator for people to use real art to decorate their homes, and Gary Whitta, writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, creating his own late-night talk show titled Animal Talk. It seems that there’s no shortage of opportunities for brands to get involved in the fun.
Programmatic ad for Vodafone’s high speed internet in Trackmania
Easy-to-read ads don’t have to distract from gameplay
Telecom company Vodafone partnered with Trackmania to run the world’s first programmatic in-game ad campaign. The PC racing game served ads for high speed internet services on giant in-game billboards that players saw as they zipped along the tracks. At the end of the campaign, analysts measured significant lifts in campaign awareness, brand consideration, top of mind brand awareness, and ad awareness compared to industry benchmarks.

Cheers to Ubisoft for this inventive brand integration. As a successful trial, it encourages further in-game branding possibilities, and further cements the video game realm as the newest brandscape to connect with people.
London grime rapper Stormzy was the people’s choice for Watch Dogs: Legion
London grime rapper Stormzy was the people’s choice for Watch Dogs: Legion
Another Ubisoft collaboration, developers asked Londoners what artist reflects the themes of Watch Dogs: Legion, and the overwhelming answer was grime star Stormzy. This powerhouse collaboration put the London-based rapper into the game, offering a mission to players. Equally as exciting, Stormzy used the game, and his motion-captured likeness, as the backdrop for his Rainfall music video.

This partnership perfectly exemplifies great audience research and trusting your players. By asking who embodies the spirit of your brand, and making their dream collaboration come true, it’s a win-win situation all around.
Cutscene of coach talking to players with gatorade branded coolers
Gatorade branded coolers are always label-forward in these cutscenes with the coach talking to the players
In the world of sport video games, visuals and gameplay have become more realistic with every annual release. Part of that realism has included prominent branding integrations, such as Gatorade, Nike, and State Farm insurance appearing in scenes throughout gameplay and career mode.

In a sense, this is a fantastic idea. Because players want their video games to mirror live games on TV, these kinds of advertisements add to the realism of the experience. It also benefits the brands because once they’re on the game disc, they’re on it forever.

The problem is that real-world sporting events are hyper-saturated with advertisements, so trying to match that level will disrupt the delicate balance. Games are active, and players want to have an immersive experience without being bombarded by branding that overshadows scenes and content that is only added to make space for more sponsorships.

Arguably, this isn’t actually a problem until it hurts sales, but changes in brand reputation always precede changes in sales figures, so if the fans are making their voices heard, then game developers like EA and Take Two Interactive should listen closely.

Final Thoughts
As the digital frontier continues to expand, it’s evident that brand integration in video games offers a powerful means to reach and resonate with audiences. These collaborations between brands and game developers, when done thoughtfully, can create memorable experiences that fans treasure for years.

However, the magic lies in the delicate balance between seamless integration and preserving the gaming experience. Brands and game developers must work in tandem to ensure that their audience never feels that the brand presence is forced or intrusive. While brand collaborations can enhance a game's appeal and even its immersive qualities, they should never compromise the primary reason players are there in the first place: to enjoy the game.
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