In-Game Billboard Advertising

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Billboard advertising has expanded beyond our reality and into the virtual world.

Advertisers have increasingly been taking advantage of the opportunities to promote products within video games, a practice that goes all the way back to the early 2000s.

Product placements in movies are heavily ridiculed for detracting from the audience’s immersion in the world, especially when the filmmakers make it blatantly obvious. 

It can be argued that the opposite applies to video games, but it all depends on what the setting of the game is. For instance, seeing a Taco Bell ad in a Super Mario game would totally ruin the game experience. It just doesn’t work well in the goofy, fantasy setting.

There are some games, though, that attempt to recreate the world that we live in down to the minute detail. This is primarily found in open world sandbox games. Think of popular titles like Grand Theft Auto V, Sleeping Dogs, and Red Dead Redemption 2. Because the game developers are trying to create a realistic world, advertising actual products and services will not break a player’s immersion. In fact, it will make the experience even more immersive. 

This method of in-game advertising adds an additional level of immersion to the virtual world that players are experiencing. The best example of this can be seen in the Yakuza and Shenmue series’ produced by SEGA. In Yakuza, players step into the shoes of a Japanese gangster in a hyper-realized depiction of Tokyo. The attention to detail is incredible, with the character able to eat meals from various restaurants and even buy items from convenience stores

In Yakuza 3, the player could buy a can of AXE body spray from the in-game convenience store. By using the item, players could increase their chances of striking romances with some of the female characters. Outside of that, it’s mostly just for show.

In 1998, Shenmue featured product placements in the form of Coke cans that the player could buy and drink. 

The main character from Shenmue (1999) drinks a can of Coke. Photo via: Shenmue Wiki.


In terms of billboards, racing games appear to be a popular medium for showcasing this form of out-of-home media. In the 2007 game, Burnout Paradise, in-game billboards showed ads for Barack Obama at the height of his presidential campaign. 

A Barack Obama ad was displayed in Burnout Paradise (2008). Photo via: Gamespot.


In-game advertising is a unique way to engage audiences with products and services, but it’s paramount that it’s done appropriately. Never detract from the players experience in order to push your messaging.

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