Mario drives a Mercedes: Advertising in video games


-By Luke Davidson

Advertising and video games have a long and interesting history. My first encounter with product placement inside video games was probably the countless Pizza Hut references in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Nintendo game. Of course, it didn’t seem out of place to me at the time (possibly because the TV show and movie had just as much blatant product placement).

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While that example of in-game advertising may not have raised eyebrows, every now and again there comes something so out of place that it pulls you out of the video game experience. One such recent example for me was Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. For those unfamiliar with the Mario Kart series, it’s basically a kart racing game where characters from the Mario Bros universe race against each other while throwing turtle shells, banana peels and more at competitors to slow them down. Perhaps that’s why I was caught off guard when an update to the game allowed me to drive Mercedes Benz vehicles.

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The inclusion of real world vehicles seemed very out of place in this cartoony world, but I quickly got over the unease and selected a Merc as my kart of choice. My logic was, if Mercedes were paying top dollar to be included in the game, they would probably insist on having their vehicles be the fastest, best-handling karts in the game. As I raced into the lead, my suspicions seemed to have been confirmed – that was until I hit a banana peel, spun off the track and over a cliff… perhaps not the greatest ever ad for a Mercedes.

Anyway, the experience got me thinking: what are the most unusual product placements in gaming history? Here are three of the more unusual examples I found.

 1. Obama – Burnout Paradise

These ads for Obama appeared in a range of games during the 2008 election including Burnout Paradise. I’m not sure what’s stranger: political ads in a game or the fact that they were in a game that rewards dangerous driving.

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2. Pizza Hut – Phantasy Star 2 (Portable edition)

In a strange move, Phantasy Star 2 gave players the ability to have Pizza Hut themed armor. What makes it even weirder is that the game is set in a fantasy world that bears little resemblance to our own. (If you think that’s weird – in the updated version of the game you could also play as Colonel Sanders, attacking people with his cane!)

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3. Pizza Hut – EverQuest 2

Pizza Hut are at it once again. Although this one isn’t so much product placement as devilishly clever marketing. By typing ‘/ pizza’ players of EverQuest 2 could order pizza straight from the game!

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