It’s impossible to escape advertising. Ads line every street, flank every website, and interrupt every TV show. They’re even in the games we play. Sometimes it’s as subtle as a vending machine bearing the logo of a real-world soft drink, other times you play as a company mascot. It’s an effective way to reach an audience and extend the visibility of a brand, so a lot of companies have dipped their toes into it going as far back as the early 8-bit era of gaming.
This is especially true for companies specializing in food and snacks. Video games and fast food seem to go together like a Whopper and a Coke.
The Atari 2600 even had its share of games featuring food branding. Early in gaming’s development, Coca-Cola commissioned a version of Space Invaders to give out to their sales executive, rebranded as Pepsi Invaders. In it, you shoot down the letters of the corporation’s biggest competitor. Similarly, Purina, makers of various pet foods, had a game created called Chase the Chuck Wagon based off on a popular line of their commercials. Even the Kool-Aid man got a game on the Atari 2600 and Intellivision consoles.
This trend continued into later eras of video games. The NES saw games like Yo! Noid, a Dominos themed reskin of Kamen no Ninja Hanamaru featuring the pizza chain’s wacky mascot. McDonald’s got into the game with M.C. Kids on the NES and Ronald McDonald’s Treasure Land Adventure on Sega Genesis. Even soft drink mascots were showing up on consoles, like 7-Up’s series of games based around their mascot: Spot on 8-bit systems, Cool Spot on 16-bit consoles, and its follow-up Spot Goes to Hollywood.
Sometimes, you had to buy the food to actually get in on the game. Perhaps the most unique of these was Chex’s bizarre shooter built on the Doom engine, Chex Quest. Not only was Chex Quest a rad game in its own right, but it also kicked off a trend of cereal makers packaging in CDs with games on them to try and entice people to buy up their breakfast.
Burger King did something similar. With the purchase of any Burger King Value Meal, you could buy one of three games based on the chain’s regal mascot. Sneak King, Pocket Bike Racer, and Big Bumpin’ were all available for the Xbox 360 and sold over 2 million copies. A 40% boost in sales was attributed in part to the promotion, and it won a Titanium Grand Prize at the Cannes Lions.
The opposite sometimes happens as well; with video games showing up on snacks. An example would be when Mountain Dew offered World of Warcraft “Alliance Blue” and “Horde Red” flavors of Game Fuel. Halo had its own versions of Mountain Dew Game Fuel as well, and when Halo 4 rolled around, they started including XP upgrades in bags of Doritos and bottles of Mountain Dew. You could even get into the Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta early if you ate at Subway restaurants.
There are a lot of ways to advertise your snacks through games. Product placement is the most obvious way, but as we’ve seen, entire games have been based around food. Gamers, after all, get hungry just like everyone else, and if you can steer their cravings towards your brand’s snacks, that’s mission accomplished!