Video game car ads change, update

Your sleek, shiny car screeches through a turn in the popular Need for Speed: Carbon video game and there in front of you is a gigantic Pontiac billboard.

Playing the game two months later, you round the same corner and see an ad pointing out the features of a different car. Even more surprising: This model did not exist when you bought the video game.

Advertising and product placement have been common in video games for years, and the auto companies have helped to lead the way, buying ads inside of games and producing games themselves that are interactive ads for their cars.

But video game ads have become increasingly live and interactive. Now, ads change as new car models hit the market.

Auto ads are the second-most-common inside video games after entertainment, such as movies.

Microsoft msft and its Massive unit — which does innovative, updated in-game advertising — think so much of their automotive customers that they came to Detroit recently to talk about what such ads could do to a largely enthusiastic audience of executives of auto companies and their public relations agencies.

They trotted out the statistics: Video games are not just for kids. They're for car buyers. Almost 70% of U.S. heads of households play, with the average age of the gamer at 33 and rising every year.

"Gaming in the past was traditionally for the hard-core gamer," says Vanessa Kelley, manager of Chrysler Interactive and Cross Brand Gaming. "It's come full circle. It reaches a much larger audience."

In particular, automakers need to be in games to reach men ages 18 to 34, says Jeff Bell, corporate vice president for global marketing at Games for Windows. Young men spend the largest share of their free time gaming, and the vast majority own and play video games, he says.

But advertising in more casual games reaches out to women and seniors, as well. And gamers do not mind ads, especially when they fit seamlessly into the video game (like that Pontiac ad).

"They would rather see real life when the game itself is reality based," Bell says. That's why you see Cadillac featured prominently in Project Gotham Racing 3 and Nissan in Forza Motorsport 2.

The impact of the ads can be dramatic, especially for auto advertisers, he says. Studies of players have shown that 69% said they were more likely to consider buying a particular car after seeing an in-game ad, Bell says.

Chrysler's Kelley says Massive has had great results across all brands using advertisements in existing games and games developed in-house and with game company partners. One Dodge Caliber game alone got more than a million hits online in its first month, thanks mostly to word of mouth that caused it to spread across the Web.

Games and car ads are a good match, says Jay Sampson, vice president of North American and Asia-Pacific sales at Massive.

"Video games have fostered a culture of helping to determine what is cool," Sampson says. "(Automakers) have been interested in reaching young people."