- Coca-Cola's latest brand ambassador isn't a real person: Instead, the company is for the first time sponsoring an in-game virtual athlete, Alex Hunter, from the new EA Sports game "FIFA 18," according to a press release.
- For its in-game advertising, Coke placed Hunter in a scenario that pays homage to a famous TV spot from 1979, where a kid hands Pittsburg Steelers icon "Mean" Joe Greene a bottle of Coke, receiving a jersey in return. Coke is sharing the ads on its social channels and also out-of-home sites like its Times Square billboard, per the release.
- The ad is found in FIFA's "The Journey: Hunter Returns" mode on the PlayStation 4, Xbox and PC versions of the game, which lets users play as Hunter as he emerges into stardom. Part of the storyline includes Hunter signing with Coca-Cola as a brand ambassador for the launch of Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. Coke will additionally role out specialty packaging and retail partnerships tied to the game and to Hunter.
Coke "signing" a virtual brand ambassador might sound like a gimmick, but the partnership with Hunter is surprisingly comprehensive, extending well beyond in-game advertising to include social media marketing, out-of-home elements and even a packaging play. Coke clearly wants to capitalize on an explosive market here that's only going to continue to grow and provide rich marketing opportunities.
Gaming is a big business — estimates from the industry intelligence firm Newzoo place 2017 revenues at around $109 billion, according to VentureBeat — and, by its nature, the gaming experience includes a captivated, engaged audience.
"Signing Alex Hunter puts Coca-Cola at the intersection of gaming and brand marketing within the most popular franchise sports game in the world," Matt Wolf, VP of entertainment, ventures and strategic alliances at The Coca-Cola Company, said in a statement. Playing as an emerging star is a fun pitch for gamers as well, and is an area ripe for in-game ads.
Coke took the opportunity to the next level by hearkening back to a nostalgic TV spot many are likely to recognize. While offbeat advertising channels like video games can be effective, a challenge for both marketers and game developers to consider is making the branded experience well integrated. If it's not, or if the ads are seen intrusive, players could get frustrated, especially since they've already paid high prices for the game itself ("FIFA 18" retails for $60, for example).