Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
31 August 2006
Earliest in-game advertisement in 1980?
This morning I came across these screenshots of the upcoming PSP release of Activision Anthology Remix and was a bit stunned to see the name Activision across the bottom of each screen.

Surely that wasn't in the original? I'm sure that Activision didn't slap its logo on every screen of those old Atari 2600 games.

Turns out, I'm wrong. According to screenshots of the same games at AtariAge, the Activision logo is right there at the bottom of the screen. Look for yourself. Here's Boxing. Here's Pitfall!. I guess that's a good instance of me having a less critical eye when viewing older games, for which I feel nostalgia, and a more critical one for newer games. I just knew they'd added it for this new release...

Now, maybe putting your company logo in plain sight for the entire game doesn't qualify for being an in-game advert, but it's pretty close in my book. If it were just on the title screen, that'd be one thing, but this is blatant self-promotion throughout the entire game.

Is there an earlier instance? I know about Mountain Dew in Tapper (1984) and later a bunch of companies (Ocean Pacific, Casio, Kawasaki) in California Games (1987), which are at least third-party adverts. Anything else?
--Matt Matthews at 12:07
Comment [ 8 ]

Comments on this post:

TMNT was an awesome conspiracy by the pizza industry to sell more pizza.

And it worked.

By Blogger Zachary, at 31 August, 2006 12:21  

Namco's Pole Position featured in-game advertising on the roadside billboards -- Marlboro and Pepsi in Namco's version, Dig-Dug and Centipede in Atari's. All that in 1982.

By Blogger Rowan Lipkovits, at 31 August, 2006 19:32  

I'm not sure teh publisher's own logo counts as in-game advertising. Branding, yes. Advertising, not necesarily. They aren't paying for it, and they aren't trying to steer a purchase decision. An example of a centipede ad in pole position WOULD count as in-game ad.

Tapper in arcades was actually in arcades first, and had Budweiser in-game advertising (well, branding - I'm not sure they paid for it, so it might not have been advertising). That was 1983. Not sure I can think of examples that beat your 1980 example! The budweiser was pulled production because of the (unsurprising) controversy, and replaced with "root beer tapper"

By Blogger kim, at 31 August, 2006 20:24  

Looks like Pole Position might have been less advertisement and more about accurate reproduction, if you believe's entry on Final Lap

In 1990, Philip Morris, the tobacco conglomerate, filed a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement against Namco, Atari Games (the Final Lap distributor in the U.S.) and Sega on behalf of their Super Monaco GP game because both of these games featured a Marlboro billboard, which was found on the real-life Suzuka and Monaco tracks.

Philip Morris was under investigation at the time for their role in preteen smoking, and the appearance of one of their brands in games aimed towards children and teens did not help their image. Namco was forced to pay a settlement and Sega had to edit their game to remove all Marlboro signs.

So I wonder if PM ponied up dollars for Pole Position or not? This would suggest that some adverts made it into games through the back door.

And Matt, seriously, you don't remember the high-res Activison lettering?! Seems like it would scroll with the copyright when you weren't playing as well.

I distinctly remember the fancy lettering being the first thing that told me we had a different type of game company as I saw it in my first Activision game -- Skiing, iirc.

By Blogger rufbo, at 31 August, 2006 21:21  

Argh, which obviously got from wikipedia.

kim -- Interesting that you don't feel branding is advertising. Or perhaps I feel it's interesting that branding hasn't gotten that clear connotation. It's not like the video game is going to get lost, if you know what I mean. The origin of this branding was less about practical considerations and more about self-pimping. In that case, those there is a distinction in marketing, I'm not sure I could argue there's much practical distinction for the would-be consumer.

Matt's use of Activision as in-game advertising did strike me a little funny too, as I tend to equte third-part advertising with the term. Yet I'm not sure the constant Rockstar "branding" and first-party advertising in GTA:SA is anything more than an attempt to get you to buy more games.

Hrm, I'm afraid I'm doing too much thinking out loud. I like your defn of "not sure they paid for it". Yet I wouldn't disagree with Matt that it's advertising in that it's trying to fulfill the second half of your defn. In either case, it's a far cry from the "Birkenstock" on the side of my shoe or "Routledge" printed on the back of my book.

Can someone "brand" without "trying to steer purchasing"?

By Blogger rufbo, at 31 August, 2006 21:34  

I remember the Activision logo in the games, yes. During the It just didn't look right when I saw those PSP screenshots.

By Blogger jvm, at 31 August, 2006 21:36  

I think that the logos were there the whole time. I may have to bust out my old 2600 to verify of course.

By Blogger Bigelow, at 01 September, 2006 02:59  

Budweiser in Tapper was an authorized, paid presence in the original version. The Japanese arcade version was changed to Suntory, and the Root Beer version was released after the original got good reactions in reviews and location tests so Midway could put it in locations where minors could play.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 01 September, 2006 12:39  

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