Automakers take hints from video games to improve their own “game” image

Games like the “Forza Motorsport 5″ or “Gran Turismo 6″ are becoming incredibly realistic as the two big industries join forces to create today what will be tomorrow’s car buyers.

The upcoming Microsoft Xbox One game is also just one example of an increasingly symbiotic relationship between software developers and the auto industry. Together they get games fans behind the wheel and carmakers in pole position to woo young consumers. Many of the players may not be able to afford to buy a car now, but automakers like Audi sponsor video games because it can start winning brand loyalty for the future. It is also well aware that driving games are not just enjoyed by the young.

“It’s not just about reaching the youth — an Audi in a video game also reaches our core target group. Unlike in a movie where there is a straight narrative, a video game is interactive and the storyline is not defined in advance,” said Kai Mensing, head of International Product Placement at the automaker.

Meanwhile, Nissan competes on screens as a partner in Sony’s PlayStation game “Gran Turismo” giving gamers the chance to enter a competition which starts with driving a Leaf electric car in their living rooms and could lead to actually racing a real 370Z sports car on Britain’s Silverstone circuit. We all know that “Nissan GT Academy” finalist Lucas Ordonez went on to a real world podium finish at the Le Mans 24 hour race in 2011.

Consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates in-game advertising will be a $2.8 billion industry worldwide this year. Carmakers say it is cheaper than product placement in films and they can even collect licensing fees for handing over their vehicle specifications to game developers.

In Germany, Europe’s largest auto market and home to major car companies, sales of vehicles to younger people have been in decline, with official data showing the share of new cars sold to people aged between 21 and 39 dropping each year since 2009 from 20 percent to 16% currently. On the other hand, video game sales in Germany rose for a third straight year in 2012 to a record 73.7 million. This means for the carmakers they have an audience expanding in size, increasing in affluence and diversifying in its base, and experts agree that product placement in video games can be an extremely effective tool to promote a brand.