Parents may not be pleased by the level of violence in video games these days, but blood and guts aren’t necessarily bad for advertisers. According to a new study, ads shown during violent moments in games are more memorable.

A team based at the University of Luxembourg created a game that placed ads in violent and non-violent versions of a driving game called AdRacer. While players looked at ads for less time in the violent game, they also retained more about them.

The news sounds counterintuitive, and it’s not all good for brands: ad retention during violent gaming moments may negatively affect consumer opinion of their brand. But it helps reiterate the importance of context in branding success.

A team of European and U.S. researchers found that in a non-violent version of their game, players scoring points by hitting targets while driving. In the
violent version, they scored points by running down pedestrians, spattering their windshield with blood. In that version, they also remembered the ads better. According to MIT’s Technology Review:

“Those who played a violent version of the game… demonstrated significantly better recall of advertised brands than
those who played the regular version.”

But ad retention was not all positive for brands hoping to insert themselves in violent games. An as yet released subsequent study shows that violence increased negative opinions about brands. From Technology Review:

“Attempts to increase players’ familiarity with brands by integrating
them in a violent game may backfire at in-game advertisers and video
game producers,” [Andre] Melzer says. Double Fusion’s [Jonathan] Epstein adds that “even
if it were shown that violent games have better recall characteristics
than nonviolent games, it is likely that the same brands would continue
to eschew M-rated [mature] opportunities in favor of the 80-plus
percent of games that are rated T [teen] or below.”

Obviously, pairing a brand with blood and gore could be a bad idea, regardless of retention results. Ad relevance is still important. And just as violence may help viewers remember brand
messaging in that medium, it is not universal. On television, violence has been proven to distract
viewers from advertising.

But in a game where users are accustomed to violence and encouraged to create more of it, certain brands could profit from this knowledge.

The important takeaway here is that brands have to engage with the surroundings where their ads are placed. PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimate that the in-game advertising market will
be worth $1.4 billion in 2013, up from an around $886 million this year. And while in-game advertisers mostly rely on  pre- or post-roll videos, games present a unique opportunity for enagement with brands.

According to TechnologyReview, “A team led by Thomas Mackay from Monash University in Australia found
that driving a virtual car of a specific brand resulted in a
significant opinion change in favor of the brand among casual game
players.”

Gamers are incredibly invested in the games they play — and many things that happen on screen during those games — if the ads or products shown during games are relevant and complimentary to the action, they will reap rewards from their efforts.

Image: Jotstiq