Rockstar Games – Grand Theft Auto 5 Guerrilla Marketing

You do not need to be interested in video games to be aware of Grand Theft Auto 5′s (GTA 5) popularity.  Developed by Rockstar Games, GTA 5 is an open-world, crime-based video game – players are allowed to explore a huge city causing illegal mayhem.  The game has been a phenomenal success, generating a revenue of $1 Billion in just three days.  To put that into context, the global music industry generates $1.4 billion a month!  This is partly because Rockstar allocated GTA 5 a huge marketing budget – large enough to rival Hollywood films – which allowed some very creative marketing to take place.  This post will focus on GTA 5′s  viral guerrilla marketing, being a prime example of creative marketing.

Viral marketing is a broad concept, but it is essentially utilizing online social networks to share marketing content.

Guerrilla marketing is the use of unconventional advertising, which often does not appear to be marketing, to spread ideas.

Put these two together and you have online marketing done in a highly innovative way, that is not obviously an advertisement.

Let’s see what this looks like using GTA 5 as an example:


1.  Lifeinvader


Rockstar created its own social network, Lifeinvader, that was set in the world of GTA 5.  An obvious parody of Facebook, GTA fans can create their own account and access it both in the real world and video game world.  The social network’s ads are just that: they advertise all the exciting activities that can be done in GTA 5.  There is, of course, Rockstar’s famous controversial humour to engage users and encourage sharing.  Speaking of sharing, the only social media sharing buttons you will see on the official website are to share content on Lifeinvader.


2. iFruit

The other company to be parodied was Apple when Rockstar released their iFruit app.  The app allows players to customize in-game vehicles and train pets from their phone.  The effectiveness of this is all about using the app to blur the lines between the real world and the world of GTA 5 to generate word-of-mouth marketing around the internet.


3.   Epsilon Program

The last target of the GTA 5 marketing campaign was Scientology, which is parodied in the game as ‘The Epsilon Program’.  Rockstar created both a Twitter feed and a website to once again bring the video game experience into the real world and generate publicity through the controversial humor.

The main advantage of viral guerrilla marketing is that it is highly cost effective to reach a large number of people.  This is because, unlike conventional techniques, the cost of reaching a few people and thousands remains mostly the same.

However, that is not to say this is something every business should be doing.  The chances of a campaign ‘going viral’ are miniscule and the returns are unpredictable.  It only makes sense to take Rockstar’s approach if the target market is suitable.  With the case of Grand Theft Auto 5, the market is generally tech-savvy and active on the internet, vastly improving the success of a viral campaign.

Despite this, Rockstar still used traditional advertising techniques – such as trailers, billboards and press coverage – for the core of their campaign.  This highlights the importance of never relying on guerrilla marketing and appreciating that your entire target market often can’t be reached through one marketing method.

It is probably the integration of both viral guerrilla marketing and conventional marketing that has been highly effective.  This can be explained by the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), depicted in the diagram above.

If the target market is able and motivated to process information, in this case, it means they are active on the internet and willing to engage with Rockstar online.  Therefore they are exposed to the viral marketing, enjoy browsing the parody websites and using the iPhone app.  Such a market is likely to be the gamers in their teenage years or twenties.  According to the model, the most effective way to market to them is through the central route. This requires a promotional message that is convincing and requires the target market to think more – hence the use and success of viral guerrilla marketing.

But what about the older gamer or the Mum/Mom and wife looking for a gift ?  They are all potential customers of GTA 5.  As they are unlikely to be motivated to engage with GTA 5′s online content – nor even aware of it – this market is best targeted through the peripheral route.  Successfully using the peripheral route method depends on exciting and attractive advertising.  Therefore, the billboards and TV trailers embedded in this post are mainly targeted at this demographic.

Simply, combing marketing that uses both the central route and peripheral route means you almost can’t go wrong!

© Josh Blatchford, Author of Manifested Marketing, 03/10/2013

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11 Comments

  1. Rockstar games certainly did a great job at using unconventional marketing techniques to advertize Grand Theft Auto 5 to the world. With all the innovative marketing strategies used to popularize GTA V, I think other video game developers should learn from Rockstar as far as marketing is concerned.

    Reply
  2. ryan

     /  October 7, 2013

    If their are two companies in the world that are brilliant at exploiting and astroturfing in social media to make their marketing go viral, it’s Rockstar and Valve. You only need browse reddit to see how good they really are. They may as well call it valverockerit it’s so pervasive.

    Reply
  3. I love the idea that Rockstar has created its own social network, “Lifeinvader”, Now GTA fans can create their own account and access it both in the real world and video game world it amazing.

    Reply
  4. It’s the extreme sarcasm that makes some of these marketing campaigns so brilliant as well. Take this cigarette brand ad for example: “Redwood Cigarettes: great for when you’re resting in the hospital, playing tennis, or jogging.”

    Reply
    • That is great! I think that Rockstar often remind me of RyanAir, who believe that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

      Reply
  5. GT5 is by far the best release up to now, I just love this game,
    brilliantly executed Rockstar!!

    Reply
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