David Platt appeared on the cover of FIFA long before Wayne Rooney had even seen the inside of a changing room, whilst Bruce Lee starred in his own game over two decades before 50 Cent did it in 2005.
However, the onset of casual gaming has seen a huge uptake in celebrity endorsements. Nintendo started the trend by using Nicole Kidman and others to promote its Touch Generation DS series, and today the likes of Vernon Kay, Angela Griffin, and Jamie Oliver have all attached themselves to upcoming releases.
“In any crowded market a celebrity endorsement gives you total cut through in order to speak to your consumer,” says Ubisoft’s brand manager Sally Cormack, following the recent signings of Holly Willoughby and Fearne Cotton to promote the firm’s Imagine series.
“If a consumer can relate to that celebrity then they are more likely to connect with the product as well. Celebrities make a product or brand more appealing and sometimes trustworthy. It also shows that a company has put thought, commitment and investment into their product.”
Adrian Clews, marketing account manager of Mary King’s Riding School publisher Ghostlight, adds: “Celebrity endorsements, such as Mary King, bring substantial value to a product and generate brand credibility. This is hugely important to any product but particularly in the competitive games market, where a product can get easily lost in the noise.”
Famous faces have become a good way in which to appeal to a growing casual consumer base, but they’re also an ideal way to demonstrate new peripherals and consoles.
Many publishers have been quick to follow Nintendo’s lead in producing TV adverts that focus on people playing games, as opposed to actual in-game footage.
“For Guitar Hero On Tour it was important for us to educate consumers on how innovative the game is,” enthuses Guitar Hero’s senior brand manager Ian McClellan.
“Our unique Guitar Grip is designed specifically for the DS. It brings all the brand essence of Guitar Hero into the palm of your hand. With this objective in mind we needed a completely different approach to our advertising.”
As the industry heads further into the mainstream, celebrities are likely to find themselves attached to more and more titles. Just last week at Leipzig it was announced that Gary Oldman will appear in Call of Duty: World at War, and that Jenny McCarthy, JK Simmons, and Tim Curry will star in Red Alert 3.
EA even recently announced Celebrity Sports Showdown on Wii, which will feature the likes of Fergie, Avril Lavigne and Nelly Furtado.
However, the use of celebrity faces does not guarantee success, as Cormack concludes: “Using celebrities to promote anything can be a positive thing if you do it correctly and sign the right people.
"In the past some companies have signed a celebrity who has absolutely no relevance to their product, which just doesn’t work. Using celebrities is something I would like to see happen more, especially to help promote the games industry in a more positive light.”