Product placement is reaching new virtual depths, and marketers may see actual sales as a result.

Product placement is reaching new virtual depths, and marketers may see actual sales as a result. Nielsen recently released the results of a survey commissioned by Electronic Arts showing that in-game advertising boosted Gatorade sales.

The study was based on more than 100,000 households that purchased one of six Electronic Arts sports games featuring Gatorade's virtual product placements. From avatars' water bottles to virtual arena signs, Gatorade's brand was prominently displayed within the worlds of the games.

Nielsen found that in-game advertising increased household dollars spent on Gatorade by 24 percent, offering the company a return on investment of $3.11. The research firm believes the results make it clear that interactive games are emerging as a core marketing channel. "In this case the story is simple – dollars put into video game product placement result in more retail dollars," said Gerardo Guzman, director of media product leadership for the Nielsen Company.

This isn't the first time that Brafton has reported virtual products promote actual brands and boost sales. The first-ever Branded Virtual Goods Market Report suggests that virtual merchandise successfully increased awareness of several brands featured on Gaia Online. The study also relays that Snoop Dogg's brand earned $200,000 selling virtual goods within the world of a social game.

While Gatorade saw impressive results with games designed for home consoles, Snoop Dogg's success reveals that marketers may find online games offer ample advertising opportunities. Plus, Nielsen says social games are the second-leading internet activity among U.S. consumers. According to eMarketer, marketers will spend as much as $293 million advertising in social games in 2011.

Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.