Grand Theft Auto V – Criminally successful marketing

Guest Blog by David Nichols, Managing Partner and Head of Invention

One of the world’s most successful entertainment franchise is not a film, not a pop artist, not even a musical. It’s a computer game.

The launch of GTA-V last week was simply breathtaking. Not because of the controversial criminal storyline or the über-realistic immersive graphics, but because of its staggering sales. With a marketing budget of around $150m, it took over $1bn in the first three days, over half a billion of which was in the first 24hrs alone.

This has broken seven Guinness World records:

1. Bestselling action-adventure video game in 24 hours

2. Bestselling video game in 24 hours

3. Fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion

4. Fastest video game to gross $1 billion

5. Highest grossing video game in 24 hours

6. Highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours

7. Most viewed trailer for an action-adventure video game

What can we learn from the marketing of GTA-V?

  • Invest in your product: Rockstar spent an estimated $250m and 4 years crafting this latest instalment of their franchise.  They know that it all begins and ends with  the product and they have not disappointed their fans with the detail, scope and inventiveness of their latest offering.
    Are you investing enough in your product quality?  Or are you standing still whilst competitors are beavering away to make theirs better. Remember: there’s no ‘sizzle’ without ‘sausage’.
  • Marketing doesn’t start on launch day: Rockstar released their first trailer for GTA-V 2 years ago.  You can see it here.  How many of us would struggle to get sign off for communications that far in advance of a product launch!  They understand the power of anticipation and have spent time and money building sizzle slowly.  They released a second trailer in November 2012, three more in 2013 accompanied by a TV spot and giant outdoor at trendspots in LA and New York.

GTA5_LA Outdoor

  • They also held an online casting to find five fans to appear in the game. This created a lot of buzz among the die-hard fans and poured fuel on
    the social media fire already burning.  Not many FMCG products have glittering launch dates like computer games, but the principle of pre-marketing is important: build desire amongst your earliest adopters to ensure that they a) buy early and b) spread the word.
  • Fresh, Distinctive Consistency:  The same core brand properties are there – the retro logo, the cool cars, the gangster vibe, the pumping soundtrack, the action-movie storyline and courting controversy.  But the whole is fresh, vibrant and new.  This is an expert balancing act that all great lasting brands manage to pull off.  Think James Bond, Nike or Absolute – each new launch is fresh, distinctive, yet utterly consistent.  Rockstar know what the GTA distinctive brand properties are and they stick to them, but bring them to the market in fresh ways every time.


Like it or not, GTA  it is one of the most successful entertainment properties the world has ever known and is being masterfully marketed by Rockstar Games.  Computer games are not just for kids, but a mainstream adult pastime.  You can learn from it, vilify it, praise it or pour scorn on it.  But the one thing you cannot do is ignore it.

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