Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Sim City 5 Fails as an Advertising Platform for Nissan

As if the public outcry for the always on DRM from Electronic Arts’ latest installment of Sim City wasn’t bad enough, things just got a little worse.

Last week, EA announced a partnership with Nissan to bring users of Sim City 5 an added feature in the form of Downloadable Content (DLC). For those who want to “green” up their simulated metropolis, EA offers a free download for users to have the option to add a Nissan branded electric car charging station to their neighborhoods.

It has not been well received.

Perhaps it’s a younger generation’s aversion to advertising, or leftover backlash from the intrusive and unnecessary DRM debacle. Likely, it’s some combination of both. Regardless, what may have seemed like a creative win-win-win for advertisers, developers, and users alike has instead manifested into a prolonged public relations nightmare for EA, and perhaps (now) Nissan.

How the branded DLC works

The concept is simple and (in my opinion) quite creative. Nissan wanted a way to help promote their electric car the Nissan Leaf. Instead of purchasing traditional display advertising, however, they decided to try out something different and a bit more interactive. That’s where the immersive world of Sim City comes into play.

This is what the charging station will look like in Sim City 5.

This is what the charging station will look like in Sim City 5.

In exchange for an advertising fee (presumably), Electronic Arts developed a simple add-on that would allow users to include a simulated electric car charging station to their city with the Nissan Leaf brand prominently displayed. By adding the charging station to a neighborhood, users would also improve “happiness points” (a measurement of the city’s quality of life for its inhabitants), similar to adding a park.

Electronic Arts receives some additional advertising revenue in exchange for the development of the add-on and access to the Sim City platform, Nissan gets brand exposure and awareness for their electric car model, and the users get an optional dynamic addition that adds diversity to the game-play of Sim City 5 for free: win-win-win.

Nope: lose-lose-lose

Electronic Arts hadn’t done itself any favors by implementing their always-on DRM and their poor response to the backlash that followed. Therefore, users are not open to the idea of Sim City 5 becoming an advertising platform, even if it adds something unique to the game and is purely optional.

corporate-corruption pile-of-fail

While most of the backlash is focused on Electronic Arts, Nissan is still caught in the awkward position of guilty by association. With such a negative response to this experiment as an advertising campaign, it has automatically diminished its intended goals and tarnished its brand reputation.

So needless to say, Nissan isn’t immune from criticism:burst-into-flames


Inclusive, not intrusive…  Irrelevant.

Intrusive advertising has certainly drawn its share of well-deserved ire. To quote a Facebook friend:

“I don’t know what’s more annoying, advertising in my Facebook news feed, or the 3 times as many complaints about these ads in my news feed.”

But that doesn’t really apply here. Users aren’t forcibly subjected to the Nissan charging stations if they choose not to download the add-on. It’s purely optional. Even still, the intent of this campaign was to bring something that adds to the enjoyment of the game without breaking away for a “message from our sponsors”. Seems harmless to me…

So is the problem really with the fact that EA is selling Sim City 5 as an advertising medium to brands? Or are gamers just looking for another reason to be critical of a company that wronged them?

Expand Your Brand!


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Tim

    I kind of feel bad for Nissan actually. This is a very creative way to advertise their brand in game and since it is totally optional, it is none intrusive. I think that if the game launch itself wasn’t a total disaster, no one would be complaining about this DLC. It should have been a win-win-win as far as I’m concerned.

    • Todd Heim

      I think there would still be a few people complaining about it, but certainly not to the degree they are now. It truly is a shame, though as it actually gives something back to those being advertised to. Sort of…like…promotional products. 🙂

  2. CJ Johnstone

    I have installed the Nissan Leaf charging station, and to be honest I think it’s a great idea. I’m not a huge fan of advertising, especially not in a game that I paid a lot of money for. I’d be upset to see, for example, an advertisement on the launch window or in the game. However, when I saw the word NISSAN on my SimCity launch window, I actually clicked to download the free addon, and I’m glad that I did. It’s creative advertising that’s also effective, and it adds free content. This one may not be all that exciting, but I hope it works out and other companies will advertise like this instead of filling my inboxes with spam and displaying ad banners all over my internets.

    I hope it works out because in the long run I think there could be some really great, free addons to this game that add game content, even if it’s just superficial like this one. Will it make me buy a Nissan? No. Did it make me aware of their new product? Yes.

    • Todd Heim

      CJ, Thanks for the comment. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a creative way to make you aware of a product without getting in your face about it. It’s a prime example of “permission marketing” and just too bad it has been received this way. I blame EA.

Leave a Comment

Copyright 2003 - 2015 Quality Logo Products, Inc., Registration No. TX7-524-201. All Rights Reserved.