It’s not necessarily big news when an athlete lands a big endorsement deal, like LeBron James signing on with Nike, or Tom Brady shilling for Aston Martin.
But Coke inking a big deal with soccer star Alex Hunter may raise eyebrows in the ad industry. That’s because Hunter isn’t a real person. Hunter was introduced last year as the lead virtual character in Electronic Art’s soccer game FIFA 17. With the release of the latest of the mega hit on Sept. 29, Hunter has inked a sponsorship deal with Coke.
Fans who play the narrative rich game this year will see Hunter struggle with rumors about whether he wants to leave his current Premier League team to play in the U.S. And along the way, he’ll become a Coke endorser.
That’s in the game. But in this case, EA and Coke plan to produce a video ad from the game – an homage to the classic 1970s Mean Joe Green Coke ad – and have it spread across social media, and even on a Time Square video billboard.
EA Sports Creative Director Matt Prior told Business Insider that the in-game sponsorship idea wasn’t built specifically with a potential advertiser in mind. “We actually collaborated with Coke after the script was written, he said.
Sports games have long featured virtual signage promoting advertisers during gameplay. But since the past few versions of the FIFA title have adopted a cinematic narrative – besides trying to win games, players guide the virtual Hunter through his budding career – it was a natural to have Hunter land an endorsement deal.
And the hope is that as the in-game ad gets promoted all over the web, it will help market both Coke and the game.
“We think that the deal added value and didn’t alter narrative,” Prior said. “It actually becomes more authentic and more real world. Coke has a long real history [of sponsoring soccer] and this makes it more authentic and high profile.”