Grand Theft Auto V – Criminally Successful Marketing & What You Can Learn From It.

For better or worse, both of my sons are huge video gamers.  And after a recent trip away from home, I returned to be regaled with praises of how good those games looked on my new flat panel television.  But one in particular stood out.  And it stands out for other reasons as well.  Because you see,  the world’s most successful entertainment franchise is not a film, not a pop artist, not even a musical.  It’s a video game.

The launch of Grand Theft Auto-V last month was simply breathtaking.  Not because of the controversial criminal storyline or the über-realistic immersive graphics (that happened to look so great on my television), but because of its staggering sales.  With a marketing budget of around $150m, it took in over $1bn in the first three days, over half a billion of which was in the first 24hrs alone.

The launch broke seven Guinness World records. Here they are:

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

But what can we learn from the marketing of Grand Theft Auto-V?  After a little research, here are a few things that I think are important.

  • Invest in your product: Rockstar Games spent an estimated $250m and 4 years crafting this latest installment 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 while competitors are working away to make theirs better. Remember: there’s no ‘sizzle’ without ‘sausage’.
  • Marketing doesn’t start on launch day: Rockstar Games released their first trailer for GTA-V two years ago.  You can see it here.  How many of us would struggle to get a message out that far in advance of a product launch!  But Rockstar Games understands the power of anticipation and 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 ads at trend spots in Los Angeles and New York.


  • Get Your Customer Involved Early:  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 products have glittering launch dates like video 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 knows what the Grand Theft Auto distinctive brand properties are and they stick to them, but bring them to the market in fresh ways every time.


Like it or not, Grand Theft Auto it is one of the most successful entertainment properties the world has ever known and is being masterfully marketed by Rockstar Games.  Video 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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Let’s talk about your business, your concerns, your goals and ambition, and together we will build a roadmap of effective marketing to get you there.

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