The Financial Post has reported on an experiment conducted at Carleton University in Canada. The experiment involved comparing two groups of people: one group to play a racing game on an Xbox360 and another to watch the game being played from a second room (similar to watching an extended ad for the car).
The researchers found that playing the game significantly increased a player's attitude toward the brand of car they were driving relative to the watchers. That is, driving the virtual car in the video game increased how much players liked that brand of car in the real world. The results were the same for newcomers to the game, who constantly crashed their cars, as well as hardcore gamers that play all the time.
While the research doesn’t prove that racing with one particular car will make someone want to buy a vehicle from the same brand, it does demonstrate that interactivity is a powerful way to connect customers to brands.