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The pandemic-driven audience swell has proven to brands what most industry leaders already knew: gaming is a potent and underrated advertising opportunity. As lockdown measures accelerated play — with average time sent rising to more than 10 hours per week for users globally — enthusiasm for gaming has soared.
Some big names were quick to start tapping gaming possibilities. See, for instance, FIFA Playstation matches streamed by Adidas in lieu of the European Championship; complete with brand logos on player kits, apparel, and the in-game ball. But for many other brands, limited understanding is holding back adoption; especially at a time when tighter budgets mean spend is under closer scrutiny than ever.
As a result, helping brands make the transition from interest to action will call for greater education. Businesses across the sector must share more of their expertise; building brand confidence and investment by providing a deeper window into the gaming world, smashing misconceptions and — most importantly — showing them how to harness it effectively.
- Removing barriers to implementation
First and foremost, it’s essential to address the misconceptions that can create confusion for brands and prevent them from realising the full value of gaming. And top of that list is the widespread idea that directing ads at video games will mean reaching a ‘typical’ audience.
The industry has undergone a vast evolution over the last few years. The combination of faster internet connections, greater multi-device access and more varied titles has attracted an increasingly broad array of players. While estimates of worldwide gamer numbers vary — ranging from 2 billion to 3 billion — one certainty is that the stereotype of gaming as a pastime reserved for solo teenage boys is heavily outdated.
Companies must therefore ensure brands appreciate the diverse nature of modern gamers and what that means for advertising. With audiences made up of multiple age groups and demographics — and covering many different regions, screens, interests and shared play experiences — brands need to adopt a nuanced approach to targeting; segmenting messages just as they would for other mediums that attract mixed audiences, such as TV.
This brings us to the second biggest area of misunderstanding: the tendency to consider gaming as a non-premium ad environment, especially compared to TV and out-out-home (OOH). Businesses must demonstrate that this view is far from the true gaming reality. It is important to highlight that not only are games becoming ever-more sophisticated, engaging and tailored, but ads placed around gaming content are producing sizeable results. For example, following its streamed football matches in Turkey, Adidas saw downloads of its shopping app double and a 25% increase in app revenue.
- Setting brands on the path to engagement
Raising awareness of audience variety is a good start but securing ongoing partnerships and spend means pointing brands in the right direction for success. So, once companies have underscored ‘who’ brands can reach, they must offer valuable advice on ‘how’ to do this effectively, with a strong emphasis on gamer expectations.
Again, gaming organisations know too well that players hold experiences to high standards; no matter whether they are among the ever-climbing number of hyper-casual gamers or exploring the booming arena of esports. In fact, esports competitors and fans are often even more passionate about their favourite titles and players, which makes them particularly sensitive to the quality and relevance of brand activations.
Consequently, it’s critical for companies to guide brands towards promotional activity that will deliver real value for players. At a basic level, for example, that might involve assisting brands in selecting titles that align with their offering and core audience. Going one step further, companies can highlight the opportunities to weave branded elements into games: be creating downloadable apparel as recently showcased by Marc Jacobs in Animal Crossing or placing ads in natural in-game spaces, such as billboards in open world games.
And when it comes to esports, the focus must be on the need to maintain authenticity. While entry points will depend on specific brand goals and budget, genuine audience connection is always paramount. One prime example is DHL and its sponsorship of Dota 2 tournament ESL One. By prioritising captivating storytelling and tapping into gamer humour, the brand has achieved such fan affinity that its name is chanted by fans during tournaments.
- Moving into new gamification territory
Finally, there is scope to support brands in becoming part of the gaming ecosystem. As audience uptake of video games sky-rocketed, forward-thinking brands are recognising the potential to meet multiple goals – such as enhancing their consumer relationships and stores of first-party insight – by creating their own game-based experiences.
For industry experts, this growing openness to gamification presents a chance to use their expertise beyond developing conventional titles; turning their hand to a range of activations from recruitment apps to games for specific brand campaigns.
But to ensure optimal performance and user enjoyment, it’s vital to remember that the key principles of good gaming still apply. To be specific, gamification efforts should be equally as streamlined, relevant, fun and bespoke as mainstream titles; not simply restyled versions of generic games with a company logo. By following the likes of Gamify and building activations that link popular gaming styles and brand identity — such as KFC Japan’s Fruit Ninja inspired promotion of its new shrimp-themed menu that encouraged users to swat a falling shrimp — specialists can fuel brand success, while simultaneously demonstrating the versatility and power of gaming.
The COVID-19 outbreak has made a positive impact on gaming. But to sustain growth amid continuous change and disruption, organisations throughout the sector will need to forge closer bonds with brands. By dispelling common misapprehensions and lending an expert hand with advertising efforts, gaming companies can maximise mutual benefits; helping brands reap the rewards gaming has to offer and safeguarding their own future survival, and success.