Can marketers crack the code of the game as audiences diversify?

Gaming’s rise to the top of the entertainment heap has been accelerated by the pandemic, but marketing still feels like it’s catching up with an industry that’s estimated to be more profitable than sports and movies combined. A recent series of specialist events and technology investments demonstrates that brands and publishers recognize the need to design more targeted strategies for a connected but prickly audience.

As more and more non-endemic marketers try to crack the code of the game, these trends serve as the basis for experimenting with what works when it comes to getting a message in front of players that goes beyond the well-honed digital tactics.

“One of the things the industry is waiting for, basically, is finding really exciting and scalable opportunities to engage gamers,” said David Eichenstein, senior vice president of business at 4D Sight, a platform video monetization company specializing in gaming content.

More formal bids to create a media buying window around games include the introduction of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) PlayFronts, which the trade group described as the first of its kind. The gathering, which is expected to be annual and will be held for the first time this year on April 5, bears a name reminiscent of the IAB’s NewFronts – a major marketplace for digital ad buying – and is aimed at agencies and buyer-side brands. The full agenda has not yet been released.

“For the size and scale of the game, it’s probably been a long time,” Chris Erb, managing partner and founder of gaming-focused agency TripleClix, said of PlayFronts.

A big company

PlayFronts, acting as a stand-alone event, shows how distinct gamer marketing is from broader digital media, while also presenting itself as a channel reaching new levels of maturity.

Games may run more traditional ads, but these tend to be focused on the mobile category, which works very differently to console and PC games. Esports, a favorite among brands, offers sponsorship models that reflect aspects of traditional sports ties. According to Newzoo, professional competitive games are expected to surpass $1 billion in revenue worldwide in 2021, but total video game revenue is expected to attract tens of billions.

“A lot of what you’ll see is esports advertising, which is a very small business,” Erb said. “Corn that’s kind of where the agencies are starting to focus.”

Marketers who weren’t previously aware of the game’s greater dominance have been getting a few wake-up calls recently. Microsoft announced earlier this year that it would acquire developer Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, a landmark deal in the industry. For comparison, Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox several years ago cost $71.3 billion.

“Any time I have a conversation about game size and scale, it’s kind of news to some people,” Erb said.

Smaller investments indicate that traditional publishers and platforms are also keen to deepen their stake in games. Last week, NBCUniversal partnered with Anzu, a developer of in-game ads and other integrations. The network will act as Anzu’s global business partner and exclusive third-party seller in the US and UK. Anzu is also supported by WPP.

“In addition to streaming, gaming is one of the most dynamic ways to reach young audiences,” said Krishan Bhatia, president and chief commercial officer of NBCUniversal, in a press release. “This partnership with Anzu will allow our marketers to engage with an audience of over three billion players worldwide, and we’re just getting started.”

Breaking down misconceptions

Bhatia’s comments reinforce that many marketers are turning to games in search of Gen Z consumers who are notoriously averse to traditional advertising. But the pandemic has additionally enshrined gaming as a daily pastime for people across a wide spectrum, while pressure for brands to activate on the metaverse – a channel whose foundations share much in common with the game – experienced a groundswell.

A potential opportunity at events like PlayFronts is to educate marketers on expanding the game’s audience beyond the young white male cohort. According to a report by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), two-thirds of adults and three-quarters of children under the age of 18 played video games every week last year. According to the ESA, approximately 45% of gamers are now women.

“One of the things that gets lost in the game is how diverse it is,” Eichenstein said. “It deserves marketers to pay closer attention and then look for opportunities to find them where traditional channels serve them poorly.”

The marketing categories most associated with gambling include snacks and quick-service restaurants — think PepsiCo’s Doritos or Mountain Dew, which has a Game Fuel energy drink — but that could be starting to change. TripleClix worked with OPI, a nail polish distributor, on a spring campaign with Xbox around the new Halo release where purchasing real-world merchandise unlocked special character skins in the first-person shooter. person.

“It was really about creating a program for an underserved community,” Erb said of OPI’s work. “If we’re going to start talking to a broader audience that’s deep into the game, how do we find the brands that work well for them?”

Esports has also attracted a wider range of marketers and more substantial connections. Progressive Insurance in January signed a multi-year naming rights deal with esports organization Immortals, known for competing in League of Legends. Such deals have become common as esports events pack stadium-sized venues and drive streams on sites like Twitch.

“If you look at the collection of marketers that enter the space, from league sponsorships and team sponsorships, there’s no doubt that it’s broader, more diverse and representative of the broader advertising market than I didn’t think so at any time before that,” Eichenstein mentioned.

With the influx of new brands entering the game, the risks come with it. In-game advertising is attractive from a business perspective, but gamers can get vocal about the intrusiveness of sponsored messages or when a streaming integration goes awry. As companies try to foster long-term loyalty and deliver tangible value to gamers who seek rewards such as in-game perks and content, crafting an organized strategy should trump portage over approaches that have worked well on other channels.

“What brands are really trying to do is start codifying those relationships,” Erb said. “There are so many examples of people messing up their entry into space.”

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