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Is video game advertising coming of age? Moving from 'trailers' to proper brand ads

Dan Plant is group strategy director and real time planning director at MEC. With 15 years' media planning experience across 15 different categories, 30 different clients and at least 100 different brands, with combined media budgets in excess of £1bn in the UK, there isn’t much in marketing that Dan hasn’t seen.

I don’t often get to blog about my work and my personal interests at the same time, but two recent ads for upcoming video game releases have given me just that opportunity.

Video games are a fairly consistent and predictable product when it comes to advertising. For a long time they have behaved like movie franchises with a “tease and trailer” model of advertising.

Sometimes video game ads will use actual game footage to give people a glimpse of the game itself in “trailer” form, but often they will create a trailer which looks like in-game footage but is actually a much higher quality render and doesn’t use the in-game engine, which only creates disappointment.

If you look at this randomly selected list of top 15 video game ads you’ll see that the vast majority of adverts for games (as opposed to consoles) follow that basic model.

And don’t get me wrong, as a gaming fan there is nothing wrong with the movie trailer style of advertising; it gives the consumer what they are looking for in many ways – but it only really preaches to the converted – people who are already looking forward to the game and just want to see what it is going to look/play like.

Even when they deviate from the formula, it is usually just to recreate the trailer in a different form – for example this excellent Destiny trailer which recreates in-game footage but with a full live action film.

Or this Halo 3 teaser trailer done as a military diorama with handpainted miniatures.

These are great, because they really give people a feeling of what it is like to play the game without resorting to showing in-game footage. I’m a gaming geek and the Halo 3 one still gives me chills.

However some genres of games are starting to become almost commoditised and consumers are getting more cynical and well adjusted to marketing hype. More and more of the games in this category are turning into huge brand franchises and if advertisers really want to gain a bigger share of the pie, they need to behave like a proper brand, and really understand their audience to create communications that really sell the brand promise as well as the detail of the game itself.

Two recent ads have grasped this and turned gaming advertising convention on its head and I believe they can expect to be very successful as a result.

Forza is one of the preeminent racing franchises on any platform but it has loads of competition and most prospective purchasers of number 6 probably also own numbers 5 and 4. This ad recognises that many of its audience have seen it all before and treats that as a strength, allowing them to reference the entire history of racing games to showcase how much this game drives the category forward and makes it unmissable.

The execution of this ad is pretty much perfect as well and as a gaming fan it really taps into why I play these games and what I am looking for each time I buy a new racing game. It shows me that this is a game made by fans for fans and I can trust that it will be awesome.

The other ad that really deserves a mention here is this work from Activision for Guitar Hero Live.

Again this is a genre that became over-commoditised about three years ago with numerous releases for Guitar Hero and Rock Band and the audience became a bit fatigued by the neverending release schedule. They had to do something special to get the interest back and I think that this ad does it.

Like the Forza ad, it plays on the fans’ knowledge of how video games ads normally are – ie a bit of an oversell that tries to replicate the 'feeling' of the game – but in this example the genre is turned on its head by revealing that the 90 seconds of "trailer” that you just watched is actually the exact experience of the game itself and demonstrates how fresh and new this reboot of the franchise will be. Again this reassures and excites fans of the genre that this game has been made by people who really love playing the game and it builds trust in the brand.

I don’t know if this is an anomaly in the world of video game advertising, but I believe that “brand” style communications such as these will be more commonplace as this category matures and brands have to fight harder for share.

Dan Plant is group strategy director and real-time planning director at MEC

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Dan Plant

Dan is a group strategy director and real-time planning director at MEC UK

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