Future of TV Adtech Gaming

Why Accenture pivoted its virtual product placement prototype from TV to games


By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

May 17, 2022 | 6 min read

In 2017, Accenture Interactive (now Accenture Song) set out to explore tech that could dynamically insert product placement into TV, courting the likes of Netflix and Amazon as partners. Four years later, its R&D boss tells The Drum where the project is today and how it could work for gaming.

Virtual in-gaming product placement

Virtual in-gaming product placement / Adverty

Accenture wanted to use AI to place products during the post-production of TV shows, but Alex Naressi, who is the managing partner for research and development at the consulting giant’s ad agency subsidiary Accenture Song, says the legal and business barriers to this process were too complex to overcome.

Rather than be disheartened by the setback, Naressi identified product placement opportunities in gaming and shifted his focus. “Gaming and the metaverse will likely offer more sophisticated, integrated and engaging product placement opportunities,“ he says. “People will be able to discover, try, interact with, own, create, combine, remix, offer and rent branded products.“

So what are the barriers to dynamic product placement and why isn’t it mainstream now? According to Naressi: “Placement is about the viewer, the content provider and the brand, so you have to strike the right balance and respect all stakeholders, which is what has slowed it down and made it more difficult to scale up.

“When looking at its application, you have to ensure the right coherence between the ad and the video – it’s difficult to place an ad in Game of Thrones, for example. So there are limits to the field of its application.”

Beyond the risk to viewer experience there is also the fact that regulation around product placement on TV is strict and complex to negotiate from country to country, especially for a global streamer. It’s a conundrum, Naressi says, adding that whenever TV companies look for new ways to monetize existing pieces, “the problem of rights will always arise”.

And so, he tells us, “we are still far from a world where real-time bidding will be possible with dynamic content assertion”. This might not be good news for the likes of NBCU and Amazon, however, which have just announced large-scale investments in virtual product placement, but Accenture Song’s initial R&D has led it to explore and “incubate predictive content and UX optimization techniques that can now be applied to a much wider spectrum of interactions."

So, how could it work for gaming? Firstly, it is less regulated than TV and has already embraced product placement. For Naressi, however, the real benefit is that gaming allows interaction with the placement. “It’s interesting in that it allows players to interact. So it’s not just placement and impressions, but rather allows for engagement with the products themselves or to click-through and learn more or add to cart.”

For gaming, Accenture Song’s technology can quickly evaluate and optimize visual product placements or ads for maximum visibility and use AI to test brand salience instead of traditional testing. The agency has a patent pending for its AI measurement solution, which uses heat map technology to track attention from a person’s eye and translate that to value. “Games – which are inherently dynamic, interactive and reprogrammable – are an interesting space to find early evidence of those new ad formats and to experiment.”

Naressi says he’s “amazed” by some of the new players in that space that have made it easier for advertisers and brands to introduce ads to their games – and, crucially, “hand over control to moderate the ad and where they are placed in the game”. He references Anzu, Bidstack, Frameplay, Adverty and Admixplay as a handful of dynamic in-game advertising players that have emerged. Admixplay, for example, boasts clients such as Calvin Klein, Uber, Sky and McDonald’s.

McDonalds in-game ad

“These companies are starting to offer standardized ad formats, inventory to choose from, dashboards, no-code tools to insert ads and target audiences,” he says, as well as turn-key integration kits and control mechanisms for game studios. “We can think of the metaverse and gaming as a much richer creative canvas for brands. Moreover, we have to think of future products, assets and services as potentially real, virtual or both.”

He does, however, still caution that in-game advertising will have to “strike a balance between very standardized simple ad format while at the same time blending seamlessly with the gaming experience”.

Naressi concludes: “Brands will need the ability to rapidly imagine, design and deliver useful products that can blend in and enhance gaming experiences, and they will need to master influence marketing and social commerce.”

For more on all the different ways brands can advertise in gaming, from virtual billboards to product placements, social lenses and even games of their own, check out The Drum’s Gaming Advertising Deep Dive.

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