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Early access: building gaming as a media channel

Gaming is still a nascent media channel - that's about to change / Julian Hochgesang

Over the past three years working on Admix, I’ve witnessed an interesting transition. Back in 2018/2019, gaming wasn’t a mainstream topic in brand and agency land. Some were excited about particular bespoke activations, but very few believed in gaming as a new media channel. This has changed over the past 18 months, though, as gaming has exploded as part of the culture, accelerated by the pandemic.

With close to two billion daily players the attention and engagement given to gaming is second to none, not even social media. Gaming has reached unimaginable levels of scale and engagement. So matter what products they’re selling, brands are now thinking of gaming as the next vehicle to reach their audience.

Therefore the conversation with advertisers has moved from ‘why should I invest in gaming’ to ‘how do i activate gaming as part of my strategy’. While the first question now answers itself, the second is on every agencies’ minds. In 2021 nearly every major agency group has launched a dedicated gaming group, tasked to figure this out as a global priority.

Lack of infrastructure

If gaming is now such a priority for agency groups controlling billions of dollars in ad spend, why do the activations still feel niche and relatively rare? The press likes to talk about Mastercard and League of Legends, or Gucci and Fortnite, but these high profile activations were all custom made, developed over months and more similar to a one-off sponsorship than a scalable media play.

These activations have been fantastic to showcase what gaming has to offer to brands. It’s become clear that the most successful brand activations are those that are most native to the games, deeply integrated within the gameplay and driving player engagement.

So what’s preventing every brand from doing similar activations? It’s the question we’ve been asking our advertisers, partners, and friends for the past year.

Brands cited the lack of tools to automate campaigns, the lack of measurement and ROI, and the inability to target users granularly, leading to very expensive one-off campaigns, as preventing them from scaling the activity, or getting started at all.

In other words, advertisers blamed the lack of infrastructure to grow and measure data-driven campaigns. We believe there are four components of that infrastructure that need to be in place to truly unlock the scalable potential of gaming as a media channel.

Inventory availability

Most brands use specific platforms to run their advertising campaigns, such as Google or the Trade Desk. Since gaming falls under ‘digital’ spend, it makes sense to make the gaming inventory available within the platforms brands already trust, rather than a different platform only for gaming.

Overall, it’s about making gaming as easy to buy as display ads, reducing barriers to entry for the media buyers, and creating liquidity in the marketplace so this media actually gets traded. Standard formats and standard connection helps with that.

But it also represents a huge challenge, because games are native environments that you can’t simply plug into traditional buying platforms. It requires bespoke technology to ensure compatibility between the various technologies.

Native experience

Every media channel has built ad units that are native to their environment - in-stream video, Google adwords, and even the Facebook feed or sponsored Snap lenses. The more natively integrated with user experience the less it disrupts it, and the better the long term engagement.

This is especially key when marketing to young generations who are more tech-savvy and choose to engage with brands they can identify with. Gaming needs this ‘native engagement’ model to evolve as a true media channel. Interruptive models might drive short term results, but they don’t enable brand building.

Real time and data-driven

On every digital channel brands can target the right user at the right time, so will require the same targeting controls in gaming. Game takeovers are great marketing and PR, but dilute the effectiveness of the campaign as everyone sees the same message. For gaming to scale as a media channel, the infrastructure needs to enable advertisers to target the right user at the right time in the right game, so that players can receive different messages and offers based on their location or gameplay behaviour.

Measurability

Advertisers need to measure the performance of their campaigns. So, for gaming to become a media channel and command billions of dollars in spend, it absolutely needs to be measurable. Without this, the ROI of activations can’t be assessed, and can end up being written as marketing costs rather than a profitable trade. There are various ways to do this, from measuring viewability for awareness campaigns via third party verification providers, or measuring attribution via Attribution API. Other types of measurability can also include brand safety and suitability, to ensure the content is relevant to the brands and vice versa. Overall, measurability gives advertisers confidence to invest dollars into this new channel.

A new media channel

At Admix, we call this model ‘in-play’, because the brands are integrated within the gameplay itself, similar to product placements. These don’t affect the user experience, which leads to better user retention. In-play also gives brands the right tools to activate gaming in a data-driven, scalable, and profitable way. We believe that the in-play model is an absolute necessity to power the future of gaming as a media - a channel where advertisers have confidence that every $1 invested will lead to more than $1 in created value.

The digital economy really started to take off in the late 90s, when scalable infrastructure made it easy for advertisers and publishers to trade media. Twenty odd years later, we are at the inception of a new media channel, creating huge opportunities for brands and advertisers to take advantage of this new infrastructure.

Sam Huber, CEO and co-founder of Admix