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Brands are still unsure about advertising in games. Here’s how to change their minds

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By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

May 17, 2022 | 11 min read

Each week, we ask agency experts from across the world and the ad business for their take on a tough question facing the industry, from topical concerns to perennial pain points.

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How can agencies change the minds of gaming-averse clients? / The Drum

As a media channel and cultural phenomenon, gaming is hugely valuable to advertisers. But in 2022, it is still undervalued by them. So as part of The Drum’s Gaming Advertising Deep Dive where we look at how marketers are utilizing and innovating in the gaming space right now, we asked agency experts how they plan to persuade brand marketers that the sector is worth their time and dollars.

How do you solve a problem like... explaining the opportunity available in gaming to clients?

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Oliver Feldwick, head of innovation, The&Partnership

Gaming is a criminally under-utilized and ignored niche. In fact, calling it a niche isn’t really accurate. The data speaks for itself. The demographics are broader and more inclusive than the stereotype. Call of Duty has taken more revenue than the box office takings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 35% of the planet are ‘gamers’ and 42% of Americans play video games every week.

Beyond this, it’s a sandbox of creativity, storytelling and experimentation. It is an art form, an occupation and a much loved distraction for billions. If that’s not enough, I’m not sure what is.

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Malcolm Poynton, global chief creative officer, Cheil Worldwide

Explaining the gaming opportunity is a bit like describing ’the world’, only with fewer people.

Population 2.7 billion and counting, roughly equal gender split, 20% youth, 52% adults and 28% middle-aged or over. Interests range from killing others, waging war, building new cities and playing football (I did say explaining gaming was like describing the world) to raising pets, navigating mazes, live-streaming, competing in leagues and watching others play.

The price of entry can be eye-watering or, with a clever hack, free. Either way, you’ve got to know whom you’re after and what you want them to do in exchange for crashing their precious pursuit.

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Grace Francis, chief creative and design officer, Wongdoody

Games have always offered up a way to understand how someone else thinks, from diplomatic gifts to Scrabble with the in-laws. Brands have the opportunity to use games to learn about audiences, from showrooming virtual products in-game to gamified data gathering.

Games have pushed beyond entertainment; we recently created a game for the FT that is a piece of interactive journalism on the climate crisis using real-world scientific data, while immersive games and metaverse experiences are being used to help people deal with anxiety disorders. Finally, pure games are still fun; I’m loving the new Star Wars skins in Fortnite.

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Dylan Fauss, senior strategist, BBH USA

The numbers speak for themselves! Gaming is bigger than film and sports combined. 67% of the US are gamers. Esports has 729m eyeballs on it. It’s totally mainstream.

The real challenge is helping brands find a truly authentic role for their product in beloved games. A gaming brand strategy gives them the confidence they are selecting the right gamers, games and influencers to partner with.

At BBH USA, we relish this opportunity. Because gaming is more than a media channel. Only games and the metaverse offer a limitless canvas to tell the stories that truly set brands apart.

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Sophie Harding, head of futures and innovation, Mindshare

With Sony recently announcing it has doubled profits this quarter and with one of the biggest esports events in the calendar – the CSGO Major – currently underway, brands don’t need to look far to see the unparalleled opportunity that gaming brings.

One of the strongest arguments is that games give pre-segmented audiences for marketers to target without the need for additional data. Many younger gamers play Fortnite to socialize, older demographics play Candy Crush on the commute. With the variety of games, influencers and esports opportunities, we’re seeing brands clambering to exist within these virtual environments. The fact that both Sony and Microsoft are making room for more in-game ads speaks volumes in itself.

As long as brand marketers develop an understanding of the complexities and risks of gaming culture, there’s a huge opportunity to run some genuinely impressive campaigns.

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Roberto Max Salas, president and co-founder, Young Hero

Gaming has a reach unlike any industry because of the different behaviors around it. Some users are players, some consume content via platforms like Twitch and others enjoy gaming culture like esports. This variety of subgroups offers many advantages for brands, like creating interactions with a product without any money spent on physical builds. Research has also shown that, across gaming’s array of platforms, male and female demographics are roughly equal and 10% of gamers identify as trans or non-binary. Few verticals can reach a global audience instantly and even fewer can claim to reach the diverse audiences gaming does.

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Brian Walker, tech director, Grow

Advertising has always been about being where the eyeballs are. Gaming not only dominates the attention of some of the most valuable audiences, but it also is one of the best examples of active engagement because, unlike other forms of entertainment, it doesn’t fall prey to the distraction of a second screen. As an advertiser, breaking into that space either as part of games (in-game opportunities are increasing all the time) or in game-adjacent spaces (gaming events, Twitch streaming, influencers) is going to be critical if they don’t want to miss out on this exploding audience. Brands that have succeeded have found that loyalty is often higher than in other channels – when you meet an audience where they are already so highly engaged, there is a lighter lift to achieve brand passion.

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Grant Paterson, head of gaming, Prism Wunderman Thompson

Gaming is the nexus of a new consumer media paradigm. One where a virtually-native generation increasingly prefers gaming as their primary entertainment platform to play, create, socialize and (in the future) shop for goods both physical and virtual. This is part of a hybrid life which mixes physical and virtual identity, culture and community membership fluidly.

For brands, gaming should be the starting point for a wider virtual marketing strategy and the ‘on-ramp’ to a diverse world of branded virtual experience, products and content.

Today’s virtual natives and tomorrow’s generation alpha will increasingly expect and evaluate brands based on their presence (or lack of) within the game ecosystems in which they invest such significant time and energy.

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Agi Varanyi, managing partner and head of accounts, Grey London

Gaming has evolved to become a space where brands can engage with audiences in new and powerful ways. Modern gamers don’t just play. Gaming for them is ’the new backyard’ – a space where they can socialize, watch, play and create. The boundaries between ’in-game’ and ’in real life’ are blurred. That’s where it gets interesting. Our ’Meet Frank’ campaign for Pringles understood and flowed through these blurred spaces. An idea that lived in-game, in streams on Twitch and real life, by breaking the boundaries and seeing beyond ’the game’, brands can connect with gamers in compelling new ways.

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Laurent François, managing partner, 180 Luxe and 180 Social

With many streams of interests across the 3 billion gamers worldwide, the best way to unpack the opportunity is to immerse our clients in this world, by attending events, experiencing Twitch livestreams or through pilot platforms. By literally experiencing gaming culture, it’s easier for them to place the brand more valuably at the inflection point between culture and audience needs. They can then unleash the brand in a more relevant, cleverer way while building up long-term legitimacy. It’s our job to see how the brand can elevate a gaming experience and even sometimes be an important part of the game narrative.

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Eli Ferrara, vice-president of creative innovation, FCB Canada

A lot of brands rushed into gaming over the past two years. Gaming has been hot for a while, but during the pandemic we saw explosive growth, to the point where it can no longer be ignored. The challenge in explaining the opportunity to clients is mainly that gaming is not a single, monolithic channel. The world of gaming is broken up into a huge number of games and platforms, all with their own distinct subcultures. The participants speak a distinct language, use distinct symbols and imagery, and connect with other gamers through their own set of tools.

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Fran Docx, strategy partner, 20something

The best way to introduce anything strange is to make it seem familiar. So the first thing I try to do is to frame the opportunity within existing reference points and unpack it slowly. I start with positioning a specific game as a media channel. We know channels, we know how to measure their impact, their reach, their audience base. Nothing unusual about that. Then we can start to look at more qualitative aspects of that channel’s audience – what do they like? What are they engaging with in-game? What are the opportunities for us? Only then do we think about execution.

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Zoheb Raza, social media director, Isobel

Please do not waste your time trying to advertise via gaming, it’s a fad. It’s for sweaty teenagers who do not care about your brand. There are only 3.2 billion gamers worldwide across a range of devices, games and demographics, and only 62% (yep, just 62%) of British adults played video games in 2021. Oh, and get this, they only spend seven hours a week playing video games and often play playable ads or engage with your brand ad to unlock rewards. But you’re not interested in just seven hours to advertise to this diverse audience across any community or interest that you can think of. No, you’re much better off sticking to your OOH and display activity. All the better for us.

Want to join future debates? Email me at sam.bradley@thedrum.com.

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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