IAB UK Activision Blizzard Brand Strategy

Why Activision Blizzard prefers to talk about ‘players’ not ‘gamers’


By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

October 21, 2022 | 6 min read

At the Gaming Upfronts 2022, we hear how sponsorships and partnerships can deliver huge value to brands that consider their gaming-based marketing plan carefully.

A mocked up burger restaurant in the game Diablo IV

Brands need to consider both in-game and game-adjacent marketing to speak to players

At the IAB UK’s Gaming Upfronts 2022, where this week representatives of some of the largest gaming companies were setting out their stalls for the future of marketing in gaming, there was a recurring theme in many of the announcements. The single most important component of gaming, said the speakers, is its social interactivity and the extended communities that exist around it.

Jonathan Stringfield, the vice-president of global business research and marketing at Activision Blizzard (which was the first gaming company to sign up to the IAB’s Gold Standards 2.1 framework), explained that while the publisher’s suite of titles (which includes the Call of Duty and Diablo franchises) are the draw for gamers, it is ultimately the community around these games that should most excite advertisers.

Building on comments from IAB UK’s chief marketing officer James Chandler about the prevalence of gaming during the pandemic, Stringfield said: “Gaming allows for intimate socialization without need for physicality. You can think about gaming with reference to something like social media.”

According to Activision Blizzard’s latest market report, for 18-34-year-old gamers, gaming is on par with social media as a preferred entertainment activity throughout the day, “with both activities steadily increasing towards prime time viewing hours”. The research also claims that gaming is the number one second-screen activity, with more than half of gamers using a mobile device to game while watching TV.

Players not gamers

Stringfield shared some further stats about the behavior of players (the company doesn’t like the term ‘gamer’ due to some negative associations, although much of its own material does use the term), with particular focus on how brands should think about reaching them. 38% play games for socialization, the report found, and consider it the most valuable medium for forming bonds after phone calls and texts. Tellingly, socialization is also more important than competition according to the report.

Meanwhile, Lou Emerson, the UK sales director for Twitch, shared some of that company’s research that demonstrates that brands can reach gamers on its platform if they consider the four ’pillars’ of what interests Twitch communities. These, she said, are: ”Live experiences, shared experiences, live-streaming and gaming.”

For shared experiences, she noted that player bases are often more inclusive than marketers give them credit for and cited her own experience as a West Ham fan who watched games on Twitch through its owner Amazon. Other viewers on the platform, she said, were generally friendlier and more inclusive than she had found fans at in-person matches to be.

She pointed out that live gaming audiences are also particularly amenable to emergent narratives, with the introduction of Frank the Zombie to Twitch being a particularly powerful example of how a brand can create content that speaks to gaming audiences without feeling intrusive.

Activision Blizzard’s Stringfield also stated that, while in-game advertising is a viable way to reach gaming audiences, brands should be aware that the vast majority of them carry on conversations about games elsewhere. Whether on Reddit, YouTube or Twitch, the community aspect of gaming is where brands should be trying to land their messages, he said.

James Whatley is a gaming specialist and chief strategy officer of Diva Agency. He thinks that brands need to be careful when speaking to gamers en masse and that they should instead be considering how to speak to communities, saying: “Gamers are fickle and most of them are pricks.” He also prefers the term ‘player’.

That said, he also thinks gaming audiences are particularly sensitive to poorly-handled brand extensions. Referring to both the examples of Burger King ads in Elden Ring and the Argos extension into Decentraland, he pointed out that the larger opportunities are around brand licensing.

As the shelf life of games is longer than that of films, the real opportunity is around appropriate and relevant brand extensions into games. For Whatley, the Top Gun: Maverick DLC for Microsoft Flight Simulator and the much-vaunted Ted Lasso presence in Fifa are examples that add something to the game and therefore endear the brands to the players.

Stringfield is in agreement and jokes that there are no convenient fast-food locations in the world of Diablo. For brands, then, the opportunities around gaming are in relevant in-game brand extensions and partnerships, and in speaking to the communities that have built up around them.

IAB UK Activision Blizzard Brand Strategy

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