'Gamers can smell bullshit a mile off' – how brands can legitimately get into gaming

Within the past five years, gaming has evolved to become one of the biggest and most profitable industries in the world.

Later this week, (29 September 2017) EA Sport's Fifa 18 will be released to consumers, the follow-up to not only the UK's best-selling game of the year, but also the best-selling piece of entertainment.

Fifa 18 is rife with brand activations like Coca-Cola's sponsorship of virtual athlete Alex Hunter – but the rest of the industry is just as open to such integrations... if you know what you are doing.

The sector's popularity has been steadily climbing, moving beyond niche and youth-centric audiences, towards the mainstream. For example, when more people tune in to watch the eSports League of Legends championship on YouTube than Usain Bolt in the Olympics 100m final, this tells us something – gaming is big business, and it will continue to grow. According to a recent Superdata report, the consumer gaming market is forecast to surpass the $100bn mark in 2017 – more than the value of the movie ($62bn) and music ($18Bn) industries combined.

Here's how to crack it.

Audience insight. Hint: it isn’t one-size-fits-all

When it comes to advertising, gaming is dealing with something of an identity crisis. Repeatedly, gamers are boxed into a demographic of younger skew, male millennials. However, data points to a diverse set of psychographic tribes that span both gender and age. Facebook’s own gaming personas include three groups (out of six) that are female skewed.

The most valuable of these tribes for marketers is the ‘uber-fan’ or heavy entertainment user. According to ComScore research this group is crucial due to their "tastemaker influencing power” as early adopters and their immense spending power.

Is there a role for brands in gaming communities?

To tap into this loyalty and advocacy, advertisers need to understand that their idea of partnerships, influencers, and experiences should be driven by the consumer at a grass-roots level.

For marketers, gaming is a huge opportunity to focus in on the power of such a digitally-advanced, experience-driven, and high spending demographic. However, to any brand that is pinning its hopes on reaching that highly coveted heavy entertainment user, a word of warning – the gaming industry as a whole requires a different approach. Brands need to understand the culture of what makes this community tick, and in doing so they enter at their own risk.

While gaming brands walk the line very carefully, intuitively listening and acting on their audience’s needs, maintaining the value exchange they have in place, for non-gaming brands it’s a much harder balancing act. How do we tap into an audience so closed off, so knowing, and so unwilling to compromise on the integrity and experience they’ve come to expect?

Influencer marketing has started to become a widely used practice within the gaming industry. Fans, enthusiasts, players, and creators have found a voice and a following online, and marketers have clocked-on to the power of their authority at a peer-to-peer level.

However, for marketers of non-gaming brands to truly speak to gamers with an effective advertising message, it’s about looking beyond the surface level. It’s about finding the real tastemakers and contributors that matter most to these communities, whether hardcore gamers, mobile app gamers, or FIFA fanatics (a game that is now intrinsically part of culture, as opposed to purely a ‘gamer’ title).

We spoke to GameInfluencer, a specialist gaming influencer agency in Germany, who say influencers need to be true advocates to appear genuine, and show transparency: “We ask influencers to look at the game in detail before any campaign – they can always step back if they don’t like it or it’s not a good fit for their audience. We encourage influencers to talk and explain their role as an influencer to their audience.”

So what tips would we have for marketers trying to tap into this space?:

Be genuine – gamers can smell bullshit a mile off

Gamers are far more likely to have high expectations for brands than the average consumer. They will see through fabrications or stunts, and they demand more from us as marketers. The sharp, cynical, and fiercely loyal legion of fans is ‘invite only’ for marketers. We have to earn the right to join the conversation, we need to either add value, immerse ourselves in the experience – with the self-awareness that the audience demands

Talk with, not at gamers: social media at its purest

Outside of disruptive marketing tactics, this audience want to feel like a brand is talking to them not at them. The Journal of Consumer Research found that although much consumer psychology points to the fact that whilst we do prefer products that reinforce our own self-identity, for gamers a forceful message like this can seriously backfire. Research states that if an advertising message explicitly tried to link a group identity to the act of buying or using the product within this community, it will drive a feeling of manipulation and distrust

Influencer selection = a deep knowledge of gaming + data

Tools and data can get us part way in identifying the right influencers; but brand and platform experts are essential in qualifying profiles to ensure brand safety and right audience fit. GameInfluencer agree that a “deep understanding” of the audience and industry is required: “There needs to be a human touch, someone with experience and knowledge of gaming needs to qualify any gaming influencers, alongside the platforms and data”

In conclusion, then, the gaming industry has reached an interesting crossroads – as one of the only remaining industries that still maintains its core belief that the audience comes first with the community essentially driving the end product, it’s the strength of this community that holds most of its power.

Written by Andy Fairclough, social strategy director EMEA of IPG Mediabrands, and Rhian Mason, native and content director of IPG Mediabrands

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