Why marketers need to think like gamers when trying to understand mobile advertising

By Paul Coggins | Global chief executive officer

September 23, 2020 | 6 min read

Marketers who treat mobile like a mini version of the television are seriously undervaluing the medium’s potential for vast and relevant reach, says Adludio’s global chief executive officer Paul Coggins. He argues that video game developers, not traditional media buyers, are the ones winning this level.

Last year, the world’s biggest esports tournament, The International 9, awarded a record $34.3 million in prize money and barely anyone noticed. The gaming world may count 2.6 billion people — a third of the global population — but is still misunderstood and marginalised by Asia’s marketing community. Yet there are reasons for gaming’s enormous popularity from which we can learn.

The reason for this is South East Asia’s recent mobile revolution, which has seen areas such as mobile banking and e-commerce becoming increasingly ubiquitous, particularly in Thailand and Indonesia.


With penetration now said to be outpacing China, marketers and their agencies cannot treat mobile as just another medium.

With penetration now said to be outpacing China, marketers and their agencies cannot afford to treat mobile as just another medium among television, social and over-the-top. It has its own set of unique challenges and one of the most difficult of these is audience engagement.

Given mobile users’ endless scrolling and swiping, coupled with fatigue from constant exposure ads, it is understandable why they may not be the most engrossed when your own brand appears. Therefore, who better to learn about this than those responsible for keeping players hooked for hours on end?

Game developers — including designers, artists and programmers — understand better than anyone how to turn a mobile phone into an enabler of visceral, memorable moments. They know how to create experiences that are addictive, shareable, immersive and most crucially provoke action. In doing so, the audience changes from being a passive viewer to an active participant in the mobile experience. If brands want to seriously compete for user’s attention, they have to appeal to the same dopamine spikes a video game enables.

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5G will play a massive role in helping creatives craft those experiences. In 2023, 5G smartphone shipments will hit 424 million globally, surpassing this year’s 73m. This rise will create more opportunities to improve user experience through high-definition media and interactive media, plus the possibility of connected experiences through the internet of things. Creatives would do well to get ahead of the game now and anticipate how they can craft content fit for this new mobile world.

However, creativity and immersion are not the only gaming techniques from which marketers stand to gain. The other, and more critically important area, is in media buying.

Although mobile ad spend overtook TV in 2019, marketers and media buyers still tend to treat these smaller devices as on the same level.

We also still think of mobile as the grandchild of the TV when it is more like a distant cousin in terms of the data, audiences and touchpoints.

If advertisers continue to treat mobile as just a tiny TV screen rather than a connector to the world, it risks missing out on that vast treasure chest of tools and touchpoints. Gaming developers are trained to harness multiple scenarios and situations, creating various outcomes based on a host of variables — those being the reactions of their players.

Marketers and media buyers need to put themselves in that mindset when it comes to planning a mobile campaign. All too often, media planners and buyers prefer to stick to the familiar, 20-year-old A/B testing method when it comes to mobile. However, this testing will not work efficiently enough in mobile advertising, as there are so many complex data points and signals that need to be taken into consideration.

Instead, it is time to make the pivot to a method more in line with the Facebook-preferred ‘Bayesian Bandits’ approach, which uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (MI) to test more theories and gain new base information. These automatically evolve and learn as further information is gained.

Taking an AI-tested approach leads to massively enhanced results by enabling the buyer to understand better relevancy, context and how they can continuously optimise their campaigns. Using AI / ML algorithms will help marketers and buyers better understand their audiences, thereby driving engagement and saving many hours of laborious A/B tests.

Combining this approach with genuinely immersive content is the real sweet spot for any brands trying to capture mobile users’ attention. If marketers aren’t ready to make the leap now, the least they can do is start the education process. What better excuse do you need to spend the year playing Mario Kart?

Paul Coggins is the global chief executive officer at Adludio.


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