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How to think about creative strategy when buying in-game ads

A still promoting popular mobile game Clash of Clans

Chris Hardiman, product director, Xaxis explains how marketers can dip their feet into the sprawling gaming space.

The gaming industry accounts for over half of consumer entertainment spending, which makes it more valuable than films, TV shows and music combined. The onset of Covid-19 and related restrictions undoubtedly contributed to this phenomenal growth, and 30% of players now spend upward of five hours a week on gaming platforms.

This growth of time spent gaming is increasingly attracting advertising investment, with marketers especially keen on making the most of a hyper-engaged environment that discourages distraction.

So how should marketers approach this nascent channel in practice? By knowing the who, where, and how of in-game advertising, marketers can follow these three key tips to achieve successful media buys.

Understand where your audience is

With 3.4 billion gamers worldwide, the audience for this advertising channel has never been more diverse. The stereotype of young male players being the prime audience for gaming no longer holds true, as research shows 46% of gamers are women and that the number of players by age is split almost evenly between the ages of 20 and 65. Following this development in the gaming sector, marketers need to better understand their intended audience to ensure their advertising strategies reflect specific consumer habits and interests.

Tailoring in-game advertising strategies based on target audiences, as marketers would for broader digital campaigns, can lead to greater consumer engagement and better outcomes.

Understand the environment to achieve best results

Demographics aren’t the only diverse element of advertising in-game – inventory can vary in format from video to virtual out-of-home depending on the kind of games audiences play. As a result, industry knowledge surrounding individual games isn’t as readily accessible as it is for traditional media. While marketers generally know the type of inventory available on a news website, each game will require in-depth research, a three-dimensional approach and a rethink of creative strategy to ensure ads work well.

This is especially true for advertising on PC games, for instance with MasterCard’s in-game branding for League of Legends, a multiplayer online battle arena video game. By ensuring advertising efforts are contextually relevant and blend within the gaming environment, marketers can ensure ads are seamless and non-intrusive.

As gaming is a nascent advertising channel, inventory can still be limited –particularly when it comes to premium media buys. Marketers need to work with advanced media partners that can offer a consistent approach to valuable inventory. Scalability is a crucial part of this, as the gaming sector is expanding rapidly. Campaigns will also be increasingly international as the channel becomes more mainstream in major markets, which makes it important to understand nuances for each region. In APAC, for example, 33% of gamers are mobile-only, while three in five esports enthusiasts are located in this region.

Build quality creative based on multiple dimensions

Repurposing digital creative for display and video inventory can work well for many channels, but the process for building in-game ad creative needs to be more refined. Rather than being built for direct interaction, in-game ads will be better suited to supporting brand awareness in many instances. For example, an ad that encourages interaction might be suitable for mobile devices, but this simply wouldn’t work as a track-side ad in a racing game developed for consoles. In this instance, using a similar approach to out-of-home ad creative will translate better, providing a more seamless experience for gamers.

Marketers must therefore be mindful of how audiences respond to different creatives in various gaming channels. A test-and-learn mentality is a must to understand how available ad placements within specific games perform for a given brand or KPI. Do they provide the opportunity for a call to action, or should creative teams focus on building more immersive elements when developing quality creative? Planning for these variations is a key part of in-game ad strategies.

Gaming is rapidly becoming an important channel in the marketing mix, but it requires a custom approach that distinguishes it from both traditional and other forms of digital media. The marketers that take the time to learn about specific audiences, think carefully about creative, and approach this nascent advertising channel with an experimental attitude will be best placed to tap into the hyper-engaged gaming audiences and achieve the best outcomes for their business.

Chris Hardiman is product director Xaxis