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How to manage risk and brand safety when buying ads in games

Gaming is a relatively young and unexplored channel, so the brand safety risk must be determined

Not a day passes by without hearing or reading that gaming is the next big thing for the ad industry. This is not surprising given that eMarketer indicates that around 40% of the UK and the Chinese population play games, and that 60% of all US internet users spend some time conquering animated and virtual worlds. As always, where the eyeballs go, the brand safety risk follows.

Here are the main things to watch out for when planning a gaming campaign.

1. Understand where your audience is, and on what device

This is of paramount importance, as the level of control and measurability will depend on it. Will you launch a campaign on mobile in-app? On in-game in-console gaming inventory targeting players? Or do you want to reach streamers via one of the streaming platforms such as Twitch or YouTube Gaming, which again can be served on different devices?

If you are a risk-averse client, you may want to target only the devices that allow you to fully measure (likely to be mobile in-app), or if you want to be where the cool crowd is, then you may consider in-console advertising knowing that not everything is measurable.

2. Measurability and full transparency

Measurability is key to full buying transparency – knowing in which environment an ad was served, how much of it was viewable, how that impression was defined and when it was counted in the process, and what kind of GIVT and SIVT measurement can be applied.

Some risk will always exist, but without being able to properly measure your campaigns the risk is unknown, and that is the riskiest place to be. While mobile in-app is measurable with a few caveats (for example, most suitability ratings rely on app-store descriptions), other devices such as in-console are currently not up to par as the industry standards are not always defined.

Many in-game providers are doing the best they can, defining their own standards, building proprietary technology, and establishing partnerships with verification vendors. In the absence of fully industry-established standards, doing your own due diligence is not optional. In the meantime IAB UK, IAB US and Media Rating Council (MRC) are working to define better measurement standards. The established industry standards such as TAG and IAB UK Gold Standard should serve as a north star when picking a supplier.

3. Children

Statistics show that children consume games often, which translates into two main risks – inadvertent processing of personal data of children and unintentional serving of age-restricted ads to children (for example, HFSS foods or alcohol).

Regardless of the device the game is played or streamed on, this stands true. You must examine how your suppliers approach these risks and whether they take any extra caution, such as data stripping from certain types of games, besides relying on standard age-gating. Suppliers should also provide well-substantiated ways to target away from children. Integration with Nielsen or Kantar audience measurement helps, and so does the clear and transparent classification of inventory allowing to target away from children’s topics.

4. Brand safety and suitability

The bulk of the challenge can be summarized in three words: livestreaming and violence.

While the game itself is not user-generated content, players’ interactions with the game and other players challenge that notion. A lot of the in-game inventory is livestreamed, which makes it unpredictable. Unpredictability is brand safety’s enemy. Until the technology and integration within the supply chain catch up, the only recourse available is to use other proxies to evaluate the suitability – channel self-declaration, game vertical, game titles and others.

It is misconception that all gaming bears some violence. However, it is true that probably some of the most sought-after game titles do contain some violence. The concept of violence in gaming challenges our established notions of brand safety and suitability. For most of the gamers – the intended audience – violence is ingrained with the game they desire to play and it may not have any bearing on the perception of the brand.

Nevertheless, we do need a better way to categorize violence in gaming and allow brands to avoid it based on their risk tolerance.

5. Industry cooperation

Gaming is a relatively young and unexplored channel. As it grows and matures, it is important that we share the signposts, the best practices and learnings with suppliers and buyers. It takes the entire industry to build meaningful and working standards.

Stevan Randjelovic is director, brand safety and digital risk, at GroupM EMEA. Catch up with The Drum’s Gaming deep-dive here.

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