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How brands leveraged in-game advertising to reach targeted audiences during the World Cup
January 24, 2023
With the Qatar World Cup now in our rearview mirror and with club football resuming around the globe, it feels like a good time for brands to be associated with the Beautiful Game. Whilst this year’s World Cup attracted its fair share of criticism for off-field controversies, brands still continued to invest significantly to secure their status as an official tournament sponsor or moved to create content adjacent to the tournament as the action was unfolding on the pitch.
In many respects, this made perfect sense. A global audience of more than 2 billion people watched the tournament's group stage alone, which was delivered across more than 450 television channels. In the UK, it is estimated that the final was watched by almost 20 million people, offering brands a share of attention from an enormous audience and a chance to be associated with an emotive moment that will endure in fans’ memories. The value of this exposure though was also reflected in the revenue generated over the tournament, which was estimated to be $7bn globally. This priced many advertisers out of being able to engage with this passionate audience during the big show, and some brands turned to gaming to extend their associations with football into virtual stadiums through video games.
An emerging channel
Premium sports brands, football associations and leading betting brands all worked with Bidstack during the World Cup to reach focused and attentive football fans outside of the 90-odd minutes of action that unfolded on the pitch. Whilst the tournament featured 64 matches in total, more than 125m gaming sessions were played across Bidstack’s portfolio of football titles and the ability to interact with these fans outside of a referee's kick-off and full-time whistles is one of the major reasons why gaming is being embraced by brands that are looking for meaningful and targeted engagement that allow them to run ‘always-on’ campaigns.
For sponsors of domestic football, the first-ever winter World Cup created an unusual advertising blind spot. As leagues were put on hold, advertisers were suddenly unable to reach football fans through traditional channels such as pitchside billboards, matchday experiences or on-field activations. This blind spot created an opportunity, and the situation opened the door for brands to begin exploring new ways to reach their intended audience as the holiday season approached.
The leading iGaming brand Betsson utilized the unusual situation to explore innovative new advertising approaches during the tournament - running campaigns for two of their brands across four countries with localized messaging. Ulrich Gilot, head of media at Betsson Group, saw the circumstances as a chance to try something different and said, “While many of our competitors bought ad space in traditional media, both online and offline, we decided to explore new media channels that few of our competitors have dared to invest their advertising budgets into".
“We worked with Bidstack and leveraged their exclusive partnership with Football Manager in an effort to reach our target audience throughout the World Cup and the holidays in a seamless, brand-safe and compliant way.”
“We ran the campaign programmatically for two of our brands and utilised age-gating and segmentation technology to ensure we captivated the right audience’s attention. We achieved significant brand recall in comparison to other channels, but we also ensured an optimal gaming experience for the end user. It was a groundbreaking campaign for our industry, and it fulfilled our ambition to be at the forefront of innovation while remaining compliant and responsible in our approach to advertising.”
The blurring lines of sports and gaming
This shift towards gaming is not just limited to advertising either; storied football clubs like Norwich City are leaning into the area as the real and virtual worlds of sports continue to converge. Jonathan Casbon, head of partnerships at Norwich City FC, recently spoke about this and said, “One of the drivers in setting up our own dedicated esports team (1J Esports) was the opportunity to engage with a younger demographic of fans who wouldn’t typically engage directly with the Club - and therefore our commercial partners.”
“Our traditional football audience usually engages with us around the matchday window - which leaves a lot of unrealized opportunities. Through esports and gaming, we are able to reach a new generation of fans, broaden the awareness of our club and our commercial partners internationally, and engage a younger audience on a more regular basis with more relevant content.”
The battle for attention has been well-documented as brands search for meaningful engagement from consumers, and there is little doubt that real-life football activations and in-game advertising are both highly attentive environments. Unlike other advertising formats, though, gaming offers unparalleled levels of attention - whilst TV viewers can become distracted by other screens, or internet users can utilize ad blockers, premium gaming environments require 100% of a player's attention.
In-game advertising opens the door for brands to extend their reach and associations beyond traditional football channels and allows them to take advantage of more refined targeting, with a greater share of voice and an ability to extend their reach beyond the matchday window, creating ‘extra time’ for their brand messages to be absorbed.