Bidstack is the leading in-game advertising platform. We bridge the gap between interactive entertainment and advertisers by enhancing the gaming experience with real-world ads.
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Top 5 things brands need to know to tap into in-game advertising
August 2, 2022
With a global audience of more than 3 billion players, gaming continues to thrive, sustaining the growth experienced during recent international lockdowns with new and existing audiences that are continuing to seek immersive virtual experiences.
On average, gamers are now spending almost 8.5 hours per week consuming gaming content. And that’s before we even consider the rapid growth of supporting gaming channels such as esports, video content and live streams.
As media evolves (and the way consumers choose to consume and engage with it continues to change too), brands are now presented with an exciting challenge to be creative and utilize new and developing technologies to appeal to their target audiences. This will elevate both their brand impact and favorability in a crowded and hyper-competitive marketplace.
In this article, we deep dive into the opportunity that in-game advertising offers. We'll unpack trends and evaluate the existing activation options to help advertisers understand how to unlock gaming as a new channel and navigate the medium successfully.
1. Understanding your audience
Like any audience, gamers are nuanced individuals, defined by their own tastes, differing habits and preferences. The long-time negative depictions and associations of gamers being exclusively young, anti-social males continue to be contradicted. Female audiences now represent 45% of the market, and older demographics such as 55-64-year-olds are among the fastest-growing groups of new players.
With such a diverse global audience, a focus on understanding becomes paramount for brands seeking to explore the medium. By defining personas, identifying key passion points and evaluating motivations, brands can target, reach and ultimately engage with gaming audiences more effectively.
In the context of advertising, understanding crossovers between target consumers’ interests and specific genres of games can assist brands in identifying key partnership opportunities to maximize value on investment for gaming activations.
2. Building an impactful creative
Not all environments in-game are the same, nor is the message each brand is trying to convey to their audience. Therefore, brands must consider finding a format that balances the delivery of their message with the player experience - ensuring that the campaign remains a seamless and authentic part of gameplay.
Programmatic in-game activations (common in sports, racing and open-world environments) allow programmatic display ads to be displayed in any natural settings that complement the game’s environment and, subsequently, the user experience. By opting for immersive ad placements, brands can remain highly visible and become an authentic part of gameplay without disrupting the playing experience for the end-user.
When discussing best practices for building impactful creative, Will Stewart, creative director at Bidstack emphasized the importance of brands effectively integrating content relevant to the themes and environments of the gameplay experience. “Creatives that respect the game environments they sit within are more likely to create positive engagements with players. Brands should design creatives with the ‘less is more’ attitude - a simple, high-contrast creative will ensure the desired brand recognition without disturbing the player experience.”
3. Finding the right format
Programmatic in-game activations - For brands looking to deliver promotional content into natural gaming environments, programmatic activations provide an efficient and highly-targeted approach to engaging with audiences. Available across a range of premium games inventory, this approach utilzes IAB-compatible formats to serve highly visible yet intrinsic advertisements into virtual environments.
Cosmetic focused content - For brands simply seeking awareness and recognition among audiences, in-game cosmetic content such as skins, wraps and camos can prove a practical approach.
Luxury goods conglomerate LVMH succeeded with their partnership with Riot Games, where Louis Vuitton branded skins were available in-game for players to purchase in League of Legends – a game estimated to have an active monthly player base of over 180 million worldwide. In addition to generating revenue for the game publisher, the partnership saw Louis Vuitton feature prominently in the 2020 World Championship event in Shanghai, China and was watched live by a concurrent peak audience of over 45.95 million viewers.
In-menu and rewarded video activations - For brands looking to remain highly visible at scale, both in-menu and rewarded video can provide a cost-effective approach to getting your brand in front of significant audiences whilst still being an ‘opt-in’ option for the gamer. The format benefits from allowing players to control their level of interaction, with the content never interrupting gameplay and players opting to click on the content if they wish to pursue further information around the promotional content.
Experiential activations - For brands seeking to truly stand out from competitors, there is the opportunity to create custom experience-based activations in which audiences will engage with developing technologies for value-driven experiences.
Bidstack, in partnership with Starcom Worldwide, worked with fashion and perfume giant Paco Rabanne to launch the award-winning “Scent of Victory” campaign, a VR-driven experience in Rezzil’s Player 22 game. The campaign saw the launch of the 'Invictus Challenge', whereby players were able to compete against each other to complete a virtual reaction wall alongside US sporting icon Tim Howard to promote the luxury men’s fragrance in the run-up to the holiday season.
On the success of the campaign, Andy Etches, the founder of Rezzil, stated, “Creating branded experiences like this within the metaverse offers a glimpse of the future potential for brands. With this campaign, we’re proud to have been able to deliver on our core product offering in a way that respects and enhances the player experience.”
4. Respecting the art
Authenticity remains key when utilizing in-game advertising as part of your media strategy. Game development is an art form that encapsulates several years of passion, creativity and significant work into a physical product to be consumed by audiences of avid fans.
Brands should seek to not only define objective success through immediate impressions but also consider the level of engagement their in-game activations attract, understanding how long audiences interact with their content and how this may influence their decision-making.
Environments and genres remain an essential consideration for in-game ad placements. Inappropriate ad placements and content that detracts from the gameplay can draw audience criticism towards the game studio itself and the featured brand.
Recent high-profile examples demonstrate this, with studios being subject to backlash from audiences around campaign activations being disruptive and not in line with the expectations of a premium gaming experience. This reinforces the importance of effective implementation, ensuring that creative remains in line with consumer expectations regarding both gameplay environments and the overall user experience.
Leading mobile publisher Turborilla specialises in action sports games, developing titles that have been downloaded over 120 million times. Turborilla has effectively utilized a range of in-game advertising formats as a supplementary monetization channel within its titles, including their award-winning Mad Skills Motocross series.
When speaking at Pocket Gamer Connects London earlier this year, Bryan Stealey, CMO at Turborilla highlighted the success the studio and publisher had experienced implementing custom branded cosmetics and programmatic in-game activations, achieving notable new revenue sources whilst providing unique and engaging content for players that complimented the gameplay.
“We want to be one of the mobile games that shows how effectively this type of advertising can be implemented. Whereas some forms of advertising can be annoying to players, we think native in-game advertising, when done well, can actually enhance the player experience.”
5. Ensuring brand safety
The format of in-game advertising continues to evolve, and the shift in how the channel is perceived is reflected by industry bodies such as the IAB working to establish new measurement standards. Working in collaboration with the Media Rating Council (MRC) and industry working groups, the guidelines (which were first released in June 2022) have helped to instill confidence in brands wishing to explore the format.
Additional certifications granted to in-game advertising platforms and vendors can also provide further assurance to brands by providing independent assurance around the quality of measures in place to ensure brand safety, maintain full compliance with data and privacy regulations and prevent any risk of ad fraud.
Initiatives such as the IAB Gold Standard aim to protect brands by certifying digital media vendors that demonstrate a commitment to upholding industry best practices and utilizing measures that protect the integrity of digital advertising as a whole. These assessments operate annually, providing ongoing reassurance for brands and establishing a sustainable future for innovative advertising formats.