Social media and search ads on platforms such as Google have and continue to serve brands well. In contrast, TV and radio have begun to suffer in terms of impact due to younger generations ‘cutting the cord’ and opting to consume their content on streaming services. So, what other platforms should brands explore when developing their multi-channel marketing strategies? If you’re not a gamer, you may be unaware of the opportunities that exist in video gaming, but the potential this entertainment channel offers brands is undeniable.
Currently, there are more than 2.7 billion gamers worldwide, and on average, they spend 6.5 hours playing each week. Gamers are a captive and diverse group, encompassing an almost even split of men and women. There are players young and old, although, of course, most fall into the Gen Z, Gen X, and millennial generations. In addition to gaming becoming a mainstream form of entertainment, esports or competitive gaming is now rivaling live sports. In terms of value, Newzoo reports that in 2020 esports revenues will top $1.1 billion, with three-quarters of that ($822.4m) generated from media rights and brand sponsorships.
As with all advertising, brands must know their audience intimately, understanding what they need and want. Gamers have incredible buying power, but they demand authenticity, so brands should align campaigns with player interests.
There are three main ways for brands to enter the video game arena. The first is through sponsorships – whether that’s sponsoring an esports event, team, or individual player. The second option is to place ads into the video games themselves through blended in-game ads. The third way is to develop an in-depth partnership with the video game developer.
Let’s take a look at how some big-name brands have gotten into the (video) game to help inspire you.
Nike, Coca-Cola, and Redbull, all brands already ingrained in the sports world, have built new brand sponsorships in esports. However, some other companies with fewer ties to sports have created unique opportunities that align with their brand values and connect with fans.
Following its mission of empowering women, dating app Bumble formed a partnership with the multinational esports brand Gen.G to create Team Bumble, an all-female esports team that competes in Fortnite.
Tech company Lenovo sponsors an often-overlooked demographic; the Silver Snipers are the first professional Counter Strike: Global Offensive team made up of senior citizens. The oldest player is 77 years old!
Fashion powerhouse Louis Vuitton has brought its brand into gaming in multiple ways. The company designed the case for the League of Legends World Championship trophy and introduced clothing, known as skins in gaming, which could be purchased by players for their in-game avatars. To complement the digital versions, Louis Vuitton also created a 47-piece real-world clothing line that sold out within an hour of launching.
Blended in-game ads
In-game ads can be an incredible way to boost brand awareness, a metric particularly relevant for blended in-game advertising, a format without clicks. With today’s advanced ad technology, brands can deliver programmatic campaigns that align with each player’s interests by exploiting the extensive targeting options available while remaining compliant with all data privacy regulations. Advertisers can place ads on billboards, signage, player jerseys, or any other in-game object.
This year’s League of Legends Summer Split tournament saw its first in-game advertisements go live with Mastercard branding appearing on digital signage in the Summoner’s Rift fictional battlefield. Mastercard is expecting to reap its ad campaign's benefits as hundreds of thousands watch the tournament through streaming platforms.
Video games that mimic real-world sports are ideal for ads because sports fans see brand names and logos in stadiums and sponsoring broadcast replays. Both NBA 2K19 by Take-Two Interactive and NBA Live 19 from EA Sports are prime examples. Gatorade added its logo to coolers, which are seen as coaches talk to players during 60-second timeouts, and insurance company State Farm had its name and logo presented as the ‘sponsor’ of the Assist of the Game replays.
To create buzz and interest for its newest A51 phone, Samsung placed ads across several video games that were seen on billboards as players raced through virtual worlds and splashed across soccer stadium fields. Similarly, Vodafone placed ad content inside popular racing game Trackmania, exposing players to the cell providers latest offers as they passed markers on the racetrack.
Brand and game partnerships
There are plenty of examples of brands creating content for games through partnerships, but two of the most creative ones come from this year’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons. KFC Philippines built its own island, complete with a restaurant, and invited players to search the island for Colonel Sanders. Those who found him were able to win free real-world food.
Perhaps the most surprising brand on this list is the Getty Museum, which made all of its famous pieces of art available inside the game. In a game that’s all about creating a home and an island that reflects a player’s personality, what could be more fun than hanging a Picasso painting in the living room or breaking the rules and putting it in the garden?
The extended benefits of advertising in video games
Beyond the massive number of players who are exposed to ads during gameplay, millions more see those ads while watching other gamers’ sessions online. Twitch, the largest streaming service, had 3.8 million unique broadcasters in February 2020 and recorded 1.44 million concurrent viewers on average as of March. For Q1 2020, viewers watched 3.1 billion hours of streams. In April of this year, YouTube Gaming reported that users watched that 461 million hours of gaming content while Facebook Gaming showed the highest year-over-year increase (238%) with a total of 291 million hours watched. That’s a lot of extra eyeballs – and, ahem, free exposure - for your brand!
Video games are the new advertising frontier, and it’s time to dive in, or at the very least, dip a toe in if you’re a smaller brand with ads. The opportunities are everywhere in video games. Advertisers, it’s game on!