Birds Eye View

Game on: Brands’ latest playground for success

By Max Penny-Barrow, Senior Programmatic Executive

For decades, brands have been trying to connect with gamers, dating back to the now cult classic mascot game PepsiMan. But gaming has come a long way since those early days, and the perception of gamers has evolved along with it. Long gone are gamers being viewed as your atypical basement-dwelling, energy drink-chugging male teenagers and 20-somethings. Today, more people than ever before identify as gamers (about 1 in 3, according to Meta), and gaming audience numbers have remained strong, even after the pandemic boom.

For brands, this means gaming is a valuable channel to explore for any advertising campaign, as reactions to this media can be as, if not more, visceral, providing a prime opportunity for advertisers to tap into. With so many gamers out there and so many ways to engage with them, gaming has the potential to be a powerful tool for reaching new audiences and building brand affinity.

Games are more than just entertainment – they’re a form of media that rivals books, films and TV shows in depth and complexity. Just look at the infectious success of The Last of Us, which started as a video game and has become a hit TV drama, or Elden Ring, which earned “Game of the Year” honours and whose bustling world was created by Game of Thrones writer George RR Martin. If we’re happy to advertise next to TV shows and movies, why shouldn’t we advertise next to games?

Gamers also have a high propensity for value exchange, which is best demonstrated by Humble Bundle, a store that bundles together books, games, and software at a price set by the user. A portion of the price goes to charity; the rest is split between the game developers. Up to September 2021, they’ve raised over $200m worldwide, and a bundle raising money for Ukraine garnered £3m in donations on its first day. Budding creators are also buying into the idea, with many charities and platforms now offering streaming to generate money for charity. Streamers get the opportunity to grow their channel, and charities get donations as a result.

Also, gamers have a positive attitude towards the potential for more in-game ads. According to the comScore State of Gaming report, whilst 35% of PC gamers feel that ads negatively affect their gaming experience, only 1 in 4 mobile gamers agreed. This is due to the increased exposure that mobile gamers have had to adverts and the reward mechanic that often accompanies them. According to the same report, 74% of gamers “wouldn’t mind” watching ads if it meant they were rewarded, demonstrating the scope for wider expansion in PC / console spaces.

Gaming has the potential to complement a CTV buy nicely, with specific device targeting for consoles available that would allow for repeated targeting across in-game and Smart TV environments. It’s also been revealed by Samsung’s 2022 Gaming Trend Report that the gaming audience has 53% increased screen time on Smart TVs and spends 32% less time watching linear TV than non-gamers, indicating that gamers see the Smart TV as the “hub of the home”. TKF’s spending against this device is well on track to increase YoY, only 34% behind last year’s total spend, as we crossed through mid-year as we continue to expand and grow on the success of CTV as an emerging channel in 2022.

Rewarded ads offer a broader range of brands a chance to insert themselves into the conversation. Still, brands have a huge opportunity to encourage conversation in contextually relevant places as indie games become increasingly popular. Indie games are generally a bit more niche and have a specific aesthetic or feel – which could make them particularly appealing for brands. A good example of this was in 2015 when the UK charity War Child offered downloadable content that allowed the player to have child characters in the game This War of Mine. The game is a gritty exploration of the impact of war from the point of view of a civilian, rather than the traditional shoot-em-up perspective of the soldier, asking the player to make tough decisions about balancing resources and surviving that can have a big impact on the mental health of the in-game characters. Collaborations like this can have more of an impact on the audience, as they are actively playing a part in the conversation around their brand – but the brand insertion must feel authentic by slotting into the game’s mechanics seamlessly.

The comScore report also references the desire for gamers to see real brands in games, with 55% of gamers believing that product placement makes their experience more real. And measurement within this space is continuing to be worked out. Just last year, the IAB released updated measurement guidelines for intrinsic in-game advertising, requiring ten cumulative seconds in view to be classed as viewable. As gaming is the key gateway into the metaverse, developing these kinds of improvements in measurement is key to unlocking more budget from brands.

There is a lot to be excited about in the gaming space – from streaming, partnerships, and in-game advertising. It offers fertile ground for marketers in 2023 and beyond. This is a key growth area for TKF, adding it to our programmatic DSP tech lineup with StackAdapt. We can serve both blended in-game video and display assets, with targeting available for device, genre and even cross-campaign, enabling us to drive users down the funnel post-exposure to in-game advertising.