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The Blossoming World of In-Game Advertising

Anyone who keeps their ear to the ground in regard to advertising opportunities will have been alerted to the unceasing rise of the video games industry. Brands are keeping a keen eye on the mouth-watering figures which they have been drip-fed over the past few years, seeking to decipher the most astute approach to engage the mammoth army of gamers out there. In-game advertising has been the solution.

Why are brands so attracted to gaming?

Gamers are a far more diverse group than many give them credit for, encompassing an almost even split of men and women. Diversity of age is also a factor that video gaming boasts, yet an asset that many overlook (70% of players are over 18). It is no wonder than in-game advertising is such a tasty proposition for brands across the globe.

Video games continue to unsettle many dominant industries. The looming threat that video gaming poses was acknowledged by Netflix’s chief executive officer, Reed Hastings, who recently admitted that when clamouring for the eyeballs of its customer base, video gaming is its primary competitor.

how are brands getting involved?

In terms of brand involvement, there are various ways in which advertisers can sink their teeth into the gaming arena. The rule of thumb is that promotion must not appear out of place within the world it appears in. Authenticity is key.

Seamless advertising is most attainable for open world and sports games, as pitch side banners and billboards can be replicated in-game. This is commonly known as ‘brand integration’ and fresh approaches include Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of FIFA’s virtual footballer Alex Hunter or the Ford-branded custom cars in the vehicular soccer game Rocket League.

Matt Schmidt, CEO of Alpha Esports, likened brand integration to product placement in film, noting that “brand involvement should feel like an investment in supporting gaming… and should never look like a cash-driven land grab.”

enhanced analytics

Data on these ads is abundant, as viewability is completely trackable – brands can track how long their ad was viewed from and from which angle. This starkly contrasts TV ads, in which audience tea breaks during the ads are impossible to track.

Campaigns hyper-targeted to specific demographics are also possible, sculpted by data leveraged from players. Data such as geolocation, age, gender and interests are all used to formulate personalised campaigns.

Brands are provided data on how long their ad was viewed for and at what angle. A deep understanding of the video games audience is vital, as if ad placement does not correlate with the world of the game, the spell of immersion is broken, and backlash is inevitable (exemplified by disgruntled response to the presence of Monster Energy drinks in the supposedly apocalyptic world of ‘Death Stranding’)

a recipe for a winning campaign

Wendy’s were able to initiate a successful instance of brand penetration within Fortnite, noticing that the burgers in Fortnite’s ‘Food Fight’ mode were frozen, so proceeded to stream themselves destroying Fortnite burger freezers on Twitch playing as a character resembling their mascot ‘Wendy.’ This provided entertainment for streamers, while also reinforcing their core brand messaging of ‘fresh, never frozen beef.’

Wendy’s intuition proved what is possible if you possess a sense of humour and appreciate the wants of a gaming audience. The stunt amassed over 1.5m minutes watched, the Twitch stream was viewed more than a quarter of a million times, and they instigated much engagement on Reddit and Twitter – all for the sweet price of absolutely nothing.

a more potent form of promotion?

It seems that in-game advertising is more effective at lodging a brand in the mind of a gamer. When the synergy between the brand and game is perfected, players are forced to directly interact with the brand, as opposed to passively consuming as you may when browsing the internet or watching TV. A positive playing experience can also ensure that the player is left with a subconscious, glowing association with the brand.

There have been a wealth of examples of brands using video games as a cost-effective means of infiltrating real world consumer behaviour. Stevenage FC launched the ‘Stevenage Challenge’ in 2019, which offered FIFA players food prizes (from the football club’s sponsor Burger King) if they uploaded their finest goals while playing as Stevenage on FIFA. During the two weeks in which the challenge was live, Stevenage was the most played-with team on career mode and over 25,000 goals in the clubs kit were shared online, offering vast exposure for both the club and fast food chain.

KFC achieved similar success in Animal Crossing, where players could visit ‘KFC Island’ and were rewarded with free food if they were able to find the elusive virtual Colonel Saunders. Also, Louis Vuitton released clothing (skins in gaming terminology) for in-game avatars in League of Legends, which spawned a 47-piece real-world clothing line that sold out within an hour of its launch.

KFC Island (Credit: Animal Crossing)

final thoughts

In-game advertising offers a thrilling multitude of possibilities when showcasing a brand to consumers. The requirement of brand integration to ensure authenticity encourages advertisers to think outside the box when conjuring up many of the innovative campaigns mentioned here, meaning that in-game advertising is blossoming into one of the most fascinating advertising mediums. Anticipate the envelope to be pushed further with each campaign.

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