In the current environment of evolving technologies and media fragmentation, consumers are in control of their viewing and entertainment choices more than ever before. Amid increasing commercial clutter, that control is challenging advertisers' ability to connect effectively with consumers through advertising and other forms of communication. As advertisers recognize a growing need for a closer interaction between the brand and the consumer, the search for any potential touch-points that can effectively deliver brands' messages never ceases.
Enter video games.
With revenue expected to break the $10 billion mark this year and garner over $300 million in advertising investment, the gaming industry represents a strong marketing opportunity.
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Video gaming offers the opportunity to connect with traditionally difficult-to-reach consumers-- young affluent males. It attains the fourth-highest reach (after TV, internet and radio) against teens and heavy gamers. Not only can in-game advertising efficiently reach key consumers, it can also reach them while they are actively engaged with the medium.
How can marketers get smarter by playing in this environment?
In order to maximize the value of in-game communication, several studies have examined the role of brands within video games and players' attitudes towards gaming and in-game communication. The goal has been to learn how best to use games to create meaningful relationships between brands and consumers. The results are a set of insights and guidelines that will help deliver more effective in-game communication.
Ready to play?
A brand's presence should enhance the gaming engagement
Gaming's greatest benefit for brand communication is intense consumer involvement that can transfer over to a brand if the placement is executed in a relevant way. In fact, gamers are giving advertisers clear permission for brands to appear within a game-- so long as the brands serve as conduits for gamers' further immersion into the game, strengthen the game's sense of escapism, and ultimately enhance the game's alternate reality experience.
Brand and commercial content must be relevant to the game
As with all forms of communication, relevance of a brand to the game and its key target audience is essential. Hence, each in-game opportunity must be evaluated on its own merits. It's not about "are video games right for my brand?" but rather "which one of the games would be the ideal choice for my brand?" In other words, to prevent avoidance, the communication/commercial content must fit into the type and mood of the game and connect with its players. The key is to understand both the consumer and the game itself.
To maximize the value of in-game communication, marketers and planners must consider a game's purpose and plot, its genre and format, the profile of gamers, the specific brand placement within the game, how, when and where the game is played, as well as the particular culture around the game.
The closer the connection between the brand, the game and the player (i.e., a car in a racing game), the better the chances the game's involvement will transfer onto the brand.
Brands should feel like a natural part of the game
When discussing the value of in-game advertising, we talk about capitalizing on the high emotional investment the average gamer brings into the game. The last thing the gamer will tolerate is a disruption of the game's flow or delaying of the game's rewards caused by the appearance of a brand or its ad totally out of context. To leverage the gamer's genuine active engagement, a brand's creative should reflect the gaming environment and be tailored to an exact position within a game, so that the in-game communication does not feel like an ad, but acts as a natural extension of the game.
Game developers and ad-serving networks should work closely with brand owners and their agencies to optimize a brand's involvement within a game.
Customization can strengthen gamers' engagement with a brand
Games provide an excellent opportunity for key consumers to experience some brands virtually, often under conditions not possible in the real world. Allowing players to personalize their own in-game experiences -- such as selecting a racing car or a team's logo uniform -- involves them further with the game, moving them deeper into the game's alternate reality. In many instances, this active involvement with in-game products and brands influences players' real-world brand perception and buying behaviors.
In-game communication must be measurable
The opportunity to reach the target audience in a highly involved environment carries a hefty anticipation of getting bang for your buck. Hence, several factors -- defining measurable performance metrics of in-game communication that will capture the degree of active involvement with a brand, improvement in the brand's recognition, perception, anticipated purchase behavior, et cetera -- are essential to the development of ROI metrics and, ultimately, the success of in-game communication.
As more of the above guidelines get incorporated into in-game communication efforts, the more likely it is that marketers will succeed at effectively connecting with a brand's target consumers.
On the other hand, avoiding the "bombs" below will improve the chances for more effective in-game placements. You can score extra points by never...
- Assuming video games will work with any brand
- Interrupting, delaying or inappropriately altering game-play with in-game communication
- Imposing on gamers' attention with communication that doesn't add to the game
- Assuming real-world creative will work within a video game environment
- Considering "advergames" as an inexpensive way of reaching a gaming audience.
Arming yourself with these guidelines of dos and don'ts when contemplating and executing in-game communication may just help you snatch the big winning score!
Fran Kennish is senior partner, director of strategic planning at MEC MediaLab, part of Mediaedge:cia. As leader of the planning research group, she oversees research needs, capabilities and dissemination of media knowledge across all North American offices.