In my last article, I gave a basic introduction and overview for each of the key categories of the in-game media channel. But now let's explore, in more detail and from direct experience, some key ways of maximizing the impact and benefits of the rich palette of opportunities this exciting space affords.
Context is king
If it's worth saying once, it's worth saying a thousand times. Context is probably the single most important aspect of planning a successful in-game advertising campaign and should be the first and last thing you consider, be it for a dynamic network buy or, in particular, for a full-blown interactive product integration.
In-game advertising is fairly unique in media terms in that gamers actually want to see real brands and advertising where appropriate, as it adds a further sense of environmental and contextual realism within these increasingly photorealistic virtual worlds.
However, that enhanced user focus has the potential to work against you if you try to force your presence where it does not belong or if you provide clumsy creative treatment.
Pay close attention to individual title demographics, game genre verticals and environment types when planning your campaign and consider adapting your creative to better fit the different advertising formats, where possible.
Play to its strengths
One of the key misunderstandings about in-game advertising from advertisers and agencies to date has been centered on defining category segmentation, bringing up questions like, what type of advertising effect can each placement type deliver? Where are its strengths and weaknesses? Where do I take my budget from? What types of creative can I use?
Much of the confusion has stemmed from introduction of the dynamic networks and their web-based delivery system, with casual onlookers typically assuming a close parity with online banner ads.
However, in reality, in-game advertising is primarily an above-the-line medium most closely related to outdoor, with the majority of in-game dynamic ad sites mirroring standard outdoor billboard and hoardings right down to sizes and aspect ratios, be they in a city setting or dotted around a race circuit or sports stadium.
Of course what this means is that for the first time advertisers are able to deliver above-the-line messaging and creative treatments with the planning flexibility and ROI tracking of online, which makes for a uniquely powerful combination. Clickthroughs would simply destroy the game flow and users sense of immersion -- the underlying core of what makes in-game advertising so effective -- and would be missing the point somewhat!
Combine benefits for maximum effect
As is often the case, the best overall effects can usually be had by combining opportunities across a range of different advertising types.
Taking a new consumer product launch campaign as an example, an optimal approach could consist of a combination of several linked activities:
- A fully-interactive product integration within the gameplay of a major blockbuster title, where millions of your core audience around the world can sample real product benefits first-hand.
- A high-reach, highly targeted time-and-territory-specific dynamic ad campaign across multiple titles, sampled by genre vertical or target demographic to drive product / product launch awareness.
- Co-promotional activity with key game publishers such as in-store and in-pack promotions, real world/virtual world competitions, reciprocal channel exposure, sampling, et cetera.
This kind of through-the-line activity demands involvement and commitment at an early stage both in your campaign planning and in the development cycle of the games. However, the combined results can be extremely powerful.
Unlike films and music -- which are typically delivered to the consumer as a stand-alone, linear package -- games offer increasingly sophisticated ways to reward users with bonus content.
Historically this type of content would be included on the game disc at retail and activated through in-game ‘unlocks’ achieved via skilful play, or even by codes collected as part of an out-of-game promotion. However, next-generation consoles now offer digital download ‘content packs’ (DLC) which can be headline branded, promoted and even subsidised to the end user.
The common thread among these opportunities is the ability to extend the lifespan and interest of someone’s favorite game by adding exciting new features or content, allowing your brand to benefit not only from the ultimate exposure but also from the positive halo effect and community chatter around these types of deals.
An obvious application of this would be launching a new sports car into a popular driving or racing game, where users can view the car's vital statistics before experiencing its handling dynamics without even leaving their homes, or even offering a new game level for a movie launch, using themed visual styling and key characters, plot-based objectives and even sound bites. DLC provides an added advantage in that the new content can still be developed and offered to users after the game has hit shelves and consoles and gained mindshare.
Remember; above all, games are fun! This is the most engaging, most interactive entertainment medium in the world, and offers your brand unique opportunities to reach key demographics while they play.
Provided that you or your agency has an intimate understanding of the audience and the game / user dynamic, don't be afraid to have fun with your in-game campaigns, particularly when it comes to creative treatments for dynamic campaigns. Good examples of this include tailoring strap lines on creative to fit within game environments more contextually, such as Intel did recently with its Intel Core 2 Duo campaigns in Battlefield 2142.
In the same way you wouldn't run the stock same creative for all your media targets across print, outdoor and online, gaming should be no different. Gamers will not react positively to seeing internet banner ads on 48-sheet outdoor poster sites!
As consumers become ever more media savvy, going out of your way to engage with them on their terms and at their level is increasingly the Holy Grail for advertisers. In-game allows you to give that personal touch, yet on a mass-reach scale and with unrivalled ROI resolution.
And if in-game advertising is looking more attractive for your brand, look for my next article, where I will give a preview of the future of gaming and in-game advertising.
Ed Bartlett is vice president of publisher relations Europe and co-founder of IGA Worldwide. .