Marketing Week: In Game Advertising: Mind Games
News that the maker of the game Candy Crush Saga is to list on the US stock market, accompanied by a print campaign for latest title Farm Heroes Saga, has underlined what many marketers already knew – games are big business.
More than 1.2 billion people globally play video games, according to research by Newzoo, while the Internet Advertising Bureau estimates that in the UK it is around 33 million. In 2013, the global mobile games market grew by 35 per cent to $12.3bn. Games players are no longer confined to a certain age, gender or social group.
The number of brands choosing to advertise in the thousands of game titles created every year – whether console, casual, mobile or PC – has mushroomed as marketers have become more aware of their audience reach. Games have proven ability to hook their players in for hours, as demonstrated by the phenomenon of Flappy Bird, whose Vietnamese developer withdrew it because he was so uncomfortable with its popularity. But the question remains, can advertisers achieve the same level of engagement?
A spy agency might not be the first place to turn to for proof, but Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has shown it is possible. GCHQ’s work fighting terrorism, drug trafficking and other serious crime has all the hallmarks of a best-selling game and it has been using in-game advertising to promote career opportunities for seven years. As well as posting in-game recruitment ads, it has created a more integrated campaign on Microsoft’s Xbox Live, using streamed video banners to engage with players as they become more absorbed in the action.
A spokesperson for GCHQ says the organisation analyses data relating to the skills of a player to assess their suitability for a job. “If someone has to sit through a five-minute explanation of a game with a small amount of interaction before moving to the next stage, this can highlight good attention and listening skills. If they choose to skip this and get to the next level, it could highlight the opposite. So different areas of a game can emphasise particular skill-sets for the job in question. It is part of the game so the player is unaware a skill is being evaluated.”
Allianz’s advertising within the game World Golf Tour enables it to target golf fans in digital media
Games enable GCHQ to recruit the technology and security experts it struggles to find, as they are likely to respond to a recruitment drive if ads are clever enough to grab their attention while playing. “It becomes the hook to get them to think and question what we do and how they could be part of that,” says the spokesperson.
The organisation knows how passionate gamers are about the titles they spend hours enjoying, and that any branded content must not spoil or interrupt the gamer’s experience. Get the experience right when advertising in games and there are some fascinating opportunities available to more conventional brands too. However, it might require taking some risks.
Jason Kingsley, chairman of the games trade body TIGA, says some marketers need to become less protective of their brand and more sympathetic to the context in which is it being shown. “In racing games, vehicles crash, but some car manufacturers do not want to see their model get smashed up,” he says. “But for the gamer, the more awesome and aspirational the car brand, the more fun it is to crash it. This can be counter-intuitive for some marketers.”
Another example is energy drink Red Bull advertising within a game featuring comic-book law enforcement character Judge Dredd, produced by Kingsley’s company Rebellion.
“Even though sugar and stimulants are ‘illegal’ in Judge Dredd’s Mega City, we embedded Red Bull in the Dredd v Death game, talking about how it was being illegally shipped into the city. Some brands would baulk at the idea of being linked to something illegal,” says Kingsley.
An advertiser’s relationship with a gaming audience is also strengthened if the brand becomes an enabler, helping a player to earn more lives, or to acquire additional equipment or ammunition in order to reach a higher level. Alternatively, a gamer might be asked to watch a free video to gain more credits that can be used to buy in-game goods.
Players also appreciate contextual advertising that adds realism if a game is set in a location where they would expect to see it in the real world – a shopping centre, a race track or a football stadium. Most game titles based around extreme sports, for example, would envy the opportunity to incorporate Red Bull’s branding because of the authenticity it adds to the game.
One brand from a traditional industry that is embracing in-game advertising is insurer Swiftcover, part of AXA Insurance.
AXA Direct & Partnerships senior marketing executive Clare Wood says people are in a different frame of mind when they are playing gaming apps on platforms such as Facebook compared to when they are watching TV. She argues that they create a “unique situation” that is “fun and rewarding whilst also ensuring high levels of brand recall and awareness”.
Swiftcover has previously placed virtual billboard ads in games such as Pro Evolution Soccer, Guitar Hero and Tiger Woods PGA Tour, and most recently has worked with ‘virtual currency’ specialist SupersonicAds and agency Arena Media to develop a driving mini-game inside other Facebook apps where players were rewarded for playing with game currency.
“Players who need help [reaching the next level] or purchasing an in-game item welcome a brand’s assistance,” says Wood.
It can be difficult for advertisers to judge when is the most effective moment within a game to try and connect with a player.
Marketers have learned over the years not to have any advertising within the first few minutes of play, and that the more success a gamer is having when playing, the better their mood. For instance, if they have completed a level and are feeling pleased with their achievement, they might be more open to seeing advertising.
Brand owners are using these principles in attempting to create TV-style commercial breaks inside games, in close collaboration with game publishers. The theory is that by creating natural stops in the game, brand messages will be viewed as less intrusive, and that if someone has been playing a game for a long time, they will welcome a commercial break.
The proof will always be in the execution, however. It is likely to work best where the game is already designed around natural cliff-hanger moments between levels, and where gamers expect to be playing the particular title.
While it can be tricky, companies are also trying to link the real-world brand experience with in-game advertising.
For example, financial services provider Allianz has had a global partnership in place since 2009 with St Andrews Links Trust, which manages the Old Course where golf’s Open Championship is played. Allianz supports the sport at all levels and in different markets, including the 2015 Solheim Cup in Germany and the Allianz Championship in Florida. It has extended its involvement by advertising within World Golf Tour (WGT), an online golf game.
“WGT is an opportunity to combine traditional digital advertising with engagement and interaction among a very specific target group in a clever way,” says global sponsoring manager Tobias Gruenewald. “The game offers the chance to directly target golf fans in digital media and it helps us to drive digital traffic to our own platforms such as the Allianz Golf Facebook page.”
He says players do not regard advertising as an annoyance if a brand is seen as a natural part of the existing game. “Our real-world partnership with St Andrews Links means there is a natural connection to an Allianz-sponsored virtual tournament on the virtual Old Course. The players shouldn’t be interrupted, especially if you are careful about asking for personal information or making product offers, which we avoided during our first virtual tournament.”
Return on investment from in-game advertising is also highly measurable, says Gruenewald. “If your original objective was simply audience reach, you can track how many people played your tournament and how many received the newsletter. If your original objective was to drive people to your own corporate platforms, you can track that easily too.”
Channel 4 is using its own branded games to drive people to its television shows including The Million Pound Drop and The Bank Job, and to find contestants.
Multi-platform commissioning editor Jody Smith says ‘second screen’ games, where people can play along on a mobile device or computer during a programme, is a priority area this year. The growth in mobile devices has fuelled the popularity of these games with around 10 per cent of The Million Pound Drop viewers playing online, with an average dwell time of about 40 minutes.
“Games you can play while you watch television are appealing and they allow third-party advertisers to benefit from that engagement,” says Smith. “When the programme goes to an ad break, players see the ad for that brand in the game.”
He says that players will be receptive if the advertising is relevant and they feel a brand is giving something to them, rather than them having to give up their time. “One good example is a Nokia sponsorship of the drama Misfits,” says Smith. “We had an online game where players could explore an environment from that week’s episode and piece together new bits of the story.”
Weekly downloads and prizes were included in the scene each week via Nokia’s music platform and the brand received sign-ups and greater brand awareness. There was also a trail of clues in the game, which led to tickets to a party co-hosted by Nokia and Misfits.
Chair of the IAB Games Council James Salins says everyone wins if the advertising is engaging, because persuading people to pay for games is difficult. He claims that less than 5 per cent of players will over money to play.
Much of the growth in gamer numbers has come from apps and about 80% of free apps are games. The reality for publishers is that if they are to make money, they need creative advertising ideas that do not annoy their customers. “In-game advertising is growing but not as fast as it should be, considering the huge numbers of different consumers who now play, including the number of women,” says Salins.
He cites the exception of Unilever’s Dove brand, which used the medium last year to engage with its core female audience of 30- to 64-year-olds.
A Dove-branded Bubble Buster game targeted female Facebook users who play titles such as Bubble Witch Saga and Farmville. When people completed the branded game they were shown the latest ad and invited to purchase Dove products.
As brands follow their consumers away from traditional media and on to mobile devices, it is almost inevitable that at some point they will have to think about interacting with them through games, since they account for a growing portion of the time spent on those devices. There are huge potential benefits to be had from being seen in a medium that people consume for hours, but an advertiser must be creative in its approach and help, not hinder, each player’s gaming experience.