The gaming opportunity: add value, not wallpaper

By Christian Perrins, Head of Strategy at Waste

It’s no surprise that the great flaming eye of marketing has turned its gaze to gaming. 13m copies of Animal Crossing sold in 6 weeks. 126m monthly Minecraft users. 350m Fortnite players. Your mum crushing you at Candy Crush. Little Billy building a helicopter with grandad in Lego Worlds.

Tell any modern marketer there’s still a place where they can reach vast and diverse demographics in a state of heightened attention, then watch them weep with relief.

The danger of course is that brands rush in with little more than a blank cheque and a logo. Stick some interstitials in that mobile game, whack the OOH creative on that virtual billboard.

This is a mistake.

At best it’s a missed opportunity for deeper brand engagement. At worst it’s diminishing the experience for gamers, and damaging your brand in the process.

To make the most of the gaming opportunity, I think it’s helpful to frame it as a brand-experience brief rather than a media brief. Brands need to ask themselves; do we want to genuinely enhance this place or just wallpaper it?

Be an Experience Enhancer

Gaming offers escapism from real life. There’s a platitude for you. Dig a little deeper though. There’s a reason audience numbers for games have skyrocketed since lockdown. They’re a place to maintain ritual, form bonds, garner self-worth, and in the case of Animal Crossing (amongst others), protect mental health. Brands have to respect the sanctity of that connection if they want to wade into these worlds.

Here’s a massively reductive list, for people who like massively reductive lists:

  • Spend time playing the game. (Better still, employ gamers. We do, and they’re amazing. Natural problem solvers and creative thinkers who understand gaming.)
  • Spend time with the community. Lots of it. Do you have shared values or passions?
  • Understand the culture. Where might your brand fit?
  • Understand the value exchange. How can you make the experience even richer?
  • Connect with the developers. (You cannot over-estimate how much thought and obsessive detail the best game studios pour into their worlds. They will not let you fuck it up.)

When we built a virtual version of Waste inside Animal Crossing: New Horizons, we were at pains to make it feel like an exciting creative opportunity, not a stress-inducing incursion from adland. We wrote the brief in simple, fun, jargon-free language. We made sure our Art Director Tas was available to chat daily. We shared daily Dodo codes to make the journey to our island as naturalised and effortless as possible. On the Crass Ambassador to Experience Enhancer continuum (that’s a thing now, I’ve just decided) – I’d like to think we were on the right.

Don’t be a Crass Ambassador

If you’re insistent on using gaming purely as a new channel to add to your media plan, you should at least apply the same hard-learned rules of engagement we now use for online ads (see the Coalition For Better Ads). Namely:

  • Be relevant. (There’s a reason games promote other games. Is your washing powder quite as apposite?)
  • Be seamless. (You don’t want your brand to be the thing that interrupts or slows the experience.)
  • Apply the ‘right person, right time, right place’ rule. (Ideally, then add ‘right experience’ and underline it.)

Some examples

If we stick with my newly minted Crass Ambassador (CA) to Experience Enhancer (EE) continuum ©, I reckon we can finish by looking at some examples.

Wendy’s in Fortnite: I’d put this firmly on the EE side of things. It wasn’t an official partnership, but the impact was undeniable. Big numbers of Fortnite fans tuned in to watch Wendy’s go on their epic nine-hour freezer destruction rampage. No ads. Loads of purpose.

Calorie Mate in Metal Gear Solid 3: As simple as this is, it’s not crass – in fact MGS3 players seem to love the fact that this obscure Japanese energy snack is a real-life product, if the chat on Reddit and Steam is anything to go by. EE all the way.

KFC’s AI League of Legends Predictor: This is an Experience Enhancer par excellence. KFC created a real-time match predictor, helping spectators pick winners based on all kinds of complex data points. Helpful, ingenious, integrated. Brill.

Obama in Burnout Paradise: You have to root this one in 2008. As a media placement, for the time, it was a head turner. But think about how much more there is to do with political campaigning inside game worlds. IF you can find one that wants anything to do with politics.

Puma’s Gameseat:  This has all the hallmarks of an EE, a gaming seat designed with the sporting expertise of Puma. Except when you look at it, you can’t help think it’d be best suited to a different flavour of games. In a dungeon. In Soho.

In conclusion

The gaming opportunity for brands is huge, but it’s bigger than reach alone. The real gains will come from adopting a brand-experience mentality, looking to enhance player lives in meaningful ways, with logical connections between the brand and the game community.

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