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How in-game advertising is delivering a powerful punch

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Tobias Knutsson, CEO at Adverty, outlines why a combination of both brand and performance advertising in-game is uniquely powerful.

In-game advertising has been available for some time but the formats on offer have primarily been performance-based. Today, thanks to a range of new options, the most powerful executions by brands in this exciting space will leverage a combination of both brand and performance advertising – and, ultimately, this will, of course, yield better results.

It’s when different, but complementary, formats are used together that advertisers are likely to see the greatest success. In-game, and done well, the combination will mean growing awareness, unlocking previously unreachable audiences, and boosting conversions.

And yet, despite the available opportunities, much of the advertising community is yet to wake up to the potential within this market, and the fact that the audiences to be found here are far from niche; with some 3 billion gamers to be found across the globe, all as varied as the games themselves. Of course, with many still spending more time indoors, too – thanks to the pandemic and associated lockdowns – time spent gaming, and the amount of gamers themselves, are on course to rise yet further.

Advertisers must follow the eyeballs as well as the ‘clicks’. Adverty’s In-Menu format, for instance, which fits within the menu, has been designed so as not to interfere with this overall experience – a non-intrusive performance format which goes hand-in-hand with seamless branding opportunities in-game, to amplify the brand message. What’s more, with 5G and cloud-based gaming services emerging, a raft of new, creative opportunities are set to emerge, with the ability to improve message comprehension, recall and response – at all stages of the purchase funnel.

Seamless experiences

It should go without saying that in-game advertising must be native and non-interruptive, sitting seamlessly alongside the immersive experience of these virtual worlds that individuals frequent for escapism, and fun. This is too frequently forgotten, however, with too little consideration of the end user shown. Yet seamless and non-interruptive brand communications are possible, and when combined with display banner ads on menu screens in between game play – inviting, rather than compelling, the end user to interact – the combination of both performance and branding can turbocharge impact, leading to both action and recall.

Adverty’s ‘In-Menu’ format was launched specifically to complement its ‘In-Play’ branding opportunities, comprising billboards and other virtual, outdoor options. It enables the performance-based advertising that marketers crave and have become so accustomed to. By combining unobtrusive brand exposure with a potential call-to-action, advertisers can lead audiences effectively to a direct path-to-purchase.

A new frontier

Indeed, the gaming sector represents perhaps the last unexplored frontier of media. With the industry having skyrocketed during lockdown, the major holding groups are finally waking up to its power as a performance and branding channel of choice. Take, for instance, the recent news that Publicis Groupe has launched a specialist gaming division – Publicis Play. Similarly, Dentsu UK&I rolled out a specialist gaming division, DGame. Others look set to follow.

Thanks to in-game advertising – in all its guises – it is possible to reach billions of people, at their most receptive. We’ll soon see more launches, collaborations and partnerships, but the key to success will lie in recognising the importance of meaningful in-game interactions, appropriate to the unique context and based on varied, rather than blunt, metrics. New, immersive and interactive formats will allow for unprecedented levels of brand engagement, whether via billboards, branded skins or other, unique custom content. By choosing the right format, in-game ads can in fact enhance the game, whilst also offering developers monetisation opportunities.

In fact, working with Dentsu Data Labs last year, we found that display advertising placed in natural contexts within games was the favoured format among mobile users. Of those who participated in the study, just under eight in ten of those seeing an ad were able to recall the brand they had seen, with respondents also reporting that in-game ad formats offered a significantly more positive experience than standard web banners.

And so, now that a third of the world’s population plays online games and half a billion watch eSports, this represents a land grab opportunity. With an enormous gulf in advertising spend in social versus gaming – with the latter receiving only a fraction of the investment – there is also a significant first-mover advantage. People are socialising widely in the gaming space; just as they are on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter – and today more than ever.

In-game advertising can offer detailed in-view measurement data in addition to brand uplift studies, too. It’s possible to know, for instance, exactly how many seconds or minutes an ad has been in view.

In fact, according to Wired, this is also the year to buy a gaming TV. “For the very first time, games, not movies, are driving the TV agenda. The result is the biggest shake-up in screen technology for years,” it says, adding that: “TV in 2021 is all about gaming, not home cinema.”

Brands need to move beyond stereotypes and preconceptions to unlock the true value of this untapped media frontier. With the holding companies jumping on board, we can expect huge leaps in maturity for the channel, making gaming a core pillar in the media mix. The brands that reap the most rewards will be those that combine performance advertising and branding, generating significant impact. When it comes to in-game advertising, this looks set to be a year like no other.