Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

In-app marketing: How brands can engage gaming’s new audience

By Si Crowhurst, VP at Vungle Creative Labs

Millions of people worldwide play video games each and every day. In fact, 50% of all mobile app users play games on their devices, which makes mobile games as popular as the music apps rolled out by industry giants Spotify and Apple Music. 

Unsurprisingly, during the early months of the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK, mobile-game downloads broke records: there were 1.2 billion downloads globally, with weekly UK downloads increasing by 40% (App Annie research). Being confined at home in line with the physical distancing measures that have come to define the lockdown period is the obvious driver for these numbers, but we can’t forget that gaming is, in fact, a deeply social activity too. 

Active and engaged communities form around blockbuster and specialist games all the time, spawning countless fan clubs and hashtags so that players all around the world can connect – and they do. Meltwater data reveals that “last man standing” game Fortnite received even more social media coverage than Game of Thrones and Avengers in the first half of 2019. Viewing the act of gaming as a predominantly solitary activity continues to be a major stereotype holding back brand marketers from embarking into this space with gusto, especially in mobile. Gender stereotypes continue to linger but the numbers increasingly speak for themselves: today, the average age of a mobile gamer is 36.3 and there’s barely a gender split (51% female, 49% male). 

Faced with the “new normal” of the months ahead, there can be little doubt that more and more brands will start looking for new and alternative ways to reach consumers while working hard to weigh up and invest in the most strategic opportunities. Even with the changing landscape in the way marketers measure ad effectiveness, there’s still a lot that marketers who have traditionally focused on in-app advertising in gaming environments can teach others. 

Finding the right balance between effective marketing whilst maintaining user experience is difficult but we argue that there are a few “golden rules” to keep front of mind, whether you’re totally new to the space or are looking to amp up your in-app advertising efforts in gaming environments. 

The “golden rules

First and foremost, where your ad appears and when is the key to its success. In fact, data on the Vungle network shows that an ad’s placement determines about 70% of its success. Sometimes developers are hesitant to front-load their apps with ads but, conversely, hiding or staggering the rollout of ads might end up resulting in lost impression rates and, with that, having a negative impact on monetisation prospects. Moving ads to pre-play can help avoid the risk of creating any negative brand associations that can result from interruption of play. 

It can be a fine balance between oversaturating the player with content while they are in the thick of a race or moving to the next level and missing them altogether. One creative way to ensure ad engagement no matter when they show up is to turn ads into rewards – especially at a time when the player needs it the most. Just think about how offering a gamer an extra life, a hidden scene or a secret bonus level for watching your brand’s video ad can be, literally, a game-changer. 

The second rule is that creativity and relevance must be at the forefront of game marketing efforts and they go hand-in-hand. Just like in TV environments, ad fatigue at the user level is a very real risk. It’s essential to think strategically about how ads adapt according to what is performing best and how visually beautiful and engaging they are. It’s a simple fact that good design in advertising raises brand visibility and credibility – this rule applies to in-app worlds too. 

Mobile gaming platforms increasingly open doors for a plethora of brands, publishers, and advertisers to explore and develop new strategies to attract and deepen relationships with customers. With the rise of immersive gaming to increased sophistication of augmented reality, there’s little doubt that in-app games environments will continue to create a goldmine of activity for ambitious creatives and, by consequences, marketing opportunities for brands looking to future-proof their strategies.  Ultimately, for marketers, the results from an investment in performance marketing are highly measurable, and during a time where companies may be looking to pull back marketing spend, this marketing effort should be top of mind for any brand’s CMO.