Dentsu has hired Brent Koning, a former vp of esports at Electronic Arts, as its global gaming lead and executive vice president.
The Japan-based agency holding group launched its gaming arm, aptly named Dentsu Gaming, in September 2021. By hiring Koning, a veteran game-industry executive with ample agency experience, the company has taken its next significant step into this expanding area of media.
Despite the rapid rise of gaming in recent years — or perhaps because of it — many brands and marketers are still confused about how to best reach the gaming community. At the moment, channels such as streaming, influencer marketing and in-game activations are all siloed under the gaming umbrella. Simply put, these are uncertain waters. Even so, Koning is equipped with the endemic industry knowledge needed to navigate them.
“Starting January, we will operate as one Dentsu, and gaming is a key organization-wide initiative that brings innovations from Japan and the scale, talent and reach of our international markets together,” Dentsu Chief Integrated Solutions Officer Masaya Nakamura told Digiday.
Koning’s first day at his new gig was Wednesday. To learn more about his new position at Dentsu and his vision for gaming advertising, Digiday caught up with the newly minted Dentsu exec before he jetted to Japan for onboarding.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
On the role agencies can play within the gaming advertising ecosystem
“There’s this void in advertising and media that really lacks gaming strategy. I’m not saying people are doing it bad, or doing good — it’s just that there’s a void. What I’m most excited about is setting right the horrible branding problem that is in esports, in gaming, in web3, crypto and the metaverse. Everyone’s using all of these words interchangeably. Our plan is to start from the ground up and rebuild the basis for what is gaming. My day-to-day is going to be first and foremost just education, and bringing our clients up to speed on what is happening.”
Koning’s focus on education shows how the composition of the gaming departments at holding groups such as Dentsu has changed over the past year. In 2021, smaller endemic agencies had an advantage over the larger holding groups due to their genuine, gamer-informed grasp of the space. By hiring endemic executives such as Koning to lead its gaming arm, Dentsu is looking to assert its gaming bonafides and become more of a teacher than a student.
On how in-game advertising companies can scale up to reach gamers beyond the usual billboards inside sports games
“I mean, the industry can be lazy, right? It’s really easy to write a check to get something slipstreamed in an ad-served model. However, a partnership, which takes a little bit more people power, can have equally as big of an impact, if not more — it just takes longer. We see it in sneakers all the time: there are collaborations between two groups that you’d never expect, like a Swarovski/Adidas shoe. You see it, and you’re like, ‘oh, I get it.’ I believe those types of experiences will be a big part of the future as well.”
Although programmatic ads inside games can certainly help increase brand recognition among players, Koning’s comments reflect marketers’ mounting interest in in-game activations that more thoroughly integrate their brands into gaming fandom.
Swarovski is a perfect example. By helping design this year’s Fortnite Champion Series trophy, the company created a moment that was more memorable to Fortnite players than a more easily ignored in-game billboard. At the moment, it’s still much easier to track performance metrics for programmatic in-game ads than for this kind of bespoke brand integration. But as the industry’s measurement practices improve, custom brand partnerships will likely continue to grow in popularity.
On how agencies can help divert more of brands’ marketing budgets into gaming
“I want to be advertised to in the right way, with things that I like, which requires data-driven decisions, that are opt-in, around the things that are the most important for that consumer. So, if you advertise to me Dove Body Wash, that’s a miss, but Axe Body Spray is a win. As we start to use data more and more, and we start to use machine learning more and more — the less friction you can have with your consumer, the easier budgets become unlocked.”
Gaming creators are notoriously picky about the brands they work with, and matching a brand with the right gaming audience or influencer is key to the success of a gaming advertising campaign.
As brands demand more targeted information about the gamers they are reaching, game developers’ ownership of these virtual playgrounds is becoming an increasingly beneficial asset. Epic Games, for example, has access to a wealth of user information via Fortnite and other games built in Unreal Engine. In the metaverse, almost everything users do can be translated into useful information for brands. Game environments are essentially a dry run for this evolution of the internet.
On the role of gaming within brands’ broader marketing strategies
For now, the industry still finds itself in a strange middle ground. The value of gaming as a marketing channel has become readily apparent, but many marketers still view gaming as an entirely separate audience and form of media, rather than a direct competitor to more traditional channels. If Koning does his job right, then it’s possible that his specific title — global gaming lead — might become obsolete at companies such as Dentsu down the line.
“It’s very similar to the way social media was 10 to 15 years ago, where you’d have a marketing plan, and then you’d have a social media plan. Nowadays, if you have two plans, you’d be fired; the social media plan is completely integrated into your marketing plan. I believe strongly that gaming is the next thing in that process, where your gaming strategy needs to be integrated into your marketing decks. When it is, I think companies and brands will succeed because their consumers will see that authenticity come through.”
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