Why the IAB’s updated measurement guidelines could be a watershed moment for in-game advertising
The Interactive Advertising Bureau has released updated measurement guidelines for intrinsic in-game advertising — and in-game ad firms are rejoicing at the news. Although in-game ad tech has improved at a rapid pace in recent years, measurement practices in this channel haven’t been updated since the late aughts. Now that the updated standards are on the horizon, in-game ad companies are feeling confident in their products, anticipating that the increased transparency and accountability will spark an influx of brands and marketers into the space.
The new guidelines are the result of a four-month task force composed of 36 industry stakeholders including Google, dentsu, Zynga and a variety of prominent in-game advertising companies. The guidelines are a heavy revision of the IAB’s previous in-game ad measurement standards, which were authored in 2009. The IAB was inspired to update the now-obsolete guidelines in September 2021, when the Media Rating Council published a memo discussing shortcomings in the previous standards, and the group recruited the MRC, IAB UK and the IAB Tech Lab to help lead the effort.
Beginning in February, the task force gathered weekly, with each meeting dedicated to hashing out a different topic or specific metric. Given an opportunity to discuss their craft, in-game advertising stakeholders participated in the discussion with zealous interest — so much so that the group had to institute muting and hand-raising during their video calls to keep participants from talking over one another. The chaos was more a reflection of the participants’ passion for the topic than any significant disagreement.
“Overall, I feel good,” said Cary Tilds, chief strategy and operations officer at Frameplay, one of the in-game ad firms that participated in the task force. “It’s been since 2009; the industry does value standards a lot. The tide raises all boats, so to speak, and it highlights companies like ours, that understand and value this.”
To determine the specific numbers for its updated standards, the IAB used data provided by game developers and in-game advertising firms to calculate preliminary estimates before running them by the task force for review.
“Those comments were all collected, and then wherever we saw discrepancies, that was discussed within the working group to get the final answer,” said Shailley Singh, vp of product at the IAB Tech Lab. “So everybody got to say what they wanted to say, and provide data and substantiation behind what they were saying.”
The most significant changes in the updated standards hinged on two factors: defining viewability for in-game advertising and addressing the unique challenges that come with advertising inside a three-dimensional virtual environment — viewing virtual ads at an angle, covering them with other in-game objects, navigating lighting and contrast, and so on.
“The most significant update was changing the cumulative 10-second in-view requirement for ad delivery,” said IAB Experience Center vp Zoë Soon. “The 2009 in-game standards were established before viewability was a thing. The 10-second cumulative in-view requirement to qualify ad delivery was sort of excessive, so we’ve changed that to be in line with other media channels.”
The updated measurement standards will likely be a watershed moment for the in-game advertising industry. As brands and media buyers gain confidence with advertising inside games, their increased spending will spark an influx of other ad tech operators into the space. And the fact that Sony and Microsoft are forming their own in-game advertising departments will only accelerate the process.
“Standardization offers huge benefits to the gaming and esports industries because it provides a stronger understanding of the value we get from these types of investments,” said Paul Mascali, head of esports and gaming at PepsiCo. “Historically, showing our ROI has been difficult for in-game activations because we knew that is where our core consumers were showing up but we didn’t have the metrics to prove it. From a PepsiCo perspective, we are trying to be smarter about measuring success and we’re starting to see gaming advertising follow traditional channels, which gives us more confidence.”
Additionally, as more brands and marketers become aware that the metaverse is emerging out of gaming environments, the standards that the IAB has developed to measure in-game advertising could easily be adapted to apply more broadly to virtual ads inside metaverse platforms such as Roblox and Decentraland.
“It’s a big domino effect,” said Chris Keogh, global client services director at Anzu, another in-game ad firm that participated in the IAB’s task force. “You go from a position of asking for them to come down from their tower to help you, to actually, right now, we’re a hot commodity, and everyone in this space wants to start helping you.”
The new guidelines will be available on the IAB’s website for public comment until July 15. After that, the IAB will be holding a series of closed-session roundtables with gaming publishers to walk them through the updated standards and ascertain what else it can do to support this growing advertising sector. Having created a definition of viewability for intrinsic in-game ads, the IAB is looking to tackle attention measurement in virtual spaces — and stakeholders across the in-game space are confident that this will only further increase brands’ confidence advertising inside games.
“This has implications for where we’re going with the internet, and how our interaction with screens is changing,” Soon said. “This is really to instill confidence, trust and transparency with the publisher community — because without inventory, you’ve only got half the battle.”
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