Brands are refining their advertising strategies to engage millions of gamers

Noam Korin, vice president, brand partnerships, Overwolf

The gaming industry continues to surge to unparalleled heights, surpassing the music and movie sectors in influence and revenue. Advertisers now invest a significant percentage of their marketing budgets toward gamers.

As advertisers gain a better sense of who gamers are and their preferences, they uncover a more sophisticated understanding of the gaming landscape. With this, brands and media buyers are beginning to use more game-specific ad tools to target a variety of games in their marketing mix and learn what works best for them. 

Between navigating ad blockers, the custom maps offered within Fortnite and in-play moment-triggered ads, advertisers are finding more cost-effective, scalable methods to reach gamers during playtime and while they’re consuming gaming-related content. 

Gamers’ diversity enables brands to zero in on category-specific audience segments

Gamers are spread across various platforms, from PCs and consoles to mobile. They engage with a wide range of game genres (from AAA titles such as League of Legends and Fortnite to hyper-casual mobile games like Candy Crush), all with different attitudes, demographics (age, gender, geography) and spending habits.

In this way, advertisers now recognize that different gamers in different game categories will be more relevant to specific product marketing. For example, a first-person shooter Fortnite gamer may be more inclined to purchase a snack product. A social simulation gamer in Sims 4 may be more inclined to purchase fashion and beauty products as the gameplay heavily focuses on accessorizing characters, and 60% of the player base is made up of 18–24-year-old females.

The rise of ad-blockers has increased the prevalence of in-game advertising

Within the prized 18–34-year-old demographic, over 75% aren’t reachable on Twitch, and 89% aren’t reachable on IGN due to browser ad blockers, according to Comscore 2023 — one reason why in-game advertising has become more of a mainstay in media buyers’ budgets. 

However, while in-game advertising’s reach within mobile games is expansive, many advertisers are approaching it with caution due to audience quality. One comparison, for example, is the difference between buying display ads on an unknown news website that farms traffic through poor quality, click-bait articles versus buying display ads on Vogue Magazine. Much like online publications, not all games are created equal, and not all audiences are either.

The worry of placing ads directly into little-known hyper-casual mobile games with no established reputation and low-quality demographic data is pushing many advertisers toward AAA-trusted game titles instead, where the quality of the audience is much richer.

How Fortnite’s customizable maps are driving awareness and campaign diversification

As brands turn to premium titles, Fortnite’s customizable maps have become the latest battleground for brands — allowing advertisers to work with external partners to build their own mini-games inside the Fortnite framework of over 200 million monthly players.

These maps offer an expansive canvas for brands to create unique experiences that engage gamers during playtime, demonstrated by the plethora of best-in-class builds by Nike, Samsung and BMW. However, many advertisers often don’t realize that these maps can disappear quickly and that there’s minimal discoverability of custom maps inside the game. 

Because of this, attracting players to a brand’s map usually requires a strong awareness campaign targeting Fortnite players outside of game time. By the time teams invest a significant sum in the build and promotion of it, gamers’ attention spans can wane and move on to playing something else entirely.

Advertisers that recognize these challenges are facing them head-on by coupling Fortnite branded maps with a heavily invested media plan across other channels dedicated to promoting their activation to Fortnite players at scale. Others are skirting the idea of investing in Fortnite custom maps altogether in search of a broader marketing mix of games that doesn’t place all their eggs (and media budget) into one basket.

Brands are finding ways to enhance gameplay with in-play advertising

Beyond the challenges posed by Fortnite custom maps, brands and agencies are finding safer and more affordable ways to meet gamers during playtime by tapping into existing AAA games and their guaranteed audiences with less heavy lifting and upfront costs.

Advertisers are working with gaming ad-tech platforms to plug themselves directly into the most trusted game titles where they can serve interactive contextual-based ads during rich playtime at a fraction of the cost.

Here, brands can trigger event-based ads during gameplay across the biggest games in the world — Fortnite, League of Legends and Minecraft, for example — with close to 100% viewability due to the nature of the interaction. So whether a player has won, lost, scored a triple kill or reached a level up, advertisers are there to meet gamers at the moment of their highest emotion with custom visuals, messaging and rewards.

These ads are not meant to disrupt the gaming experience but to enhance it. This also solves the issue of advertisers placing all their eggs in one demographic basket when investing in one game — instead, they can scale across multiple games simultaneously. 

While brands are already doing this with ad-tech platforms, others are going directly to the game publishers to create bespoke integrations. However, these usually come with much longer lead times and premium prices.

A strong example is Kitkat’s ongoing esports partnership with Riot Games’ League of Legends European Championship competition. Much like traditional sport, there are regular pauses in competitive gaming (just swap physical injuries for hardware issues), which allows Kitkat’s ‘Have A Break, Have A Kitkat’ messaging to become the perfect partner for a unique and ownable pause that can last minutes at a time in front of hundreds of thousands of live viewers during season competitions.

Although this example focuses on esports fans while they’re watching games rather than playing themselves, it’s another example of contextual and relevant in-play advertising from which the industry is learning.

The path to reaching gamers lies in a blended advertising strategy

To successfully advertise to expansive gaming audiences, brands must continue experimenting with media buying tailored to varied but relevant gamer segments while striking a balance between second-hand gaming entertainment — such as video content and esports tournaments — and direct in-game engagement. 

Complementary solutions, such as gaming entertainment via interactive live streaming platforms and playtime via ad-tech platforms, can help advertisers integrate seamlessly into the gaming experience in a 360-degree manner. 

The gaming world offers advertisers a unique opportunity to connect with a diverse and passionate audience. Brands and agencies that master the strategies for effectively reaching gamers while they play with relevant messaging will find success in the years to come. 

Sponsored by Overwolf

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