By Golly, In-Game Ads Work! (Maybe)
Finally! After in-game ads have been around in some form for around 30 years, there's finally a study that links them to an increase in product purchase. Nielsen recently worked with EA and Gatorade to look into how much exposure to in-game ads would increase product sales. The result? 24% increase in purchases and an ROI of $3.11.
While there has been a lot of in-game research over the past few years, most of it looked at increase of awareness. The closest studies got to measuring movement of product was self-reported purchase intent; the last mile of actual behavior was never really measured. Up until this study, the best research I saw was a study partnered with comScore's media panel to look at changes in online behaviors (such as search) after exposure to in-game ads. Based on the increases I saw in that data (and all the self-reported purchase intent studies), the 24% figure seems in line.
However, there is one warning flag that went off looking at the study setup.The Nielsen research broke households into two groups, the test group and the control. The test group was comprised of households that had bought one of six EA Sports titles, and measured the household spend on Gatorade before and after Gatorade served in-game ads into the games. The control group households did not report owning any of the EA Sports titles. And therein lies the issue. >
The test group can be assumed to be sport enthusiast households. While not always the case, it's often true that sports games are played by individuals who either play the sport recreationally and/or watch the professional sport. Unless the selection of the control group normalized for this by filtering out households that did not watch/play sports, there are two possible considerations that "poison the well" for the data. It's possible that Gatorade's in-game ads correlated with the start of a school sport season (particularly basketball/hockey, which were the titles tested). Kids playing sports would correlate to an increase in Gatorade purchases. It could also be chalked up to a professional sport seasonality, where Gatorade was spending ad dollars on the broadcast games. Here too, non-sport households would be unaffected, but the test groups might be buying more Gatorade because of TV ads and sponsorships having nothing to do with the game ads.
Still, it's possible that Nielsen accounted for this in its sampling. And even if it didn't, the results were in line with hundreds of previous self-reported studies. So the latest study remains some of the most convincing data I've seen on the value and performance of in-game ads.