This week there was a really interesting perspective piece on Kotaku about the difficulties girl gamers face in the pursuit of their hobby. It's worth a read (if only for some of the stats), and was in line with a post I've been thinking about writing for a while now.
We've gotten quite used to talking about the staggering numbers of women playing games when talking about casual or social games. But typically, these gamers do not self-identify as "gamers." It is the core gaming audience that largely self-identifies with the hobby.
When it comes to core games, people in general, and advertisers in particular, have a skewed understanding of the demographics. Yes, the majority of core game players are male. But the minority is not as small as it once was, and even among those male gamers, there is a wide spectrum of demographic types, especially across genres. A few years ago, the online web comic Penny Arcade had fun with an ad trying to depict a "typical gamer."
Just like any stereotyping, the reality is often misrepresented. But as is usually the case when a large number of people are missing the mark, there's a great opportunity for those with better aim.
Unilever's "real beauty" campaign for Dove was one of the best branding campaigns in the past decade. It went against the grain of all beauty product marketing and resonated with a large number of women tired of constant bombardment by an artificial standard. Great branding is often tightly associated with deep emotional resonance. Reading over the Kotaku article, it's clear emotions certainly run deep. While female gamers may be a far less vocal group than male gamers, their voice is a significant under-representation of their numbers.
The opportunity presents itself in two ways: less male-encoded marketing for core games, and targeting of female core gamers by brands. The former is simple. Put more focus on characteristics of the demographic profile that are not male-specific, and include girl gamers in focus groups. As for the latter, a good place to start would be building creative around pride in gaming. This messaging would resonate in general with gamers (as even male gamers sometimes feel a need to keep their hobby under wraps), but is especially resonant with girl gamers. Despite all the discrimination (and it is absolutely out there), they've stuck with the hobby.
In terms of media, I'd expect an ad campaign targeting girl gamers to stand out from the clutter of ads currently running in gamer-specific media, despite the decreased effective reach by targeting a minority, I'd even predict the ads to outperform other ads in the same medium. And yes, the media plan should try to maximize that reach. As an example, according to Quantcast, Kotaku's visitors are 80 percent male. But consider a site like GameTrailers, which clocks in at 30 percent female, or a site like IGN, where it is estimated at 46 percent (though actual numbers are probably a bit lower). On a site where the girl gamer audience is one third or higher, it'd be really interesting to see the performance of a female-encoded ad versus a male-encoded ad, given the current ad ecosystem on these sites.
Important note: A female-encoded ad targeted to gamers does not mean the sudden appearance of pink unicorns. It might mean having a female model photographed as an active participant and subject rather than as eye-candy or an object. But in most cases, it'd be a subtle shift of copy and tone. As an example, highlighting a medic or sniper character instead of a machine-gun toting Rambo type character (i.e. focusing on skill and strategy instead of firepower and combat).