Brands and marketers often overlook a key opportunity when targeting teens. The vast majority are focusing all their energy and dollars on social media campaigns, adding to the clutter and cacophony on those platforms. While it’s true that teens spend a significant portion of time with the likes of Snapchat and Instagram, it’s challenging for a brand to get noticed, much less to intrigue teens enough to engage with them, when so many others are screaming for attention in the same overcrowded space. Advertisers often try to turn up the volume rather than consider other media where teens make up a large portion of the audience, such as gaming.
Half of teens aged 14-19 say that gaming is a vital part of their lives, according to our latest report on entertainment and media, which is posted on our website. In fact, when looking at the average entertainment diet of teens, gaming accounts for one of every seven minutes they spend with media. That’s twice as much time as they spend watching live or time-shifted TV. For youth marketers who want to supplement their social media buys with another form of entertainment, gaming should rank high on the list, as it does in teens’ estimation.
What’s more, teens invest in their gaming habits: despite their modest spending money and disinclination to pay for media, 51% of teens splurge on video games. Older generations and even teens’ parents don’t see video games in the same light as teens, who view them as a more productive form of entertainment. Gaming is mentally challenging and requires active thought, which is why most teens see it as a better use of their time than watching TV.
Video games play such a key role for teens partly because of their life stage. They’re finding their way in a complicated world, and gaming allows them to try out roles and test personal boundaries in a safe space, without judgment or serious repercussion. Along with considering the moral questions and challenges presented in a game, teens can go so far as to try on another gender or physical form simply by changing their avatar and seeing the effect it produces in the game as well as in their in-game behavior. With this in mind, it follows that teens are more likely than their older peers to say that simulation and sandbox/open world games are among their favorites to play.
Of course, while they appreciate such benefits of gaming, they also just like to be entertained and forget about the complexities of the real world for a while. Nearly three-quarters of 14- to 19-year-olds (72%) feel that video games offer an escape from everyday life. On the whole, teens have a largely positive association with video games, which is a significant advantage for the medium as an advertising platform compared to social media, which often leads to stress or jealousy as they compare themselves and their lives to that of their friends.
Marketers are just beginning to discover—or in some cases rediscover—the power of gaming as a platform to reach youth as they are forming brand loyalties. The opportunities lie not only in ads or partnerships around massive worldwide successes like Pokémon Go, which teens appreciate because they connect them to their peers, but also in more niche games that let teens explore and develop their personal interests. It’s critical to know the audience and understand their affiliation to specific games to create a campaign that resonates and feels genuine. That’s also true of another emerging opportunity that aligns with teens’ love of gaming: eSports. Gaming leagues are not only spreading online, they’re also popping up on mainstream television networks including TBS. With revenue projected to top $1 billion by 2019 and an audience that includes hard to reach Gen Zs and younger Millennials, the category has advertisers salivating even if they’re confused by its appeal.
Brands that want to enter the space should take a lesson from growing gaming brands and how they’re finding success with teen gamers. In launching its new flagship store, Razer, known as the “Apple of gaming,” showed it understands the functional and aspirational needs of young players, who not only want a place to visit and test out equipment but also often long for a welcoming space to “geek out” with others who share their passion. The brand has made it clear that players are welcome to stay and play for hours on end, and local teens have come to consider the branded space as a high-tech clubhouse that reflects their unique lifestyle. When done right, marketing to teens via gaming platforms is a win-win.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Dec. 15, 2016, in Engage:Teens.