Gaming Needs To Close The Ad Experience Gap (But First Developers Need To Honor It)

The inaugural PlayFronts testified to a widening market for in-game advertising, stoked by advertisers’ quest for new ways to connect powerfully with big, growing audiences. One truth became readily apparent: The genre’s growth depends on developers closing a critical gap between experienced advertisers that prove full-funnel effectiveness and novices that see only another channel for brand awareness.

I base my conclusion on research conducted in February that identified three classes of gaming advertisers. Experienced advertisers have consistently advertised in games for more than three years while moderates have advertised in games over the past three years and novices started in-game advertising recently.

The more advertisers have used games, the more they’ve come to use the medium for – from spiking brand awareness to driving sales. Experienced advertising pros are making all kinds of brands central players in games to deepen brand relationships, boost consideration and produce sales. 



For example, French luxury fashion brand Balenciaga put in-game outfits and a limited-run in-store apparel collection on Fortnite. Gamers clad their favorite characters in these outfits, became influencers onto themselves, raised awareness of the brand and produced in-store sales. Similarly, American Eagle put its collection on Livetopia and has nearly 8 million players using it. Hellmann’s let Animal Crossing players dispose of rotting vegetables on Hellmann’s Island. In turn, Hellmann’s donated meals to real-life food banks. The brand favorability this generated among younger consumers paid off not only in educating about food waste, but also in sales. 

Brands that win in gaming become part of the gamer’s world. Gaming isn’t an activity, it’s a lifestyle and an identity. To win, brands need to be natives, not intruders. That requires much more of an integrated marketing program than a simple media buy. 

Gaming needs more successful advertisers that embed their brands meaningfully and organically in gamers’ worlds. To get there, developers need to teach novices and moderates the holistic advantages of gaming. 

That starts with educating advertisers that in-game advertising is only the low hanging fruit of this bountiful tree. For example, you can advertise around the game, which includes such actions as rewarding gamers in exchange for viewing an ad, displaying full-screen and interactive ads between game play or levels and adding audio overlays of music or sound effects to enhance the experience.      

Brands can also advertise to gamers away from the gameplay experience. Live steaming of gaming influencers/pros on Twitch); sponsoring leagues, teams or individual pro gamers); publishing branded content on social media and discussion forums (e.g. Reddit, Discord); and hosting live events all provide chances for immerse audience experienced.  or live events). 

Presentations at the PlayFronts concentrated on buy-side innovation that makes gaming a more comfortable media buy – for instance, the Frameplay attention metrics that verify attention. To get more advertisers to appreciate the full power of games, though, publishers need to take a funnel approach to education. Focus on moving people from approaching gaming as another advertising channel to appreciating it as a complete marketing engine. 

With any new medium, the most powerful selling argument is the results that pioneers demonstrate. Experienced buyers play to win by working the entire ecosystem to create full-funnel programs that build both brand equity and sales. Games need to promote these winning opportunities more completely and explicitly. 

Developers can’t afford to let marketers play not to lose by simply buying attention within games. Gaming offers advertisers far more than another avenue for awareness. Developers need to focus sales on experienced buyers with bespoke gaming budgets and holistic programs, and point marketing at educating moderates and novices. The goal is to get all advertisers to appreciate the marketing engine beyond the pure media buy.

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