Mythbusters: LinkedIn Edition

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, March 15, 2024

One of the greatest myths ever told is that people like advertising.

Sure, they like Super Bowl commercials, but ads in general? I don’t think so.

Nowadays, everywhere you look, people are trying to get away from ads through subscription services, even paying higher premiums to avoid them.

The follow-up myth is that an ever-growing subsection of digital natives -- gamers -- like advertising even more. There is a narrative that they are very engaged with advertiser content that is authentic, immersive, and meaningful.

And what’s more, you can do this in-game.

There is some truth to this -- with traditional advertising sitting at such a cyclical status quo and the long-held stereotypes around gamers dissipating, many of them (like myself) are excited to see brands get involved with games in their creative and strategy.

However, this does not mean that traditional advertising tactics are well-received or meaningful just because they are in-game.



According to my LinkedIn feed, however, I am wrong.

A number of emerging companies and games now provide in-game billboards. They show the user promises of blended in-game advertising that does not interrupt players' experience and also fits within the game’s ecosystem across multiple platforms (mobile, PC and console!).

Does this sound too good to be true? Spoiler: it is.

Let’s take a look at some of the in-game advertising solutions I see lauded on LinkedIn through the eyes of someone who identifies as a gamer and has been in the industry for over half a decade.

One in-game advertising dedicated company released a case study from its work with P&G, placing ads into “popular” mobile and PC games like "SimCity," "Cooking Fever" and "Dragon City."

They positioned these “non-intrusive” ads to “complement the gaming experience while making a meaningful connection with players.”

So what does it look like in reality? A small TV in what appears to be the bottom of the user interface displays a Charmin paper towel ad.

The ad might be “non-intrusive” in that it doesn’t interrupt gameplay, but it certainly does not blend with what else is on screen, and I don’t see how this ad could be meaningful to players of the game. It adds nothing to the gameplay except, well, an ad.

But this might only be the case with small developers and mobile games. What are larger publishers and developers doing in the space?

Let’s move to Roblox, which just released a formal in-game advertising solution. On this new portal, you can find many case studies built for different brands for different goals.

Shipt, for example, a grocery delivery company, collaborated with a Roblox map creator to integrate timed deliveries into the game through a Shipt representative who rewarded players with in-game currency for their work.

The experience essentially gamified gig work like Shipt, Uber/Uber Eats, etc. -- jobs that many people do to make ends meet.

Even still, Roblox touts 27M minutes of gameplay and 18M visits to the Shipt experience.

But truthfully, that does not seem like any fun. The experience is a collaboration with Voldex, who developed the original game called “Driving Empire,” which then integrated Shipt into it.

To me, it seems like a way to mask the true stats of the content, as the kids (60% of Roblox players are under 16 years old) joining the game were likely there for "Driving Empire," not for Shipt. You could argue that this is part of the whole point of collaborating with Shipt -- but is it actually meaningful then?

Other brands like Walmart, Chipotle, and Home Depot have created similar experiences, truly connecting with the hearts of gamers and not just children with no purchasing power (unless they steal their parents' credit cards and rush straight to these stores, because kids normally shop at Home Depot, right?)

Coincidentally, Roblox has just come under fire from a new lawsuit that claims the game encourages addictive behavior through its microtransaction currency Robux.

Robux can be converted into real dollars, but the cost of purchasing Robux vs. cashing Robux out are not equal – i.e. $4.99 can buy you 400 Robux, but 1,000 Robux can only be converted for $3.50.

Shipt should not be focusing on children as its target audience, and parents should not be open to such predatory tactics inside of a children's game. They should, alternatively, find games to reward gamers in a unique way for using their services.

Other brands have gone the Fortnite route (also connected to Roblox through Epic Games) and built maps or small skin lines.

These experiential maps, similar to what Roblox did with Shipt, are separate from the main game. While the Fortnite creative mode is immensely popular (around 40% of in-game time was spent in creative mode as of May 2023), it's not because of the brand experiences.

It's because of the creativity involved in making the map experiences. They put twists on classic Fortnite or build entirely new games inside of the Fortnite engine.

While these experiences are well-built, they do not offer anything additional to players -- just a place to go and get hit with brand logos from within the game.

The bottom line is that these “experiences” and “non-intrusive ads” lack creativity and a desire to build something truly additive for gamers. They don't lead to true affinity or advocacy within gaming communities, and, honestly, are not interesting.

So what's my idea? Who's doing it better, if anyone?

Two examples have always stuck out in my mind as to where the bar should be -- Louis Vuitton x League of Legends, and more recently, McDonald's WcDonald's ad and "Fortnite" extension.

To be brief -- Louis Vuitton created in-game skins for characters (champions) in "League of Legends" using classic LV motifs and then released real-life clothing connected to "League of Legends" as well.

The in-game skins are permanent unlockables for champions, costing anywhere between $5 to $25. By comparison, the real LV clothing line for "League of Legends" sold out, most of which cost over $1,000.

McDonald's turned their company into WcDonald's and released a bespoke anime in which the main character is transported to another world (a genre called isekai) to hype up the release of their new Savory Chili sauce.

In addition to the anime, they released a "Fortnite" creative map that is completely immersed in the WcDonald's branding. Plus, the map has a secret room for which players are given a code through the McDonald's dining app -- a way to encourage purchase behavior but also reward players with in-game experiences.

Although I am not sure that the experience itself is a ton of fun, it's clear that the creative was incredibly well-thought-out and thorough in integrating with "Fortnite."

The Key Takeaways

First, both strategies are accessible to consumers. Real-life Louis Vuitton prices don't work for everyone, but $10 in-game does.

Getting the McDonald's app and accessing the "Fortnite" creative map is also free, and nothing is paywalled.

Second, the partnerships add value to player experiences. They don't attempt to bring gamers out of their native environments but rather meet them where they are.

What I'd like to see are things like smart product integrations. Games like "Grand Theft Auto" and "Cyberpunk" (massive title hits) show us present-day and future societies.

Wouldn't it be great to see a limited-edition flavor both in-game and in real life connected to the game a la WcDonald's and "Fortnite?"

While I recognize that not all brands can afford to make the investment that McDonalds or Louis Vuitton might make into these types of experiences, we can at least admit when something is truly immersive and authentic vs. just another logo or ad slap.

If it looks like a regular ad, smells like a regular ad, and feels like a regular ad, it probably is a regular ad.

Gamers are a particularly elusive group with so many console and PC experiences completely ad-free, but most of us would like to stay that way–unless what you're bringing to the table is actually unique and additive.

I want to see more brands work with gaming experts to develop truly meaningful experiences -- and less of the “my ads reach gamers and they love it!” kool-aid drinking that I see on LinkedIn today.

3 comments about "Mythbusters: LinkedIn Edition".
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  1. Carol Gleeson from Push Media Inc, March 15, 2024 at 12:01 p.m.

    My 11 year old son enjoyed the McDonalds integration in Roblox and was excited to show me around. I believe it included the ability to work in the drivethrough and earn Robux. As far as I observed, it was a one off which created excitement and engagement. 

  2. Zach Oscar from Kairos Media replied, March 15, 2024 at 12:12 p.m.

    Hey Carol! Appreciate the experience of you & your son. I'm always glad to hear about excitement around these kinds of things. Do you think it brought your son closer to the brand/increased his desire to engage with McDonalds outside of the game? 

    Earning Robux is also a good way to encourage these kinds of collaborations, but as mentioned I do find the Robux to USD conversion rate a little alarming.

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, March 15, 2024 at 8:35 p.m.

    Readers may agree or disagree with Zach's posting.

    Many may challenge the veracity of "One of the greatest myths ever told is that people like advertising.   Sure, they like Super Bowl commercials, but ads in general? I don't think so."

    Take your own test.

    At the top of the artilce was an ad.   Does anyone recall it let alone like it?

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