Will BT Get In The Game?

It is Black Friday 2006, and video gaming is among the hottest topics this year, both for consumers wrestling over PS3s and marketers looking for ways to plug into a media platform that just won't stop expanding. One of the leaders in the nascent field of games marketing, DoubleFusion dynamically serves ads into PC and online game titles, and it also helps games publishers like THQ and 2K Sports sell product placements into retail titles.

While games marketing is not ready to incorporate behavioral targeting techniques for a while, we thought this was a good time to ask DF's CEO Jon Epstein what we do know about gaming behavior relative to other media, how the medium currently targets audiences, and some of the possibilities down the line for cueing specific ad messages with gaming behaviors. Curiously, as Epstein describes it, games marketing is doing a different kind of behavioral targeting, since gaming provides environments where the mindset and behaviors of the gamer are so focused, the world so uncluttered, that he cannot help but notice any brand that is there.



Behavioral Insider: How is gaming a discrete kind of media behavior and interaction?

Jon Epstein: We're still relatively early in the research curve in terms of in-game media, and a lot of the studies have been campaign-specific. There is excitement behind games as an advertising format, because of all the major media, it's [the one where] you are not media multitasking. You can't be focused on anything else. Games have your complete attention.

BI: What do we know about how in-game exposures affect gamers?

Epstein: We conducted a study in 2005 with Nielsen, which was done across a Proctor and Gamble campaign in the U.K. It showed 60% lift in brand recall; a 40% lift in intent to purchase. In-game advertising has been really effective at establishing brands within a consideration set, provided that the ads are not only contextually relevant inside of the game world, but that there is a good thematic connection between the environment and the ethos of the game. Right now, largely, ads in-game are not a response medium; they are a branding medium. You can do response in games, and when we've done [clickable] ads after the game is done, you get some insanely high click-throughs--in the 4% to 5% range.

BI: What in-game behaviors can you measure?

Epstein: We are very careful about what and how we measure in individual user behavior. This is an interactive medium. There's a lot that you could find out--but gamers, males 18 to 34, are a proud audience. One wants to step carefully into that world of over-measurement. We provide a service to game publishers. We are able to look at game starts, how many sessions people are playing, the length of those sessions.

If game publishers want, we can look at activity across different games. As it relates to specific ads, we have time on screen, gamer distance from that ad. We can allow game companies to see which levels people are playing, which weapons they are using.

To the best of my knowledge, no one in gaming is hooking up on the PC side to Web cookies or anything like that. You could do that, but we all want to move into this relatively cautiously. There are enough critical attributes to make the medium desirable to advertisers right now. We are selling a content environment much more than an impression, and so a lot of what advertisers look for is the nature of the game: What is the theme? Are you good or evil?

BI: Do we know anything about the affinities of gamers, their tastes, the kinds of products that work best here?

Epstein: We have different channels that reach different ones. It is less about who are they, and more about what environment we offer. Advertisers find appealing an environment where impressions are rigorously measured and they are not competing with TiVo and commercial skipping and other ways of ad avoidance. If you are doing it right, you have an ad that is enmeshed very well with the virtual world of the game.

BI: What sort of targeting is possible now?

Epstein: We have content-oriented targeting. We sell by channels: sports, racing, action, urban lifestyle, and casual channel

BI: Do those channels indicate different gaming behaviors?

Epstein: The sports gamer is very different from the racing gamer, who is a lot closer to the PC gamer profile. In different types of games you have different psychographics. Sports gamers are much more like college kids, fraternity guys. Some have different time consumption patterns. Casual downloadable games are wildly different from a gender and play pattern standpoint. Play patterns can be as much as 17 to 20 hours a week on the hard core side. The new advanced casual games reach a much broader audience who would not self-identify as gamers. They are playing a couple of hours a month, but there are a lot more of them.

BI: How can you use that information to shape campaigns?

Epstein: It comes down to a discussion with the brand on their goals of reach or frequency. In the product placement world, we may user our dynamic technology to measure interaction. We can offer a four-minute mission that people play again and again, using your brand as the hub for it.

BI: Are you exploring any ways in which behavioral targeting as a technology could be folded into this?

Epstein: We certainly are looking at it. We want to step cautiously. Our publishers are the ones who hold the data relationship with the user, so we wouldn't do anything they are uncomfortable with doing. I think as [part of] a new medium, everyone wants to be properly careful and make sure that everything is 'permissioned.'

If you wanted to look within a game, we could tell [that] someone is not able to get past a certain level. You could choose to present ads that give them hints--brought to you by this brand or that brand. On the PC side, it certainly is possible to link into cookies from other people. I think everyone in our business wants to move very carefully into that world, and so we're looking at it. But I'm not prepared to do it at this time, because there are plenty of enhancements that we're always rolling out--and we want to be sensitive to who the traditional gamers are and how they think about that sort of thing.

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