Gaming — and — Debut at WPP Stream 2019

October 23, 2019 | By Itamar Benedy

Sunshine, technology, and creative marketing - this year’s WPP Stream Europe set against the beautiful backdrop of Athens was a perfect stage for the debut of two things: first was the latest addition to WPP family, And second, gaming and esports. Let’s talk in detail about the latter today!

WPP Stream Europe 2019 in Athens, Greece

As a Stream debutant, the first thing that caught my attention was the nature of the conference (or unconference as it is famously called in the circle). The personal setting made it easier to go deeper into the discussions that are far away from regular Powerpoint presentations. WPP invites people from agencies, marketing, brands, businesses, and more, so you will never have a dull moment in your conversations! As a gaming and advertising enthusiast, catching colleagues from game studios to streaming platforms made the conference all the more interesting — and also set the stage for how big gaming was this year at the event. Last year, gaming was not on the agenda.

Now, everyone has been talking lately about gaming’s big moment under the sun. Of course, many brands have taken to explore gaming in a way that wasn’t experienced till now, but are we really at a stage where gaming is the future of marketing? Along with Grant Peterson from WPP, I spoke about where gaming is headed.

‘Gaming: The Saviour Of Civilisation Or Just The Future of Marketing?’ panel moderated by me and Grant Peterson, WPP

For many of us here, gaming in the 90s and early 2000s was only about entertainment. Almost two decades later, we are at a turning point. Gaming has suddenly become a part of pop culture, mainly led by younger generations who are socializing through games. The gaming reach is bigger than the combined audience of popular entertainment platforms like Netflix and Hulu. Today’s gamers represent a mature audience that is diverse in terms of genders, ages and income levels, having evolved in their consumption behavior and purchasing power. They are likely to spend almost $152 billion on games in 2019, an increase of +9.6% year on year. 

At the panel ‘Gaming is the new pop culture’, I was accompanied by some big brands, media agency representatives, including the CEO of WPP Mark Read, and gaming companies, where we discussed how different the approach of brands towards gaming became. What is behind this growth and what should be taken into consideration by the industry players? Here’s my roundup of the key takeaways from the event:

Gaming is Huge, But Gaps Exist

There are 2.5 billion gamers globally. When gamers are not on their PC or Console, they are watching esports or playing on their mobiles. Investment in video game advertising is growing, however it is yet to catch up with the massive audience numbers. Popular brands such as Nike, Pepsi and Adidas are known names who have been experimenting with advertising in games. But lately, we have also seen the likes of luxury brands such as Louis Vouitton entering this space. Game developers, too, have new-found opportunities for monetization with gaming and esports through immersive ads. 

However, there are still many gaps that need to be minimized for successful growth of the industry. The first is the market education. Many brands and game developers understand in-game advertising on a high level, but they often find themselves lost when it comes to what they can do with it. Fortnite’s success is a great example for brands and game studios to understand how marketing to Gen Z is different from marketing to millennials. The popular game has set new milestones in how to do digital advertising for the digital natives in partnership with big brands! The award-winning ‘Keeping Fortnite Fresh’ campaign by Wendy’s is a vivid example illustrating how brands can become part of this ‘cultural phenomenon’ in a creative way. 

Secondly, there are gaps on the execution level. To maximize the benefits of in-game advertising, questions around scalability, ad formats, right KPIs, pricing and analytics (I will touch upon this later in this piece) need to be addressed. The introduction of real-time data and programmatic capabilities in-game has certainly filled some of the gaps and dispelled advertiser doubts, but more industry awareness is required to pull gaming from the corners into the mainstream. 

More Brands Want to Have a Piece of the Gaming Pie

Gaming and in-game advertising has passed a moment that every new thing goes through: diffusion of innovation. With every new idea there are the early adopters and laggards. It happened with Facebook, Instagram, or even the internet back in the day! With anything new, there’s a wait and watch mentality. Gaming is no different. Despite increased popularity in gaming, brand adoption has taken longer. This is particularly because of a misconception that in-game advertising isn’t for them. But as the user demographics change, the industry has to adapt to it to cater to the needs of the young audiences. Studies show that recall value for ads is high for active adult gamers while playing the game. The in-game advertising success of popular brands is now changing marketing strategies of those who have traditionally stayed away from gaming. Take for instance, Chinese smartphone brand Oppo that has entered into esports by partnering with Riot Games. The partnership will help to enhance the live-viewing experience for League of Legends esports international events.

‘Gaming Is The New Pop Culture’ panelists discussing how big the potential of gaming is

Experiential marketing is the buzz word as we enter into 2020. Brands that quickly adapt to this have a first-mover advantage. The new-age CMOs and growth marketers need to evolve and find the users where they are most likely to be found: and that’s gaming! Being an early adopter to the in-game advertising can give brands more visibility in front of their key audience and build a relationship with them. It also gives them an advantage to better pricing options and more bang for their buck, taking their marketing to the next level.

There’s Finally Innovation in In-Game Advertising!

Advertising in games has existed for long, but it hasn’t seen deeper adoption because of intrusive ads and lack of scalable tech solutions back then. A decade ago, ads in games still existed but they were difficult to implement and scale up. The static ad placements were hard-coded making it time-consuming for developers to place ads and update them. Product placements, thus produced, were restrictive in nature. Today’s gaming landscape is different. Tried and tested methods of digital advertising are being applied to in-game advertising, making it highly scalable. Innovative tech solutions offer more for today’s advertisers and game developers in how they place ads and what they can do with them after the campaign is live. 

Now, game developers can integrate dynamic immersive experiences in a programmatic and non-disruptive manner. Improved targeting techniques as well as personalized and interactive ads offered by also make it easier for brands to gauge user interest and update content during the game session. Next, is the promise of ad viewability, also unheard until now in gaming. Brands want to know what they are paying for and improved ad viewability has made more advertisers try the medium with greater assurance. 

Today’s Gaming is Also a Marriage of Tech and Creativity

Premium games provide a big playground for advertisers to approach advertising in a creative manner. It’s not limited to just blended banner ads or product placements, and modern-day brands are taking the rich, interactive environments of games to make meaningful connections with their target audiences. Fortnite has been leading new trends with its creative storytelling formats. Recently, the DJ Marshmello held a virtual concert inside the game, gathering over 10M online viewers. It played another masterstroke when the season finale of the game ended in an apocalyptic fashion creating user hysteria. Brands like Samsung are taking to creative ways to boost sales of their phones by using in-game skins

Tech innovations have enabled game developers to create personalized and engaging content with out-of-the-box storytelling. Young audiences are more receptive to advertising, provided it is done in a manner that is authentic and can form an emotional connect with them. Forming positive associations with the brand makes advertising more effective and intelligent creatives can be used to reach the same user in different ways throughout the game. 

Itamar Benedy is the CEO and Co-founder at Anzu. With a decade of experience in mobile and marketing, Itamar has a proven track record of success in scaling global businesses across cultures. He is a member of the Mobile Steering Group Board of IAB, and the Young President Organization (YPO). A young leader with a curiosity of exploring new paths and human relationships, Itamar was also nominated for the Forbes Israel 30 under 30 in 2016. Follow him on LinkedIn.