Brands and Influencers Capitalize on the Gaming Industry
By JT Mildenberger
The gaming industry has become one of the fastest-growing markets for advertising spend in recent years. As technology advances, the industry continues to explode, with constant evolution providing new opportunities to expand reach. There are currently 3.1B active video game players worldwide, indicating a 32% increase over the last 7 years. The competitive esports market alone is projected to bring in over $890M from sponsorship and advertising revenue. The sheer magnitude of this consumer base makes video games the perfect place for promotion. Recognizing the unique incentive in reaching consumers during their leisure time, marketers are positioning advertising to consumers in a way that feels authentic. In order to target this demographic and create a positive association, marketing decision makers must be thoughtful about their strategic approach to best connect with the audience. Let’s take a closer look at how these strategies take shape.
Static In-Game Advertising
Static advertising is becoming less common in the video game world, but it can still prove effective when executed correctly. A static advertisement is branded content that is integrated into the game and remains the same throughout its lifespan. Take the outfield fence in the video game, Major League Baseball 2K8, for example. Pre-production, Chevy placed ads on the game’s digitized fence the same way they would place them on a physical fence in a real MLB baseball game. Since Chevy already sponsored MLB outside of the game, their presence mimics reality and expands their audience into the gaming community. Chevy’s move also cements them in the game forever: each time a user inserts the disc and plays, the same ad appears in the outfield. This is an effective strategy when deployed in a game that is expected to have a long lifespan and a storyline that incites high user interactivity.
Dynamic In-Game Marketing
As gaming moves away from discs in favor of online downloads, dynamic in-game marketing has become most utilized. Because of mobile gaming’s high accessibility, it claims nearly half of all global gaming market revenue. Its large stake in the market has made dynamic in-game marketing one of the most popular forms of in-game advertising throughout the entire industry. Advertisers can easily specify which games align with their target audiences, apply a creative approach, and run their advertisements accordingly. The mobile game Farm Away, for example, began using a type of dynamic in-game marketing known as “rewarded ads.” Each time a player watched ads in the game, they were rewarded with currency to use in the Farm Away world. Watching the ads incentivized players and pushed their activity within the game. Through this type of dynamic in-game marketing, developers saw ad engagement skyrocket and a boost in positive player feedback.
In addition to running in-game ads, brands are finding creative ways to generate in-game exposure through virtual shops. Brands can now place their digitized products within the video game, allowing players to purchase the product and display it on their character. Epic Games employed this strategy through partnerships with brands like the NFL and NBA. This partnership allows players to equip their characters with team-branded uniforms in the massively popular video game, Fortnite. Because Fortnite is one of the most-played games for kids, sports leagues can now use their virtual merchandise to appeal to a much younger demographic.
Gucci adopted a similar strategy through their involvement with the popular online game, Roblox. What began with Gucci offering a virtual handbag that players could purchase for their characters has since evolved into “Gucci Town.” Gucci Town is a virtual marketplace filled with Gucci stores that are constantly updating their virtual product offerings. As augmented reality continues to enhance user immersion, it seems that marketing initiatives like “Gucci Town” are only just the beginning.
Esports comprise the competitive side of the video game industry. Teams and individuals compete in leagues similar to traditional sports. And just like major US sports teams, esports teams are an enticing partner for brands looking to expand their reach. A strong example of this is popular esports team, Faze Clan, and their partnership with Doordash. This partnership was elevated in July of 2022 when Doordash began offering gaming-themed sandwiches branded “Faze Subs.” Doordash recognized gamers’ patterns of ordering delivery in-between gameplay and streaming, which made the partnership relevant. By understanding and embracing the gamer lifestyle, Doordash’s partnership with Faze Clan felt authentic to its audience.
Unfortunately, not all gaming partnerships are able to connect as flawlessly. The gaming community contains some of the most passionate fan bases in the world who are quick to call out those who miss the mark. In 2021, Coca-Cola released a gaming ad to which its audience mocked relentlessly. The ad featured a gamer taking a sip of Coca-Cola mid-competition, then befriending his enemies because the soft drink supposedly “brings people together.” Coca-Cola failed to understand how competitiveness and trash-talk are integral parts of esports culture. Due to its lack of authenticity, Coca-Cola’s campaign alienated its audience. At one point, the ad even had 10 times more dislikes than likes on Youtube.
Influencer marketing has proven effective in the gaming industry, with platforms like YouTube and Twitch turning many streamers into celebrities with millions of followers. Brand giants are willing to pay top dollar in exchange for these influencers’ reach and consumer engagement boost. One of the first influencer mega-deals occurred in 2019 when Adidas signed a multi-year deal with Twitch streamer and esports player, Ninja, worth between $20-30M. Ninja is currently the most-followed Twitch streamer with over 18M followers. Adidas’s first collection with Ninja, “Chase the Spark,” encouraged gamers to “follow their passion, whatever it may be.” The marketing campaign included a video game-style animation of Ninja’s early life, honoring gaming’s impact on his childhood and career.
Even figures outside of the gaming world are looking to capitalize on the industry’s growing reach to expand their personal brand. Recent trends depict more and more influencers, celebrities, and athletes making appearances in some of the world’s most popular video games. Last year, for example, Call of Duty offered players a Snoop Dogg branded bundle that included a playable version of Snoop Dogg in the game. Being a fan himself, Snoop Dogg described the collaboration as a way to be a part of a game that is “hip and associated with greatness.” Months later, Call of Duty launched another campaign with star soccer players Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Paul Pogba. In doing so, they successfully intersected gaming and professional soccer’s massive fanbases.
As the gaming industry continues to expand, with a projected annual compound growth of 6.3% over the next 8 years, the marketing opportunities are endless. By 2029, the industry’s current value of just under $2B is expected to surpass $3B. As marketers invest in this expanding industry, they must maintain a strategy that feels true to their audience. Outsiders who fail to root their gaming partnerships in authenticity will not see favorable results. On the flip side, those who truly wish to understand gamers and enhance their community have the potential to flourish.