It's a commonly held assumption, but the truth is that much of what marketers know about video-game advertising is based on intuition rather than evidence. While many firms that sell video-game ads have studied the effectiveness of specific campaigns, a recent study is the first to try to generalize how much attention those in-game billboards and around-game interstitials get -- and it finds that not all of them are created equal. While some ads do indeed fall into the category of holy-grail advertising, others are barely noticed at all.
The study was conducted by Interpret and funded by Double Fusion, one of three major players in the video-game advertising space, along with Microsoft's Massive and IGA, both of which have studies under way with Nielsen to try to measure the effectiveness of in-game ads. The Double Fusion study measured 36 ads from marketers such as Toyota, Dell, T-Mobile, Carl's Jr. and Unilever's Axe using eye-tracking technology, along with gamer interviews.
While more than 80% of gamers noticed ads while playing video games, the study found that size matters less than placement -- on average, smaller ads placed at eye level attracted a gamer's attention 38% longer than larger, peripheral ads. For example, gamers playing "Rainbow Six" noticed a small Carl's Jr. ad placed at eye level with the in-game action for 7% of the 45 seconds it was onscreen, but they didn't notice at all a larger ad for Mazda in the game "Need for Speed" because it was placed toward the top of the screen, away from where they needed to be concentrating to play the game.
Julie Shumaker, senior VP-sales and marketing, said Double Fusion has coined a phrase for this internally: "Out of line of sight, out of mind."
Interactivity, motion work best
The study comes at a time when marketers are looking not just to put ads in games but to reward gamers with extra levels and aftermarket add-ons -- especially around games that don't naturally lend themselves to advertising. Discovery Network pioneered this area through sponsorship of extra levels in Xbox's "Gears of War." The study didn't address that type of advertising specifically but did note that interactive placements are six times more likely to be noticed than in-game signage and that animated or video interstitials are 76% more likely to make an impact than static ones.
The success of Discovery's "Gears of War" deal supports the study's finding that it's more important for gamers to see an advertised product that's relevant to them than to see a product that's relevant to the game. Early thinking leaned toward the latter, Ms. Shumaker said, because video games started out as a product-placement medium. And when an ad is incorporated into a game as a branded interaction, that's still true, she said. "But to carry that thinking through to dynamic video-game advertising short-circuits the game."
The study was also meant as a first step toward approximating video-game ads as gross ratings points, said Jonathan Epstein, president-CEO of Double Fusion.
"If we want to earn TV dollars for this, we need to put what we do into a comparable language," he said. And there's a good reason why he might want to tap into TV dollars: The video-game advertising market should hit $80 million this year, according to projections from PricewaterhouseCoopers, a fraction of the $65 billion U.S. TV ad market.