Game Advertising Goes Mainstream

Changing Demographics Lead Unlikely Marketers to Use the Space to Engage Consumers

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Games have long been fertile marketing ground for movie studios, soda companies and fast feeders -- youth-targeted brands counting on a cache of cool. So what are Alka-Seltzer and Knorr doing in the space?

They're part of a group of marketers beyond the usual suspects that are waking up to the fact that gamers include women, tweens, construction workers, doctors and soccer moms.


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About 60% of online Americans play video or computer games, according to Frank N. Magid Associates data. There are gamers in two-thirds of U.S. households -- and 40% of those players are women, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

But it's not just changing demographics fueling marketers' interest. Gaming allows them to give consumers something entertaining -- something they find valuable and actually want to engage in. That's easier said than done.

"The consensus is that gaming has arrived in the mainstream, but the biggest hurdle is finding effective ways to leverage it," said Matt Story, who oversees the West Coast operation of Play, the gaming division of Publicis Groupe's Denuo. A few categories low on the involvement scale, such as mouthwash and bleach, have managed to use gaming in a way that feels authentic.

'Price' points
For Unilever's Suave shampoo, which had a limited budget for in-game marketing, the key was to select a popular title that resonated with brand's user base, said Barret Roberts, lead communications manager at Unilever. The objective of the campaign, which started last year, was to communicate to beauty-conscious, busy moms the brand's value message at a time when consumers were looking to trim their spending.

Suave worked with the online game "The Price Is Right," sponsoring free play and running promotional ads while the game loaded. In-game integration involved the announcer feeding players information about each featured product to help them accurately guess the item's price.

"The strategy of seeding Suave's communication of 'achieving salon-quality beauty for less' into a game when [players] organically had to bid on the price of the products was a no-brainer," Mr. Roberts said. "The brand-messaging part is TiVo-proof, as the user cannot skip over the brand message or visual, as it is integral for the player to bid on the product."

Other Unilever brands featured in the game included food products Knorr and Ragu. Millions of exposures were delivered for each of those brands, with "impressive" engagement measures on the branded units throughout the game, Mr. Roberts said. Non-Unilever brands featured in the game were Alka-Seltzer, Scott towels and Citracal.

For auto insurer Progressive, the objective of its gaming campaigns was to drive brand awareness in a category people shop in twice a year at most, making "media efficiency ... huge for us," said Chris Scott, the company's emerging-media manager. Progressive has done in-game integration with a number of titles, most recently Electronic Arts' "Need for Speed: Undercover," a story-driven, fee-based racing game. Progressive billed itself as the stadium's owner, with its logo and name plastered on in-game billboards. It also sponsored post-game racing stats.

Gaming still growing up
"In-game is efficient," Mr. Scott said. He added, however, "The challenge for us is to tie the top-of-mind to back-end conversion funnel."

Gamers: not who you think
Agency A-List

Almost two-thirds (60%) of online 12- to 64-year-olds play some sort of electronic game, whether it be on a console, PC or mobile and almost half (49%) of the online population plays one or more electronic games every week.

Gaming isn't just for kids, and it's not limited to boys and men. For instance, half of women 45 to 54 say they play some sort of electronic game at least once a week. Among men in that age group, 35% play games weekly. Of course, teen boys are huge gamers: 74% play once a week or more.

The reason for this demographic breadth and depth in gaming is the plethora of gaming platforms, from simple, free web-based games to complex console games for the hard-core -- not to mention iPhone games and other mobile games.

Ad you can see below, the type of gaming platform affects the demographics of the player considerably. While console games skew heavily toward teens and young men, web-based games skew female. The other key platforms are pretty evenly divided between men and women.

-- Mike Vorhaus

Some marketers are underwriting free access to games or adding realism to the games by lending assets. For instance, Visa, the world's largest credit network, sought to place itself in the story line of a "CSI" game that challenged players to solve a murder mystery in which credit-card fraud was a piece of the puzzle.

"Brands need to look at gaming not as any particular kind of in-game opportunity but as a way to relate to consumers, either by providing value or relevance," said Dario Raciti, director of OMD's Ignition Factory Gaming.

Meanwhile, vendors are doing their part to make gaming friendlier to more advertisers. Games are expanding to include themes such as fitness and cooking, and new technology, such as Microsoft Xbox's yet-to-be-released Project Natal, should further boost gaming's appeal. Natal, like Nintendo's Wii, uses body motion to control play.

Microsoft's online gaming service, Xbox Live, recently launched a beta version of its ad-supported, multiplayer "1 vs. 100," which has been compared to the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" It may be the first online game to roll commercials during breaks.

"Gaming advertising is still in its 'growing-up' phase," said David Rubin, a brand-development manager at Unilever. "The key is getting our brand messages across while adding value for the consumer. Brands that figure this out first will have an advantage in terms of effectiveness, and also will likely get the best opportunities."

Execution is key

The gaming environment is a highly focused one, but some tactics command more attention than others, according to a recent study commissioned by MTV Networks, owner of gaming properties such as AddictingGames and

GET IN FRONT OF THE ACTION. Online video placed before action games commands attention 85% of the time.

GO SHORT. A 15-second pre-roll typically commands more attention through the duration of the ad than a 30-second one.

GET INSIDE. Brand integrations are best-suited to games that demand more attention. In games where brands commanded at least 15 seconds of attention, aided recall approached 80%.

LEVERAGE ANTICIPATION. Anticipation represents opportunity -- the load screen and menu pages are areas ripe for messaging, as gamers have the highest level of cognitive processing as they await game play.

UNDERSTAND YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE. Know the types of games and platforms your target engages with.

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