Brands don't need to avoid violence – just make sure it's right for your audience

Brands should not always see violence in games as a negative association, Xaxis' global solutions and innovation manager has said.

Games: more than half of titles contai violence, data shows
Games: more than half of titles contai violence, data shows

Marketers across sectors are increasingly eager to tap into the vast audiences and the creative and technical potential of gaming. But a pertinent question being asked by many is how to navigate the element of violence – something all the more relevant given the blood and slaughter integral to some of the most-anticipated releases of 2021, including Resident Evil Village, Far Cry 6 and Halo Infinite.

Video gaming content rating watchdog PEGI (Pan European Game Information) estimates that more than half of video games contain violence. Violence is definitively not something marketers or brands want to be associated with.

But according to Julia Rast, global solutions and innovation manager at Xasis, "not all violence is bad for your brands".

The UK gaming market hit a record £7bn in 2020 during the lockdown boom as more and more players reached for their consoles and devices as a way to stay connected.

Players pushed the sector’s value up 29.9% compared with 2019, with increases across both digital and physical sales, according to a report published in March by gaming industry body Ukie. There is an increasing interest from brands in reaching this huge audience, whether through in-game advertising or partnering with publishers for campaigns across other channels.

Speaking at Advertising Week Europe on Tuesday, Rast (right) said: “They [gamers] possess incredible buying power, but they demand authenticity from brands, and they resonate best with brands that are non-intrusive to their gameplay, and that respect gaming culture.

“The beauty is gamers don't really mind ads in contrast to other media, so according to a comScore state of gaming report, 41% of gamers feel that product placements make games feel more real. And there is a 30% higher positive impact on gaming app placements versus web banner alternatives.”

Xasis, which combines purpose-built AI and programmatic expertise, has developed a framework, which, it says, can “measure” a particular game’s spectrum of violence and determine whether it is a suitable platform for particular brands.

But why are people so attracted to games that contain an element of violence?

Rast said: “It all has to do with our exposure to violence and why we started to view violence as entertainment in the first place. Entertainment plays a role in simplifying it for us because it provides us with a narrative.

"Storytelling has a variety of ways to present violence as acceptable to viewers. Stories can present the player with moral binaries that simplify the true causes for violence and aggressive action. And the simple example we often see in entertainment is there are good guys and there are bad guys. And we obviously want the good guys to win.”

While the likes of the Grand Theft Auto series might be the first games that come to mind when you think of violence, Rast shared an example illustrating that it is often a key aspect of more family friendly fare too.

Citing mobile hit Angry Birds, with its protagonist birds versus antagonist pigs narrative, Rast used the game as an example of providing a simplistic emotional context, which allows the gamer to flex their imagination to achieve moralistic goals – through violence.

She said: “In that context, not all violence is bad for your brands. But we cannot simply see violence as binary, as it's a very complex emotion and behaviour that comes in degrees. It's a spectrum where we have to navigate what is wrong and what is right, and what is appropriate for your brand and what is not.”

Classification of violence is determined by the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (Garm), an initiative established by the World Federation of Advertisers to address the challenge of harmful content on digital media platforms and its monetisation via advertising.

Xasis uses this scale when matching clients with game titles, zeroing in on the balance between a brand’s suitability, the contextual relevance, its receptiveness to violence and campaign KPIs.

Other research informing these decisions includes data that reveals the more deeply immersed a gamer is, the better their memory – but that they are less likely to remember advertised brands in highly violent games versus those more neutral games. Gender differences are also evident, with women’s brand attitudes being more negatively affected by violence than men’s.

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