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Why advertisers need to get seriously creative to reach gamers

Brands ignore the gaming industry at their peril. So Campaign convened a virtual roundtable to ask leading industry experts: how do we create marketing that gamers will love?

Why advertisers need to get seriously creative to reach gamers

During COVID-19, the value of the global gaming industry grew by 39% to US$170 billion.  Worldwide, there are 2.7 billion gamers, and the impact of game culture is felt far beyond the confines of the immediate community. Today’s biggest gaming influencers can have hundreds of millions of subscribers, and help set the tastes and trends for many more.

Little wonder, then, that in the words of one of the participants in Campaign’s virtual gaming roundtable, gaming is “niche” no longer. Campaign and Dentsu convened a discussion between some of the industry’s leading marketers and experts in marketing to gamers. 

No one attending was in any doubt about the significance of gamers as an audience. “Gaming isn’t an outlier anymore,” said James Brook, agency development partner at News UK, summing up the feelings of the group. Not only is the gaming audience highly diverse, but gamers are a lucrative segment even for brands operating well outside the gaming and technology space. By way of example, Brook drew attention to the crossover between gamers, who are often on their PC or console for hours, and the marketing aims of the snack sector. 

It’s not one-size-fits-all with gamers
Catherine Cherry, head of giving at the NSPCC, returned to the theme of diversity within the gaming audience. “What is a gamer?” She asked. “I play games. But I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘gamer’. When you hear that half of all American kids play Roblox, it seems important to understand with whom we are talking when we address a gaming audience.”

“The best approach,” said DGame client partner Peter Jacobs, “is to work on finding the right audience and the right route into gamer marketing for your brand.” A lot of advertisers, he explained, are still looking for a big “PR-able moment”. While this might be right for some contexts, in many cases, it can be counterproductive – alienating the audience and producing little long-term impact. A better approach is to identify the gaming niche that’s right for you, then work on developing an A/B testing content for that niche, before you scale and draw mass attention to your brand.

Luke Aldridge, a fellow client partner at DGame, concurred. Gaming, he said, now offers so many opportunities in so many different gaming subcultures, that it’s possible to reach both very niche and very broad audiences. Creativity has a key role to play in that, because you can code almost anything into a game: your only limits are your budget and your imagination. 

But any content you create has to feel authentic, and every gaming subculture has its own lexicon and shared identity. Your creative must sit easily within these if it’s to have the desired impact. It must also be tailored to the medium, which could be anything from in-game to live streaming, e-sports, YouTube or beyond. 

Making creative inroads into gaming culture 
Alex McIlvenny, data and marketing executive at TikTok, talked of creative agencies increasing engagement with gamers and the gaming sector. And by also working with platforms for developing and testing creative strategies, agencies are having more and more success at driving organic growth among and through gamers and gaming influencers. Often, the creative agency leans into the sector first and creates a pathway for the brands it works with.

With e-sports tournaments selling out at Wembley, said Matt Polley, global partnerships controller at Sky, it’s clear that gaming is now a route to a mass audience. Google Stadia will, he predicts, be a game changer. A streaming service for games that allows users to play the latest releases, hosted in the cloud, on their existing hardware, Stadia promises to bring gaming to bigger audiences than ever before. As Polley puts it, “It’s going to become a battle for eyeballs.” He predicts increasing cross-pollination between games, film and TV.

It’s even broader than that, said Aldridge. With concerts and other cultural events now being staged within games, we’re seeing what was previously real-world content migrating into the virtual realm, and the need for brands and advertisers to engage with this space is more urgent than ever. Gaming content is huge, and it’s rapidly outgrowing the games which created it. Brands that ignore this development risk losing out to competitors who are most definitely playing to win. 


In attendance: Rob Langford, head of content and activation at Kaspersky; James Brook, agency development partner at News UK; Lou Bennett at marketing director at Benefit Cosmetics; Alex McIlvenny, digital, social, data and marketing executive at TikTok; Catherine Cherry, head of individual giving at NSPCC; Elizabeta Klisarov, senior marcom manager EMEA, Corsair; and Matt Polley, global partnerships controller at Sky; Luke Aldridge and Peter Jacobs, client partners at DGame. Kate Magee, associate editor at Campaign hosted the discussion.

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