Game, set and … sell!

6 May 2008

In-game advertising represents an exciting new frontier for the online advertising world. But is anyone ready?

As the racing car rips around the corner at 70mph, the car in front careers into the path of the vehicle on its right and they explode in a grim embrace of flame and twisted metal. The driver’s car sweeps into the gap and with the road ahead clear, his mind is distracted only by the big Domino’s Pizza ad on the billboard by the roadside.

The driver clicks on the ad and orders a double cheese pizza. Some 30 minutes later the pizza arrives and the transaction is completed with a rustle of banknotes and a mumble of “thanks”.

This scenario isn’t something in the future, it is now. In-game advertising represents not only an exciting new paradigm for the marketing world but an opportunity for advertisers to catch the eyeballs of the elusive Generation Y – the 18 to 24 year-olds who watch less and less TV.

Mobile operator O2 recently ran in-game advertising as part of its current ‘Free Texts Any Network, Anytime’ campaign. The billboard-style spots were run in six games: NHL 08, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, Tony Hawks, Need for Speed, Burnout and Pro Evolution Soccer.

Playing any of the games with an online connection on a PC or Xbox allowed the ad server technology to place O2’s ad in the context of the game.

“This new form of advertising is here and now but we’re only at level one as far as we’re concerned,” explains John Dunne of Captivate Digital, the firm which set up the in-game advertising system for O2.

“It represents a new subtle form of marketing and using data cleverly. Getting the game to be surrounded by the advertising itself requires clever rather than blatant positioning. In this case, we were endeavouring to get involvement with brands as the game is being played. So, for example, if the gamer topped up with credit for their mobile phone, they were able to top up on energy for the games’ character.”

Dunne says that games create very immersive digital environments and cited research from the Internet Advertising Bureau, which revealed that 52pc of gamers spend 10 hours or more gaming each week and over 25pc do so for over 15 hours a week.

According to Massive Incorporated, advertising placed within games results in higher figures for purchase consideration, brand recall and the much sought-after perception of ‘coolness’.

Massive’s study shows that brand familiarity increased by 64pc, average brand rating was up 37pc, average purchase consideration rose 41pc, brand recall grew 41pc and average ad rating grew 69pc.

Dunne explains that a top-selling video game like Grand Theft Auto IV can generate up to one billion eyeball hours.

According to eMarketer, US spending on in-game advertising was $295m last year and is forecast to top $650m by 2012.

“Brands are trying to capture the imagination of the audience they are after – especially the youth audience – who no longer spend hours in front of the TV. Feedback from 18 to 24 year-olds who responded to the initial campaign found that it wasn’t a disruptive experience.

“It also means a new form of promoting brands. It means getting campaigns into games without using the usual logos or brands, but at the same time the player knows what the company is and what they’re selling.”

Different formats appearing in the in-game advertising world include static content such as a billboard in a football stadium or could involve a game character displaying a brand’s logo on an item of clothing or drinking an energy drink.

“Brands need to capture mindshare in an ever-splintering media landscape. Marketers must understand the digital opportunity now goes far beyond simple banner ads on websites.

“Generation Y is one of advertising’s major demographics,” says Dunne. “Anyone looking to have a conversation with this group has a touch point they can’t afford to ignore. Game on.”

By John Kennedy