Anzu says it’s making it easier for brands to advertise in games

The company recently raised $20 million from investors including NBCUniversal.
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Dianna “Mick” McDougall, Photo: Getty Images

5 min read

Slap a banner ad on Pikachu and Mrs. Pac-Man because programmatic advertising is taking gaming seriously.

Last week, Anzu, a platform that helps brands run display, video, and interactive ads within games, announced it has raised an additional $20 million on top of the $17 million it’s received since its founding in 2017. Investors are a marketing who’s-who, including WPP, NBCUniversal, Sony, HTC, and *checks notes* the Chicago Cubs. Okay, sure.

Why this matters: In-game advertising is growing faster than expected thanks to the pandemic, and those in the industry are on the hunt for partners that can help them infiltrate integrate into a medium not yet totally soiled by advertising.

“Why gaming? Today, most marketers get why gaming. That wasn’t the case two years ago,” said Itamar Benedy, the CEO and co-founder of Anzu, which is a Japanese first name meaning “apricot” and a fire-breathing bird-god in some Mesopotamian religions, if you were curious. “There’s a poster on a building, there’s a logo on the shirts. It’s in real-time, placing branded content inside the game’s world.”

So far, Anzu is integrated into iOS, Android, Sony’s PlayStation, Microsoft’s Xbox, and most recently, Roblox. Games with inventory include Trackmania and Dakar Desert Rally.

On the advertising side, it’s worked with more than 100 brands, including PepsiCo, Huawei, American Eagle, Vodafone, and Samsung on in-game advertisements that average out to about $6 per CPM. Like most digital advertising, ads can be tailored to the user or contextualized for the game, meaning they’re more relevant. Benedy declined to share any of Anzu’s revenue figures.

Anzu’s latest round of funding added NBCUniversal and the consumer-electronics company HTC, which manufactures virtual- and augmented-reality headsets, as investors. These were strategic partnerships, Benedy told Marketing Brew, as NBCUniversal would be able to sell Anzu’s inventory and HTC would help the company enter the metaverse.

The $20 million investment will also be used to boost the company’s headcount, which aims to grow from 80 employees to 150 by the end of the year, with the goal of reaching more gaming platforms and strengthening what can be done there.

Making brands game

For gaming companies, the hurdle is convincing brands and media buyers that there’s an audience there. It’s a big industry, with about 177.7 million monthly gamers in the US as of last year, according to eMarketer. (Yes, your grandmother who’s on level 2,589 of Candy Crush is also a gamer.)

But Ronen Benatar, a senior director of digital investment at media agency Wavemaker, said it’s historically been somewhat difficult to advertise in-game, explaining that you’d have to “work with developers six months to a year in advance. You had to pay a large sum of money, and on top of that, what would happen is, your ad would appear in front of everybody... [It was] almost like a sponsorship, but the problem is there’s a lot of wastage unless you assume every person playing the game is in your target audience.”

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Of course, companies like Anzu presumably alleviate some of these problems. Benatar described himself as very bullish on in-game programmatic ads. “The advertiser’s actually appearing in their universe and it adds a degree of legitimacy, versus just running a banner ad on whatever the website is.”

This week, the Interactive Advertising Bureau is hosting its first ever PlayFronts event, a pitch from the gaming industry to advertisers about the opportunities within the medium. Sponsors of the PlayFronts include Anzu, Activision Blizzard, Riot Games, Twitch, Meta, Twitter, and Zynga.

“Brands love innovation, but brands don’t change the way they work. Some brands prefer to work in a programmatic way and some brands prefer to work direct…We want to make sure we can support all of these,” Benedy told Marketing Brew. “Every brand has an overlap with the gaming audience. Almost every brand has contextual relevancy to gaming; it’s about which specific game, genders, and platforms will be relevant for that brand.”

To that end, Anzu has made itself open to direct deals with advertisers, but a bulk of its work is programmatic, integrated with major DSPs including the Trade Desk and Verizon. It’s also partnered with Oracle for viewability metrics to alleviate advertiser concerns around measurement.

In some ways, in-game ads are the first dip into something metaverse-y for many marketers, Benatar said, but there are still concerns about measurement since it’s more of a top-of-funnel approach. Since in-game advertising is supposed to feel natural within the gaming experience, not a distraction (ya know, what most advertising is), it can be hard for advertisers to measure their investment. Players aren’t always clicking through when they see an advertisement. Anzu has run attention and impact panels to alleviate advertiser concern.

Still, when NFTs and blockchains capture headlines, Benedy still has to convince brands that in-game advertising is actually worthy of a budget, like social media or out-of-home.

“Today, the hardest part is to get attention from marketers. Once we’re in the meeting, we have a really high chance of signing the deal,” he said.

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