The gaming industry wants advertisers to take it seriously

Here’s what we saw at the IAB’s PlayFronts.
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Nintendo via Giphy

· 5 min read

Turns out, gamers aren’t just dudes in their parents’ basement.

While crass—and frankly just as insulting in 2022 as it would have been 2012—it’s a myth the gaming industry tried to dispel in a formal pitch to advertisers this week. On Tuesday, the IAB held its first-ever PlayFronts, an opportunity for the gaming industry to tout its legitimacy, basking in the glow of a boom partly spurred by Covid.

Over the course of about eight hours and to an audience of roughly 350 in-person attendees (and a pretty decent lunch—conferences and events are back, baby!), the IAB crammed executives from Meta, Unilever, Zynga, Activision Blizzard, Twitch, and more into a whirling series of presentations aiming to prove that gamers are diverse and an essential part of a brand’s media plan.

Joanne Leong, VP and director of global media partnerships at Dentsu, recalled a time when she was trying to sell gaming advertisements by explaining, “‘Oh the gamer is not the guy in the basement that’s 22 years old’...And I feel like we’re still talking about that 10 years later.” Over the last “two or three years, there’s definitely been a shift in that mentality, but I don’t feel like it’s just quite there yet,” Leong said.

Co-op mode

Though gamers make up more than a third of the world’s population, they represent less than 6% of the ~$140 billion in total digital ad spend, according to an IAB analysis.

Some more stats:

  • A recent Deloitte survey of more than 1,000 Americans found that 65% play games at least once a week across devices.
  • 13% of US gamers identify as LGBQ+, more than 33% are Black, Hispanic, or Asian,  and 45% identify as women in the US and UK, according to a survey of more than 4,000 people published by the gaming analytics firm Newzoo.

“It does seem weird that we’re still trying to dispel that stereotype,” Francesco Petruzzelli, chief technology officer at Bidstack, told Marketing Brew. “From my perspective, the conversation is over.” Later on, he added, “You shouldn’t be seen as an innovator because you’re spending some dollars in gaming.”

Gaming, bolstered by headlines about the metaverse, has become unavoidable, Zoe Soon, VP of the IAB’s Experience Center, who hosted the event, told Marketing Brew.

“We just can’t ignore how big of a role it plays in everyday lives and the way we interact with each other and technology in general. I think our hand has sort of been forced to kind of revisit” gaming as an industry, Soon said. Next year, she anticipates a multi-day event.

“For my clients who are saying, ‘I don’t know anything about gaming. What can I do in the gaming space?’…I think [those questions] are still relevant. I think that, should they have been asked two years ago? Yes,” said Steven Carter, associate director of communications strategy at Havas Media Group.

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“Their backs [are] against the wall. But everyone else around them, all their competitors are finding ways to be in the gaming space, and some of them have been doing it for the past five or 10 years.” He also noted that he was hoping to leave the conference with a roster of potential partners that might make sense for his clients.

Programmatic Pacman

Advertisers curious about the space can begin testing ads in different gaming channels before jumping in the deep end with more bespoke creative experiences.

“Invest in doing stuff with your general programmatic advertising creative, see how that works. That does well? Then make something custom,” Rishi Chadha, Twitter’s global head of creator and gaming content partnerships, told us.

In-game programmatic players like Anzu and Bidstack have sought to bring that ease to the industry, both pitching advertisers during separate panels. And companies like FramePlay are working on measurement: During the conference, Dentsu announced that it had helped the company validate an attention metric for gaming environments.

All of these companies will, at least in theory, help make gaming more attractive to advertisers. Krishan Bhatia, president and chief business officer of NBCUniversal’s global advertising and partnerships division, said although gaming is a fast-growing category, “no one feels like it has been solved for at scale" from an advertising POV. (FWIW, NBCU is an investor in Anzu.)

What took?

As evidenced by the stacked and diverse panel roster—Halo ain’t the same as Candy Crush, nor is Roblox the same as Fortnite—gaming isn’t a monolith.

“Gaming is multifaceted; it isn’t a single channel. And so understanding gaming, understanding audiences, understanding the context and the environment takes a lot of work…Very few gaming companies have the brand equity to be able to walk into the market or the holding company, and have that credibility, and immediately have that lightbulb go off,” explained Matt Barash, a former SVP of global publishing and platform partnerships at Zeotap who now sits on its advisory board. “So much of gaming is abstract to mainstream media, ad tech…it then becomes a secondary channel. And it’s now having a moment.”

Maybe it’s just a matter of time until gaming is part of the regular media mix, explained Activision Blizzard’s VP and global head of business marketing, measurement, and insights Jonathan Stringfield.

“Those that were growing up playing Mario Brothers, they’re stockbrokers, they’re ad executives,” he said. In that case, why are we still dispelling myths in 2022?

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