By Ian Darby | journalist

October 11, 2023 | 7 min read

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New opportunities for advertisers are emerging thanks to the integration of programmatic solutions into gaming environments, say leaders from StackAdapt, Reddit and Allied Global Marketing.

StackAdapt talk all things emerging media markets at The Drum Live

StackAdapt talk all things emerging media markets at The Drum Live

Taking a retro view of the video game world throws up some fascinating instances of in-game advertising and playable “advergames” developed on behalf of brands. Noteworthy examples include the 1980s home computer game Mr. Wimpy, created as a tie-in with the burger chain, and PlayStation action game Pepsiman, which featured the Japanese mascot of the soft drinks company.

It's fair to say, however, that the scale and sophistication of advertising in the gaming world have progressed exponentially since those days, reaching new heights along with the tech that is driving new experiences for gamers.

In this fast-growing landscape, with forecasts suggesting that gaming-related advertising will be worth $17.6bn globally by 2030, brands are looking for opportunities to connect with varied audiences through previously untapped ways.

Programmatic innovation in gaming

Matthew Thomas, sales director UK and EMEA at StackAdapt, speaks of the increased sophistication that programmatic in-game is delivering for brands – but notes that there’s a distinction between well-established, standardized in-game advertising and these emerging opportunities: “In the programmatic space, where perhaps the most innovation is actually happening, this is more around ‘intrinsic in-game’ or ‘blended in-game’. Now these are terms that we use to describe serving ads within the native gameplay itself.”

Thomas highlights examples including the presence of native ad units in racing games that can deliver a programmatically-served creative. This, he argues, provides a more natural, less intrusive experience for gamers than more traditional in-game advertising, and creates higher engagement for brands.

Melanie Wills, vice-president of partnerships UK and Europe at Allied Global Marketing sees big opportunities to integrate brands more fully into games - to have players actually interacting with, and using, products and services. This, she says, is becoming more advanced with cosmetic and clothing items lending “extra reality and fun to games”.

“It really gives brands the opportunity to have that interactive or really integrated level that is not just an ad at the side... but also give some really fun activities to the user as well,” Wills adds.

Examples of this include an activation for LG Electronics in a new Assassin’s Creed game, which combines neatly with in-store activation across stores’ point of sale. Mention is also made of the sophisticated use of in-game advertising from restaurant chain KFC, which created a “KFC food island” in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, and partnered with Diablo IV on a range of rewards including in-game branded weapon cosmetics.

Engaging with gamers

Laurelle Potter, regional director of EMEA at Reddit, says there’s an upside of engaging with online gaming communities, where brands are very much welcome in the discussion forum environment as long as they show up in authentic ways.

“Redditors, because of their passion, can sort of smell if they are being advertised to in a way that doesn’t feel authentic for the community... [But] are more likely to trust a brand which is willing to engage with them around gaming. And so the appetite is there.”

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One example of this is from automotive brand Volvo to reinforce its safety credentials. It turned to Reddit’s community to retell car crash stories and to highlight how safety belts saved their lives, receiving more than 2,000 responses from Reddit’s community as part of the “A Million More” campaign.

While new opportunities in programmatic have great potential to boost ROI and increase transparency for brands in the gaming world, StackAdapt’s Thomas emphasizes the creative potential: “I think about the features of the world, including football clubs, right now. You know, games that actually have the ability to mimic real-world situations that you can naturally or authentically insert advertising real estate within, and then we can buy that programmatically.”

Key opportunities in the programmatic space are also provided beyond these “real world” scenarios by Minecraft and other user-generated worlds and experiences created through the Roblox platform, he adds.

Sharing a final word of advice with brands, Potter suggests “pulling up a chair” and listening actively to gaming communities when they talk about specific issues and themes. She says: “We can gain a lot by taking a seat and just seeing what people are discussing already, versus the insights that we’re pulling up that are outside of what our most loyal fan bases are talking about today.”

Potter’s point of view chimes with that of the others in terms of the importance of delivering relevant and authentic experiences to gamers. Due to its targeting strengths and ability to engage with gamers, programmatic advertising is emerging as a powerful vehicle for these interactions.

You can watch the full panel discussion on ‘Emerging Media Markets’ at the top of the article.

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StackAdapt is a self-serve programmatic advertising platform used by the most exceptional digital marketers. This state-of-the-art platform is where some of the most progressive work in machine learning meets cutting-edge user experience. Ad buyers plan, execute, and manage data-driven digital advertising campaigns across all devices, inventory and publisher partners

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