Brands Need Gamers. Do Gamers Need Brands?

Consumer segmentation studies are quickly teaching brands that their target demographic spends an increasing amount of time playing games. This occurs while other media remain flat or decrease, as in the case of TV and magazines.

The gamer community parallels the videogame community. Nintendo received significant attention over the past 18 months for expanding the industry’s definition of gamer beyond males aged 18 to 34. This strategic decision proved to be profitable. Nintendo has sold over 20 million units of its Wii console, making it the top-selling next-generation console. Plus, Nintendo continues to dominant the handheld category due to the success of the Nintendo DS, which has sold over 65 million units. In short, brands need consumers who play videogames to reach their sales goals.

The growth in the gamer community offers marketers the opportunity of inserting their assets and trademarks into the gaming environment. But first, marketers must ask an important question: do gamers need brands in their games?

The typical gamer’s response is, “It depends.” For example, in-game advertising is welcomed when it adds realism to a game environment.

For example:

  • Brand Jordan integrated its roster of sponsored athletes into the latest version of “NBA 2K8” as a playable team. Gamers are receptive to this sponsored element, because it allows them to play with Team Jordan in addition to the regular NBA rosters. The brand was able to integrate its brand assets directly into the game for effective consumer engagement. Unfortunately, not all brands have access to these types of assets and license partnerships.

  • EA’s “Burnout Paradise” included Gillette Fusion branding via billboard signage and vehicles that appear throughout the game’s Paradise City. While the branding drives significant awareness for Gillette with a blockbuster title, there’s limited consumer interaction with the ads. Most brands can take advantage of this integration type, but they miss out on the games’ interactivity.

Brands undeniably need gamers. Gamers are open to brands being included in their game experience, but many examples aren’t available or relevant to brands or aren’t ideal for certain marketers. Overall, this creates a dilemma for marketers looking to leverage in-game advertising.

Marketers must provide value to gamers in the game experience. If you search gamer discussion boards about in-game advertising, the biggest complaint is gamers must endure advertising and receive nothing in return. We’ve conditioned consumers to understand the ad model all too well. If you sit through advertising, you should receive something of value in return. We see this done to perfection in traditional forms, such as radio, and emerging media, such as search marketing and online video. But with in-game advertising, gamers are highly opposed to playing through advertising with no real benefit to them or their experience.

In addition to partnering with strategic game properties, marketers must identify a relevant benefit they can offer gamers in exchange for interacting with the brand message. The perfect storm occurs when that benefit is intrinsically tied to the message, but we should walk before we run and focus on creating value for gamers.

The best in-game advertising is built on providing relevant value to the consumer. The value exchange can’t be based on what the brand finds valuable. This balance is exemplified by the latest ABC promotion for “Lost.” ABC partnered with Microsoft to create custom Xbox 360 themes for free download. Knowing only true “Lost” fans would download the theme, ABC also involved general gamers by offering the chance to win a new Xbox 360 for downloading the theme. The opportunity to win a new console expands the group of gamers interested in the free theme because of the added value.

When a brand provides gamers with a valuable experience, the gamer no longer views it as advertising but as coveted content. A gamer is more inclined to pass on content to friends, which in turn makes your job easier. (I didn’t tell my friends about the “Lost” promotion until it closed, because I wanted to improve my chances of winning a new Xbox 360. You can provide the gamer with value exchange, but you can’t take the competitive nature out of the gamer.)

When gaming pops as a key media activity in your consumer segmentation, remember that you’ve taught gamers to expect value in exchange for your advertising in other media. If we marketers keep this in mind with the game environment, we’ll change the answer to whether gamers need brands in games from “it depends” to “more brands, please.”

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