FHM Promotes Special Issue with In-Game Campaign

It’s now a given in digital marketing circles that ad trafficking in 3D video games will eventually be commonplace. Yet at the dawn of 2006, that scenario remains remote.

There are several reasons for this. Gaming ad networks and agencies have struggled to identify and promote standards. The research is flimsy. Best practices, nowhere to be found.

Some progress has been made. A recent study by Nielsen Interactive Entertainment discovered a 60 percent lift in awareness for new products after a 3D in-game ad campaign. And a few advertisers are going on the record with details of their first tentative in-game media buys.

One such advertiser is U.K. lad mag FHM, whose parent Emap recently placed a campaign in the first-person shooter Counterstrike. The ad placement was brokered and trafficked by IGA Partners, the video game ad network that represents Counterstrike.

In early fall 2004, Emap approached IGA Partners’ U.K. division, called Hive Partners, to see about promoting a special split-cover issue featuring Jo Dark, a heroine in the Xbox 360 game Perfect Dark. Emap wanted to raise awareness and sales of the special issue among a hardcore gaming audience.

Emap’s budget for the campaign was approximately $17,600, which IGA was able to convert into 666,667 impressions in the Counterstrike environment. The resulting CPM was approximately $26.

Any case study on in-game advertising must include the definition of an impression, since the term hasn’t been standardized across games. In the FHM/Counterstrike campaign, impression reporting was triggered when an ad took up 1/20 of the screen and had been viewed at that size for at least two seconds at a 30 degree (or higher) angle to the viewer.

The ads appeared for three weeks in November and were frequency-capped at six impressions. IGA Partners conducted user surveys at idle moments during game play, and received an average 500 responses to each survey question.

Most notably, 91 percent of players said they noticed the FHM ads. That’s significant, because advertisers have expressed concern that a hyper-focused gamer engaged in a very specific in-game action isn’t likely to notice an ad placement in an alley or hallway.

Another of the survey questions revealed gamers were divided evenly in whether they loved, hated, or merely weren’t bothered by the FHM ads. Thirty-seven percent reported having a positive impression of the ads; 34 percent were not bothered by them; and 29 percent had a negative impression.

Unfortunately, that’s the extent of the available campaign results. This highlight a real problem in trying to gauge the sales impact of advertising in video game environments, because the test campaigns so far tend to be small.

Ben Cordle, product manager for FHM, decried the measurement problem.

“One of the difficulties at the moment is that it’s tough to measure direct sales growth based on a single piece of activity in a single area,” said Ben Cordle, product manager for FHM. “I can see IGA playing an ever increasing role within FHM marketing activity, but the one constant I want at the moment is mass reach.”

Nonetheless, Emap is planning another campaign in the Counterstrike environment, according to IGA Partners’ co-founder Darren Herman, with a media buy larger than that for the Jo Dark issue.

Cordle remains a touch ambivalent about the ability of in-game ads to seriously boost its off-the-shelf sales in the near term, but he’s enthusiastic about the long term.

“As the market becomes broader and more mainstream, the medium gets really exciting,” he said. “We are working with companies to monitor what’s coming up and will hopefully be there and ready, with the right message, when this happens.”

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