Gamers OK With Relevant Ads

Gamers will generally accept ads in games — as long as they fit into the gaming experience — according to a new study by Mediaedge:cia.

“Advertising in games can work, but only if it’s done in a subtle way,” Fran Kennish, senior partner and strategic research director at MEC MediaLab, told ClickZ News. “It has to be relevant, with an emotional fit between the brand and the audience. And it has to be realistic to the setting.”

Gamers are even more accepting of advertising in situations where the ads are seen to enhance the realism in the game, MEC MediaLab’s “Playing With Brands” study found. According to Kennish, since the primary goal of gamers is escapism — the opportunity to participate in an alternate reality — the primary goal of marketers must be to enhance that escapism.

The best way to do that is to involve the brand in the drive to explore, with the promise of reward, the study found. That could be in the form of scene-appropriate product placement; ads with a real world parallel, such as those appearing in a sports arena or sponsor ads on race cars; or in customization options, such as allowing a user to choose a real world make and model car they wish to modify in a racing game.

“It’s tough for advertisers who are thinking of ads as interruptive, like a :30 spot,” Brian Aucoin, media supervisor at MEC Interaction, told ClickZ News. “You can’t disrupt the flow of a game; you want it to complement the gaming experience.”

Advertisers should be careful to understand that all ad placements in a game are not created equal. An in-game ad is not guaranteed to be accepted just because it could have a real world counterpart, the study found.

“It isn’t the advertising that adds a benefit to a game — it’s a brand’s ability to boost the alternate-reality experience at a particular moment in a game. To do this requires dexterity from both advertiser and developer, but the acid test is that when done properly, in-game communication feels like a natural part of the game,” Kennish said.

But with all the extra work that goes into planning and buying in-game advertising, it remains to be seen whether the payoffs will prove worthwhile. The MEC study noted that gamers are highly focused on the task at hand, so advertisers that are able to insert themselves into the experience in a seamless way should benefit. Kennish said that limited research has shown that in-game ads can help develop a positive attitude toward a brand, and increase brand recall.

The most likely brands to do well in games are those that fit the core, 18 to 34 year old male demographic — like wireless companies, carbonated beverages, or autos, Aucoin said.

Flexibility on the advertiser’s part is important as well, which makes it hard to convince some brands to enter the medium. In Activision’s Tony Hawk skateboarding game, Chrysler allowed a Jeep to be used as part of the skate park, with players jumping on, running into, and otherwise abusing the vehicle.

“For some brands, it’s more of a leap of faith than a matter of production time or money that makes them hesitate,” Aucoin said. “It’s an untested space. They know they’re going to reach people, but they’re not sure how it will affect their brand or sales.”

When an advertiser works directly with a game developer, the integration may be tighter, but the metrics are usually not as robust, he said. Reach can be estimated using the number of placements within a game, number of units sold, and average users per copy. Impressions and other common online metrics are more readily available when advertisers go through the dynamic insertion providers, like Massive or Doublefusion. Companies can also commission focus groups or panels to gather qualitative research.

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