In-Game Advertising: How to Win the Game

Contrary to much of the hype, advergaming and in-game ad insertions aren’t all that new. Heck, I wrote about a startup that was going to insert ads into games way back in February 2000. Since then, more players have gotten into the game, and evidence has mounted. Clearly, anyone who wants to market to teens and early adopters must look at video games as one of the best ways to reach them.

A recent Forrester study finds the best way to reach teens is through in-game ad placement or brand-specific advergames. The finding isn’t all that surprising, considering the same study finds 90 percent of teens own a gaming device and nearly three quarters of them play on- and offline games on their computers.

Tapping into this gaming obsession has been extremely lucrative for some. NeoPets has turned teens’ and preteens’ love of games into an obsessive user base of over 25 million worldwide generating 2.2 billion page views per month. As most of these games are wrapped in sponsors’ branding, NeoPets users get a lot of exposure during their average 6 hours, 15 minutes per month on the site.

Though NeoPets has become the undisputed king of advergaming and product placement, other companies are starting to provide an infrastructure for inserting product placements and ads into standalone video games. Massive and IGA Partners both offer advertisers a way to insert ads into games through virtual product placements and other formats, as well as a way of tracking and serving those ads.

It makes sense. Their immersive, time-consuming nature makes games perfect vehicles to drive plenty of brand exposure. Few sites can match NeoPets’ time-on-site numbers, and few other entertainment vehicles can drive the immersive nature of standalone video games. If you want to reach the kinds of people who play games (an increasingly large, potentially lucrative demographic), putting games in ads seems the way to go.

But how? Early Web advertisers often assumed ads on the Web were just digital versions of print ads. Now, we understand how the Web is different from traditional advertising. Games are different, too. Here’s how to avoid making mistakes when advertising in games:

  • Branding. As much as you might want them to, gamers won’t jump out of what their doing to click on your ad. Don’t think direct response when developing ads for games. Instead, think branding and how to expose your target audience to your brand.

  • Frequency. Games are, by their nature, full of action and different stimuli vying for the player’s attention. Since you can’t interrupt a game to place your ad in front of gamers, you must ensure you give players as many chances as possible to notice your ad.
  • Context. Gamers play games because they want to become immersed in the game’s experience and its world. An ad for something that doesn’t fit the rules of that world is an annoyance and will irritate players. Who wants to see an ad for a soft drink in a medieval world? Work to make your ads contextually accurate for the game.
  • Genre-appropriateness. Besides the game’s world, consider the game’s genre. Shooters, sports games, adventure games, and role-playing games all look and feel a lot different and offer different opportunities to reach consumers. Understand the type of game you’re advertising in.
  • Experience. Anything that gets in the way of gamers’ immersive experience will be dismissed and could even cause hostility. Your ads must become part of the experience rather than something that distracts from it. Wrapping your brand around a short online game (or inserting it into that game) doesn’t distract from the experience. However, if the player is deep in the woods looking for dragons and comes across a talking virtual billboard hawking soft drinks, the experience’s illusion is broken.
  • Respect. Finally, it’s about respecting gamers. They can be a persnickety lot (just read the message boards on the major gaming sites) and don’t take kindly to having their intelligence insulted, their experience interrupted, or their game diminished by anything. Know your user, know the game you’re advertising in, test if you can, and refine based on what you learn. Your ad needs to fit seamlessly into the experience and be appropriate for the users. A little respect goes a long way.

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