Playing the Game, Part 2

A year ago, Cory Van Arsdale was named CEO of Massive, an in-game advertising network with more than 40 publisher partners. Its network includes Xbox and PC video game titles such as Electronic Art’s “Madden NFL 08,” Funcom’s Anarchy Online, and Activision’s “Guitar Hero III.”

In part one, Van Arsdale discussed online gaming’s potential, Massive network’s audience, and the different types of game advertising. Here, he describes marketers doing a good job advertising in online games and outlines some best practices.

Harry Gold: Are you concerned that ads in the gaming environment will negatively affect your users’ experience?

Cory Van Arsdale: We are concerned with making sure that does not happen. Our operating premise is that the game experience is paramount and that any advertising that we deliver in the game environment must fit within the context of the game experience. Gaming is a lean-forward, immersive experience. Ads must contribute to and enhance that experience. We work hand-in-hand with the game creators to ensure that ads never detract from the gaming experience. In our extensive research to date, most gamers say that they like advertising in the game because it adds to the realism. Imagine, for a moment, developing a counter-terrorism game set in New York’s Times Square. Imagine stalking terrorists in a Times Square with no ads of any sort — not very realistic. Imagine a Times Square with generic ads. Better, but still not as realistic. Now imagine Times Square with ads you just saw on television or read in a newspaper, the latest movie release or television show or a new car model. Imagine further that it is up to the minute, whether you played your game today or six months from now. That is much more realistic. With games, users are consuming the experience, not the ads. The ads add to and enhance that experience, and our research shows that it is highly effective for both game play as well as advertisers.

HG: How are you striking (or planning on striking) a balance between maintaining a fun and uncluttered gaming environment and offering marketers an environment to reach your audience?

CV: Ads can and should be part of the realistic and immersive experience. This means ad exposure realistic to the setting and real life. From a quantity standpoint, we generally aim for about four to five minutes of advertising in a game-play hour. It is critical to note that this is not interrupting the experience, but part of it. In other words, a gamer consumes the ads while consuming the game play itself. Contrast that with television and other media forms where ads interrupt the experience. In an hour of television, you’re likely to be exposed to at least 12 minutes of interruptive advertising. Video games in Massive’s network represent a noninterruptive and far less cluttered environment for an advertiser’s message.

HG: Can you give any examples of marketers who are doing a good job with advertising in the online gaming environment now? Can you share the results if you know them?

CV: Yes, there are several great examples. Examples of creative optimization of in-game by genre, reaching specific target:

  • Adidas using Reggie Bush imagery and “Impossible Is Nothing” messaging and creative in sports games like “Madden 08,” “MLB 2k7,” and “NBA 2k7” to reach young male sports enthusiasts with branding.

  • McDonald’s advertising both its Dollar Menu and its sponsorship of game guides on IGN.com, with custom creative executed for specific titles running in the Massive network, such as “Need for Speed: Carbon,” published by EA, and “MLB 2K7,” published by 2K Sports.
  • U.K. Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), a.k.a., the British Intelligence Agency, utilizing the Massive network to launch a recruiting campaign, targeted at tech-savvy, adventurous young men.

Examples of clients utilizing in-game to tie in to other media or sponsorship efforts or to add to broader media efforts:

  • Ford utilizing the Massive network as a strategic media platform to launch Ford Sync, powered by Microsoft. Ford Sync is Ford’s new fully integrated, voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment system for mobile phones and digital music players.

  • Bridgestone (advertising tire brands) executing a sponsorship in…”Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08″, published by EA, as an extension of its PGA Tour sponsorship.

Examples of driving ROI/effectiveness for clients:

  • TDC Mobil was geotargeted to Denmark only, as TDC only operates in that territory. They ran a campaign across the Massive network (action/adventure/MMO/RGP/sports titles), targeting young, tech-interested men. They used 2-D ads to raise awareness of TDC and specifically of the N95 package that they were promoting for the launch of that handset. They also aimed to drive preorders and subsequent sales of the N95 with TDC Mobil.

    The results? TDC Mobil met the objectives set for preorders and sales. Thirty-four percent preorder-to-sales conversion rate — at least on par with comparable media channels Mediacom has employed for TDC on other campaigns with similar objectives.

  • To date, Massive has executed extensive advertising effectiveness studies with key ad clients, and the results continue to show double-digit increases in brand rating, purchase consideration, brand recommendation, along with other key measures, among those gamers exposed to in-game ads.

HG: What can be measured and how? Impressions, clicks, actions?

CV: With respect to our primary ad types — 2-D and video — we are an impression-based advertising network. However, how we define an impression on the Massive network demonstrates the immersive nature of our advertising and medium. One impression on the Massive network is measured as 10 seconds of cumulative exposure to a specific campaign within a game session (one sitting).

For example, a gamer might progress through the game and see an ad campaign for four seconds in one level, three seconds in another, and then three seconds in yet another level while playing in one game session; that campaign would then register as having delivered one impression (10 cumulative seconds of ad exposure). In order for each one second of exposure to be counted, the gamer has to see the ad. That seems obvious, but our technology ensures that the gamer’s view meets defined thresholds for the angle of ad view (too obtuse and it’s not counted), the size of the ad unit on the screen (too far away and it’s not counted), and whether the gamer is facing the ad (facing away isn’t counted). These thresholds are designed to ensure that gamers are truly exposed to the ads before any impressions are counted towards the ad client’s campaign goals, and counting 10 cumulative seconds of exposure as equal to one impression ensures engagement. You can see an example of how we count impressions on the Massive Web site.

HG: Can you give our readers some best practices they should consider when advertising in games?

CV: As with any other media and marketing investment, it’s important to understand the target audience and then evaluate how to reach and engage that target audience. In our experience, the most effective campaigns feature ad creative that really speaks to the gaming audience and fits best (as in contextually relevant and realistic) within the game environments. As many people talk and write about, being relevant is critical — and in our world, that means reaching gamers in a highly immersive experience like video games in which marketers have extensive creative flexibility with their messaging.

HG: Anything else you would like to say or add?

CV: It is very exciting for Massive to be at the forefront of this industry and to see the medium mature — fantastic, premier content continues to flow into the Massive network and increasing numbers of advertisers in all categories are making dynamic, in-game advertising a part of their media plans. We have more and more repeat customers and longer campaigns, and our and other parties’ research demonstrates that dynamic, in-game advertising is positive, effective, and engaging in all respects. All of this demonstrates that the medium is successful and an essential part of the media mix.

In a research study we did with Nielsen, we found that dynamic, in-game advertising was highly effective across specific advertising categories. The study was executed with clients across the automotive, consumer packaged goods [CPG], quick-service restaurant [QSR], and technology tools categories. Some highlights of findings:

  • Automotive. The automakers included in the study achieved a 69 percent increase in purchase consideration among likely car buyers from control to test groups.

  • CPG. The CPG client achieved a 71 percent increase among those who consider the snack food advertised a “cool brand” from control to test groups. Among the key demographic of males ages 18 to 24, brand familiarity rose 63 percent from control to test groups.
  • QSR. A QSR ad featured in the Massive network saw its rating (those who “liked it a lot/liked it a little”) rise 39 percent from control to test groups.
  • Technology tools. The technology client achieved a 70 percent increase in brand rating from control to test groups.

Thanks, Cory, for sharing so much with us and for teaching me so much about the in-game advertising space. The comments really shout out to me just how big the gamer audience is. It truly rivals any other form of media and gives advertisers the chance to reconnect with an audience that long ago stopped commuting media in a way that makes them accessible through traditional means.

In a future column, I’ll discuss another segment of the online gaming world and explore how advertisers are engaging thousands of people with online tournaments that spill over into real-life events. Stay tuned!

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