Zynga Ramps Up In-Game Ads, Extends Beyond FarmVille

mcdsfarmvillephotoIn the past few months Zynga has integrated numerous brands with its popular social game FarmVille, including Bing, McDonald’s, Farmers Insurance, and most recently Paramount Pictures movie, “Megamind.” Now the company is integrating other brands into its other gaming properties as it seeks to attract spend from advertisers across a wider range of verticals.

“Through the rest of this year and into next year we will be taking integrations to our other games,” Manny Anekal, Zynga’s global director of brand advertising, told ClickZ. Efforts are underway to integrate automotive, telecommunications, and financial services brands into games. “We wanted to start with the brands that made most sense to the gaming experience, but in the next six months will expand the scope of genres and brands,” he said.

In October the company’s CafeWorld game saw its first branded content from Coca-Cola. Branded content from Kraft’s coffee brands – Tassimo and Maxwell House – will appear in December.

Meanwhile in FarmVille, Zynga conducted its first global campaign for the Paramount Pictures movie, “Megamind,” earlier this month. According to Anekal, more than 60 percent of the game’s daily active users interacted with the Megamind content during the 24-hour campaign, equating to around nine million users. That interaction also resulted in over four million Facebook news feed posts, Anekal said.

However, as with the introduction of marketer content in any media – and particularly the gaming space – user experience can suffer if sponsorships are not executed carefully. Anekal said the company is well aware of that fact. “We’ve really only been doing this for six months. It’s still a new medium so we want to be really careful with user experience and gameplay,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s all about user experience. Brand integrations are about enhancing the game, and giving something back to our users.” Integrations to date have rewarded users with items to aid their progress in the game, such as power ups or other in-game items.

Anekal said the company is currently focusing on brand integrations over other vehicles such as display advertising and pre-roll video, suggesting the latter two adversely affect user experiences. As well as selling those integrations itself, Zynga also partners with social marketing firm appssavvy which brokered the McDonald’s FarmVille sponsorship, for example.

Though the vast majority of traffic to Zynga’s games currently comes via Facebook, Anekal said the firm is dedicated to providing social gaming through various channels, accommodating gamers when and where they want to play. He pointed to the company’s recently announced relationship with Yahoo, standalone sites for some of its games, and emphasized its plans to push into the mobile space.

Following the launch of a range of titles for the iPhone and iPod Touch, FarmVille was also released as a stand alone iPad application last month, as the company invests further in accommodating mobile devices. “Mobile usage rates in Asia are currently much higher than in North America, but it’s a big priority here, too… My personal belief is that mobile will become more and more important with features such as location-based services,” Anekal said.

To aid its Asian focus, the company acquired Chinese firm XPD Media in May, and plans to “push heavily” into the mobile space there. “Mobile in Asia is a huge area for us to play in,” Anekal added.

Zynga also acquired German-based development firm Dextrose AG in September, which should further augment its mobile capabilities, particularly with the HTML5 programming language. Zynga’s games are currently built largely in Flash, limiting their functionality on devices such as Apple’s iPad. Anekal suggested the Dextrose acquisition was driven primarily for the firm’s HTML5 capabilities, stating the technology “will be of great importance to Zynga moving forward.”

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.