Levelling up: why gaming is the cheat code for modern marketing

Levelling up: why gaming is the cheat code for modern marketing
Opinion: Strategy Leaders

Imagine it was 2018 and none of your competitors were using social media. That’s the opportunity that gaming offers today, writes Spark Foundry’s chief strategy and innovation officer.

This year, Cannes Lions introduced a new Lion category for gaming.

Funny that — given it’s now quite well known that gaming is the biggest untapped opportunity in the history of marketing, we’re still only just getting our heads round it being a key channel.

According to Lions CEO Simon Cook, they’ve seen “the number of Lion winners that feature gaming rise by 74% in the last five years.” And, with 3.2 billion gamers in the world — the same as the number of social media users in 2018 — that’s nothing to sneer at.

Despite this, gaming still only captures 2% of the advertising revenue. But imagine it was 2018 and none of your competitors were using social media. That’s the opportunity that gaming offers today.

Inspired by this insight, we have spent the past year monitoring the evolution of the gaming world, and the opportunities for brands, through our quarterly Insights Accelerated report… here’s why you should care about gaming.

Primetime entertainment

8pm has always been the golden hour for marketing. It’s when the very best TV shows are airing, guaranteeing the largest possible audiences. At least, that’s how it used to work.

Social media has been cutting into this time for years, but the act of multi-screening means social and TV can co-exist. But gaming doesn’t play so nicely.

Conversation around gaming spikes rapidly in the evening, with the peak hitting at 8.30pm. In other words, people are choosing gaming over other traditional forms of entertainment. For them, gaming is their preferred way to unwind, have fun, and socialise.

Brands who traditionally target big TV shows, watercooler moments and evening entertainment, need to see gaming as a credible extension of this environment. If not, you’ll miss out on one of the largest parts of the entertainment puzzle.

Interactive worlds

In the first three months of 2023, conversation around augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) gaming jumped by 60%, vs the previous quarter (Q4 2022). This is relatively unheard of in most categories.

Usually, product conversations are highest during the Christmas season, when media spend is heaviest and people are discussing their wish lists. But in technology, conversation often follows the purchase rather than precedes it. This makes social listening a great barometer of sales strength, as the volume of conversations are an effective way to forecast market growth.

Given the explosion in discussion, it appears that Q4 was a huge quarter for VR headsets. This in turn is motivating the community to share their positive experiences, encouraging even more gamers to follow suit.

As VR games unlock more opportunities for brands to experiment with in-ad features, it’s a perfect environment to capture attention like never before.

Diverse communities

Close your eyes and picture a ‘gamer’. Chances are you’re imagining a teenage boy sitting in his bedroom. But the reality is very different.

Our client, Currys, recently conducted a study to better understand the modern gaming community. It found 45% are female, 18% come from a black or Asian background, and 25% identify as disabled. That makes gaming one of the most diverse and inclusive pastimes. People from all walks of life are drawn to gaming, and through it, are able to find communities who represent them.

Brands which care about inclusivity within their marketing plan and want to reach underrepresented communities in the places they care about, have an incredible opportunity through gaming. From inclusive messaging on in-game ads, to collaborating with gaming studios to design representative characters.

Above all, it offers a straightforward route to engaging with these communities, allowing for dialogue about their expectations, rather than making assumptions.

Game On

Gaming is the biggest opportunity in marketing, but it won’t be long before everyone wises up. Brands have a fleeting window to establish their presence before competitors flood in.

What an opportunity it is! From the emerging world of alternative entertainment to interactive realms that unlock novel storytelling forms, and the inclusive nature of the platform.

Just as importantly, gamers are welcoming of brands in this space. Studies showed that EA players prefer playing the game when brands advertise on the pitch side hoardings. This is because it mirrors the real world and makes the game more immersive.

A similar trend is appearing in Grand Theft Auto of all places. Fans are petitioning developer Rockstar to include ads in GTA6 as they feel it will add a further level of realism to the experience.

While we can debate the pros and cons of appearing in the streets of Vice City, the fact is that brands are welcome, as long as they add to the experience.

Compared to most media environments, where people actively try to avoid ads, that is quite the invite.

Marcos Angelides is chief strategy and innovation officer at Publicis Groupe media agency Spark Foundry

Strategy Leaders features on the Thursday edition of The Media Leader‘s daily bulletin with thought leadership, news and analysis dedicated to excellence in commercial media strategy.
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