Advergaming has been around for years, but it’s never been more popular than right now—and for good reason. More and more, consumers congregate online for shopping, research and entertainment purposes. While tactics such as banner ads provide an opportunity to target online, they fail to engage consumers the way advergames can.
Games differ from other forms of entertainment mainly because play requires active participation from consumers. Advertisers and publishers need to keep in mind the unique characteristics of a “lean-in” game experience when deciding on the best integration and media placements. There is a unique opportunity to leverage ad formats which drive both retention for publishers along with awareness and purchase intent for brands.
It’s important to note that in-game ad formats can vary depending on the game mechanics. Most gamification experts would agree that the best consumer experiences come when game developers incorporate brands and media placements in the game at the concept phase of the game design. This can include integrations, sponsorships, experiential and video.
Despite the fact that it is an innovative technique, advergaming isn’t something new for marketers, in fact early cases trace all the way back to the original Atari system. Advergaming is an ingenious method for avoiding ad fatigue with viewers. Companies are able to promote their products through a cloak of in-game elements, resulting in an increase in brand awareness and user dialogue with their friends and family in regards to the game and consequently the product advertised.
“If you can engage somebody from five to ten minutes, that’s a huge feat,” says Dan Ferguson, founder and vice president of interactive services of Blockdot, a Dallas-based interactive entertainment and advergaming technologies studio. “But through gameplay, especially effective gameplay, we’ve seen people who can spend 45 minutes to an hour in one instance playing a game and then getting that same person to come back five to ten times.” Ferguson adds. Ultimately, the longer people play the more the campaign can influence brand recognition and purchase intent.
Jessica Rovello, president of New York-based advergaming provider Arkadium, agrees. “With traditional online advertising like banner buys or even video ads, you’re not really entirely sure if people are looking at it or paying attention to it,” she says. “With advergaming, whether it be an ad shown before your game or your brand integrated into a game, you know that people are concentrating on your brand message because they’re concentrating on the game.”
Is Advergaming Right for You?
If there has ever been a myth that has been further debunked than any other in 2019, it is that of game campaigns only appealing to youths and males within the 18 to 25 year old bracket. This is obviously not the case as study after study have revealed that any and all concerned demographics can be reached one way or another via a game campaign if the research and planning has been well laid out in advance.
The truth is advergaming works for just about any marketer. In fact, both Rovello and Ferguson say they’ve yet to find a brand that does not fit the criteria for a game campaign. Arkadium and Blockdot have both created game campaigns for big name clients such as American Airlines and Universal Pictures, through to feminine hygiene products, manufacturers and pharmaceutical firms.
“The key is to be smart about integrating your brand into the game,” says Rovello. “It sounds obvious, but even if you know that sudoku is, say, the most popular game online right now and you’ve got a car company, it maybe doesn’t make sense to do that. It’s got to make sense with your brand.”
Games offer high reach, high impact video advertising akin to personal ‘15-second’ TV commercials. In gaming, brands are able to reach consumers in a non-divisive brand safe environment while their target audience is both tuned-in, and in a laid-back entertainment mindset. Video ads are full-screen, without any clutter, and give advertisers 100% share of voice. These mobile video ads in gaming environments are able to deliver video completion rates of 75%+, and viewability metrics of 90%+.
In addition to high video completion rates, brands can further engage consumers with interactive end cards (which is clearly a best practice for mobile video ads in gaming environments), and we are seeing about 15% average engagement rates with interactive end cards.
For performance advertisers (across a wide range of categories), we are seeing video advertising as a highly effective ad format within gaming environments. Additionally, we have found that interactive video is driving 1.8 times greater conversions than non-interactive video for gaming performance advertisers.
One of the latest trends, says Ferguson, is moving advergames away from single-player experiences toward multiplayer, community-based platforms. “It used to be an advergame was a single instance … People play the game, and the experience was over. Now, the games are becoming a much larger experience where there’s lobbies, there’s chat, there’s a longer experience by playing through multiplayer,” he says. “… Companies are now building a community around it. So the more I play, the more achievements I’m unlocking … I now can display what I’ve earned; I can now post my scores to scoreboards so people can see how I’m competing. So it’s not just a five or ten minute experience now; it’s something that lasts over several months, and people spend hours and hours involved with the brand.”
The rise of social media also has made advergaming more effective. By integrating a game into social platforms like Facebook, it allows users to spread the games virally and direct traffic to the marketer’s site. That goes for mobile devices as well. Ferguson says Blockdot has been “doing a lot of iPhone advergames … building an online game, then building an iPhone component so it makes for a more comprehensive piece.”
Best Advergame Practices
Rovello and Ferguson say Internet users don’t mind seeing advertising messages in games. They’re smart and understand that there’s a value exchange when they take time in a game. With that in mind, Ferguson says subtlety goes a long way; a game doesn’t have to hit players over the head with a branded message.
Finding a balance between effective marketing and functional gameplay is key. The game can’t neglect its mechanics to simply become an ad, likewise a game that does not hit any advertising components is in vain.
Understanding how to virally spread your game is vital. “Don’t just bury the game deep within your site and expect people to come and hang out.”, add Leaderboard systems, and create a deeper experience.
Entertaining games are strong because “you’re potentially associating your brand with an activity that people are doing for stress relief and fun, making for a positive brand association,” says Rovello. Integrating mobile and online developments to engage people across all platforms with advergaming offers exciting opportunities.
Successful Examples Of Advergaming Campaigns
For a better understanding of how advergames work, we gathered a few examples. You will see that applied in the right manner, advergaming is very efficient.
Chipotle teamed up with Moonbot Studios to create an ad for a campaign launched a few years ago. The game was a runaway success in fact, the message and success of the campaign was so impressive that it was written about in the New York Times, Time Magazine, and countless other publications, even further propelling its success.
The main takeaways from the game's story are that you should remove the barriers and make your advergame free in order to allow users to download and experience it. No matter how famous your brand is, customers won’t agree to pay for an ad. Further, you should focus on offering high-quality elements inside your game. Additionally, to implementing interesting features, you have to keep in mind that your game should be flawless with impressive designs in order to attract more customers.
Gaming seemed to have a theme in the 90’s. Many developers aimed to create a mascot that was full of attitude and "too cool for school". At the time of conception in 1992 Zool aimed to mirror other platforming titans of the time including Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Bros.
Zool was designed first and foremost as a quality video game about a side-scrolling Gremlin Ninja , it wasn't until late in the development stage that the team faced budget issues and then resorted to converting Zool into an advergame for iconic lollipop brand Chupa Chups.
The blatant scattering of Chup Chups' logo and lollipops throughout levels has made this game live on in a more iconic-state than it probably deserves.
Lego is one of those brands that you can't help but applaud, between having the property rights to multiple iconic franchises and just creating different forms of merchandise and media around their iconic toy line, the company just know how to market and how to build an empire.
One of the strongest examples of advergaming can be found in the many forms of Lego branded games that can be found in the app stores of an iOS device. They are both free and entertaining, plus with the addition of AR technology, Lego games have only become more engaging over time.
All this to be said, Lego has found a way to combine their app technology with their actual product bricks. Creating a drive for users to interact with both mediums and post about their creative builds.
One of the most unassuming advergames on this list has to be “Crazy Taxi.” The high energy, fast-paced gameplay has you zipping through the city attempting to pick-up and drop-off customers in your Taxi, all the while the city is littered with branding from real life brands such as KFC, Levi's and Pizza Hut, among others.
This form of Brandification marketing is on a scale that leaves Zool looking rather tame. This amount of brand saturation ends up benefitting the game as it only helps solidify the game feeling more grounded in a realistic setting.
Doritos VR Battle
Who would of thought that VR games could convince players to buy various products? If you browse through the games listed on Google Play you can easily find Doritos VR Battle, an action game which promotes in a unique way certain flavours of Doritos. Again, the purpose is to reach a wider market and to make users remember your brand.
Even though the game is for Cardboard VR viewer, many elements can be adapted for other advergames. For example, if users want to share their achievements on Facebook they have the option to connect with their Facebook account. They can use the barcodes from the back of their Doritos packages to unlock certain weapons. Otherwise, they can skip all these steps and just enjoy the gameplay.
Widely regarded as the greatest advergame of all time is the Doom modification known as, “Chex Quest.” “Chex Quest” took an already widely popular game and not only made it available to a much wider audience of younger gamers by lowering the violence level, but also single handedly boosted “Chex” sales by over 200%. This game still has a cult following that leaves people anxious for a follow up.
“From my perspective, integrations in mobile games are an important way to leverage not only the 2-way engagement games offer, but the huge reach of the audience. According to Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends Report, three-quarters of mobile users are mobile gamers. In-game integrations offer unparalleled time spent and interaction with a brand. We’ve seen several advertiser integrations in games drive upwards of 15 minutes user/brand engagement.
From rewarded video to esports, playables and video interstitials, game advertising is uniquely suited for consumer engagement and, as we all know, engagement is the new gold standard for marketers.” Gabrielle Heyman, Zynga, IAB Game Committee Co-chair
In-game reward advertising represents an ad format 81% all mobile game players prefer, and it’s easy to see why.
Users are responsive to game advertising because the content is professionally developed, along with no user-generated content (UGC) videos, and the consumer’s awareness of this point is high, to the tune of two-thirds of all mobile gamers knowing their content costs money to develop and is brought to them by advertisers. Finally, this player centric approach results in brand value in the form of a full screen, opt-in engagement with the highest view completion rates in mobile.
So, while all advertising is reward based where consumers use their time with ads in exchange for desired content, mobile games offer an unparalleled value for consumers and brands alike.
Although advergaming isn’t actually a new marketing method, for one reason or the other, many companies miss this opportunity to make potential customers interested in their products. As we presented above there are many advantages provided by this technique and if you invest in advergaming, you can rest assure that your campaign will give you long-term results!