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Why brands should look to gaming during lockdown

27 May 2020  |  Nick Woodford 
Why brands should look to gaming during lockdown

From brand safety to diverse audiences, Unruly's Nick Woodford outlines three reasons why brands should look to gaming to complement their advertising strategies during the coronavirus pandemic

Gaming has quickly become the perfect arena for escapism for many people in lockdown across the globe.

With no live sports, TV channels repurposing old shows and the press awash with all things Covid-19, watching esports and playing video games offers consumers a chance to experience a virtual world free from the grip of the coronavirus.

According to The World Economic Forum, the global video game market is forecast to be worth $159 billion in 2020, around four times box office revenues ($43 billion in 2019) and almost three times music industry revenues ($57 billion in 2019).

Of course, gaming has been on adland’s radar for a while. But the spread of COVID-19 could well be the inflection point when marketers start to see video games as an essential part of their media planning.

Here are three reasons why brands should be looking to gaming environments to complement their advertising strategies.

Electronic Athletes, Puzzlers and Trophy Hunters

A recent survey by Unruly on consumer habits during COVID-19 found that time spent on games consoles in the US was up across all age groups, with the highest being a 55% jump in the 25-34-year age bracket. This is a global trend, with increases also found in the UK (33%), and Japan (14%).

There have been many gaming successes since the lockdown began -- Electronic Arts’ FIFA football franchise has attracted more than 25 million players, whilst Fortnite recently announced it now has more than 350 million registered users.

The variety of games available reinforces the view that gaming environments aren't just aimed at one particular demographic or age group. This allows brands to reach a diverse audience; Candy Crush, The Sims and Mario Kart are more examples of games that are all enjoyed by diverse audiences.

However, with millions of games now more accessible than ever, brands can also hone down on different gamer niches. For example, targeting sports fans via games like FIFA, F1 and NBA Live, or music fans via games like Just Dance, SingStar and Guitar Hero.

Nurture relationships in brand safe environments

According to The World Economic Forum, gaming is shifting from a single unit to a recurring revenue model – people are playing fewer games but are spending a lot more time on the games they do play. Due to increased leisure time, the average time spent playing video games has gone up by at least 50%.

Animal Crossing is one such example of a game that’s attracting more users during the tough times of Covid-19. Gamers are finding solace in the relaxing safe haven of its latest hit, ‘New Horizons’, which saw 1.88 million copies sold in just three days.

This presents advertisers with an opportunity to organically build relationships with gamers, rather than creepily following them around the internet. This is especially true for those who are coming back to the same games every day.

Many mobile games that work on daily reward systems, as well as online multiplayer games like Call of Duty, Fortnite and League of Legends, for example, see gamers returning each day to either claim rewards or play a quick game with friends.

Games also offer advertisers safe environments where content can sit naturally - such as fashion brand 100 Thieves, which is offering in-game clothing for Animal Crossing players, or Getty, which is offering art to adorn the pixelated walls of players’ in-game homes.

Advertising on these family-friendly games also reduces the worry that many advertisers have of their brand message appearing next to questionable or non-brand safe content.

An in-app spot alongside a mobile puzzler or a sponsored in-game event in a simulator like The Sims - which signed a deal with Moschino last year - means advertisers can reach the right audience in a brand safe way without compromising their reputation.

Reach gamers even when they’re not playing

More people than ever are live streaming games. Twitch - one of the world’s biggest streaming platforms for gamers - is estimated to have grown its audience by up to a third in March alone.

With the absence of live sports, many people are turning to e-sports viewing as an alternative. Over the past few months, F1 has hosted its first virtual Grand Prix, in the UK the Grand National was aired as a virtual horse race, while rugby league players in Australia were live-streamed playing Fortnite at the same time they should have been playing a league match.

Gaming influencers are also amassing huge audiences during lockdown, with many of the top players having seen growth in their viewership numbers by up to 40% in April.

In response to this, companies in the advertising space, including Unruly, who has just partnered with gaming and esports company Ampverse, are working hard to help brands harness these huge untapped audiences.

In order to succeed, it’s important to understand these audiences better. Gamers are incredibly engaged, passionate audiences, but they are easily put off. Brand partnerships should therefore look natural and unforced by offering incentives and natural extensions to the gameplay itself.

Advertisers should look to find a partner that can help pre-test concepts and distribute in a low-risk way to take advantage of this exploding consumer trend.


Nick Woodford is global content and engagement manager at Unruly



Join Mediatel on 28 May for The Future of Gaming, a free lockdown event where we speak to the brands, tech platforms and agencies investing in gaming and eSports to discover the potential of this new media channel.

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01 Jul 2020 

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