Tricks of the marketing trade

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It's time brands started playing games

As lockdown restrictions relax, we’re beginning to reflect on our time indoors, looking at what kept us sane and connected to the outside world.

It comes as no surprise that as we entered lockdown, we were all looking for things to keep us entertained indoors. Statista reports that 51% of people worldwide were streaming more shows and films than they were pre-lockdown, with Netflix reporting 16 million new sign ups during the first three months of the year — almost double the number of new sign-ups it saw during the final three months of 2019.

Many of us turned to online communication, with 44% of us spending more time on social media and 45% spending longer using messaging services such as WhatsApp. It’s clear that staying connected and entertained were key drivers of our lockdown behaviour and gaming was no exception to this trend.

Statista reports that 36% of people claimed to spend much more time playing games than they did before the pandemic, and further figures from US telecoms network Verizon showed a 115% increase in gaming usage compared to a typical day before Covid-19.

Activision Blizzard, the studio behind the Call of Duty series, reported 407 million people had played its games online each month in the first quarter of this year while Fortnite registered 350 million users. 

We think it’s fair to say, games have been a been a staple in our lockdown lives.

What does this mean for brands and why should they care?

Using games in marketing is not a new thing of course.

As strategies pivot due to the effects of Covid-19, events and experiential channels are forced to be cancelled or postponed. Now more than ever, is a time for brands to consider the reasons why games have seen us through this most challenging time and where they can fit within marketing strategy going forward.

In-game advertising

Games with huge audiences offer in-game opportunities for brands to reach their highly engaged players. For example, fashion brand 100 Thieves made their entire clothing collection available as digital downloads for Animal Crossing: New Horizon characters – and they’re not the only ones as Valentino and Marc Jacobs are offering digital outfits too.

It’s not just fashion houses either – while the Getty Museum in LA is physically closed players can adorn their pixel walls with art from their collection, and Monteray Aquarium have been providing information about insects, fish and fauna found in the game habitats during livestream events on Twitch!  

Games such as Animal Crossing and Fortnite are more than just ways to keep idle thumbs busy. They offer a way to keep people connected in a virtual world, offering escapism and collaboration, which have become vital to continued socialisation and wellbeing during a time of real-world distancing.

It’s no surprise that brands are getting involved in whatever way they can.   

Esports

Esports is another way brands are getting involved with avid gaming audiences. We’ve seen sports leagues like the NBA and the Premier League using eSports to host tournaments and maintain fan engagement.

Early adopting brands like Red Bull, Coca Cola and Nike were already investing heavily in hosting events and sponsoring teams. The last few years has seen an increase in more mainstream brands such as JD Sports hosting eSports competitions too, tapping into a huge market of loyal fans. 

While recent events have seen many location-based events cancelled, streamed events are increasingly popular. Many sporting celebrities with brand sponsorships are taking to gaming events to connect to their fans whilst satisfying their competitive natures: Renault F1 star, Esteban Ocon streaming Gran Turismo and England Rugby player, Ellis Genge playing a friendly League of Legends match against British eSports organisation Excel Esports to name a few.

High profile premier league footballers, Dele Alli and Kevin de Bruyne have been also spotted teaming up on Fortnite duo’s as part of Twitch’s Stream Aid event. All of this will go a long way to increasing the reach of eSports and its popularity with brands into 2020 and beyond. 

Branded games

Investing in in-game advertising opportunities and eSports might be an option for some brands, but it’s also a hefty investment.

Another more cost effective option is to create a game. While that might seem like another costly endeavor, there are a handful of developers and companies that offer a white label approach to game development — building out an existing game rather than starting from scratch, ensuring that budget is spent on branding opportunities rather than complex development.

Being able to unlock and deliver special offers through in-game achievements, offer prizes and create a truly branded experience might suit those brands looking to deliver something more in line with a wider campaign and deliver ROI in the short term.

For example, online fashion retailer, BoohooMAN have used a game to launch their second collection collaboration with Quavo, using in-game collectables, offers and giveaways.

And it’s not an opportunity solely for consumer brands: Beazley, a B2B specialist insurance provider has provided their brokers with a series of games to play throughout lockdown as a way to engage, entertain and add brand value.    

Brands need to make way for games

The appeal of games has been heightened during this particular time, but it’s an industry that’s growing and can’t be ignored by brands as a valid channel. New figures from Newzoo suggest that gaming audiences will be at a record of 2.6 billion players by the end of 2020, generating revenues of $159.3 billion — more than the music and movie industry combined.  

It’s fair to say that this industry is going from strength to strength, and while brands need to build loyalty and create connections with audiences, they would be amiss not to consider how games could be part of their strategy for 2020 and beyond.

Cari Kirby, marketing manager for branded games studio, Peek & Poke

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