Gaming and eSports: The Next Frontier for Marketers
The popularity of gaming and esports continues to show impressive year-on-year growth. So the opportunity to forge deep connections with these seemingly hard-to-reach demographics is there for the taking.
The popularity of gaming and esports continues to show impressive year-on-year growth. The mainstream view of a ‘gamer’ is rapidly evolving to match reality and brands are starting to see the benefits of connecting with this highly engaged and receptive audience. The opportunity to forge deep connections with hard-to-reach demographics is there for the taking.
The gaming and esports landscape in 2023
Gaming and esports present both a golden opportunity and a unique challenge for brands. Gaming provided an entertaining social space during the pandemic, a habit that has stuck for many even after restrictions were lifted. The industry has now ballooned to 3 billion players worldwide, with an industry worth over $200bn annually.
At the same time, the long-running barriers that held many brands back from entering this space are relaxing. Where expensive long-term partnership campaigns were the only option, there are numerous ways for brands to get in front of these new audiences and test the waters.
The opportunities for brands in gaming and esports
At the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2023, TikTok’s head of global gaming Assaf Sagy was keen to highlight the business potential in gaming. “I believe [gaming] is the biggest opportunity for every brand nowadays. Gaming is the fastest-growing entertainment vertical in the number of hours played, not only for young people or at home, but for everyone; it’s cross-generational.”
It’s generally acknowledged that gamers are keen and willing for brands to enter the gaming and esports space, but only if they do it in the right way. Brands must carefully integrate themselves into the existing ecosystem and avoid disrupting the experience. If done well, the rewards could be vast. There’s no other industry that can engage an audience so completely and so continuously.
Capture hard-to-reach audiences
The gaming and esports audience consists of some of the hardest-to-reach demographics. Millennials, Gen-Z, and Gen Alpha no longer / never did watch linear television. They are savvy digital users who employ VPNs and pop-up blockers, making gaming and esports their go-to place for entertainment and media—a gold mine for marketers.
Having said this, the gaming community can’t be seen as a homogenous group. In reality, it’s a highly fragmented audience which functions differently depending on the game. Recycled TV spots aren’t going to cut it. Brands must understand the ecosystem they are entering and tailor their strategy to each community.
Create deeper connections
As with any channel, brands must be thinking about how they can add value. In the gaming space, this can require a particularly nuanced approach with new opportunities. Where social media created new avenues for two-way conversations, gaming opens new doors in experiential marketing.
Crafting immersive brand experiences that provide a strong value exchange is key to creating deeper customer connection – and in gaming, that is unavoidable. Where other channels can be very transactional and functional, gaming and esports are play-based. The experience is the reward for engaging with the brand, so it must be unique, high quality, and highly engaging.
How to join the next marketing frontier
Creating immersive experiences and events
Early forays into open-world gaming often use virtual worlds as ‘venues’, squeezing millions into one live event rather than just a few thousand. It also creates a sense of community and connection with a specific brand.
Outside of live events, brands are exploring ways to add to the gaming experience, enabling players to unlock secret areas and enjoy exclusive content or virtual items. Fortnite and Nike recently collaborated to create Airphoria Island, a virtual world and ‘explorable city’ themed around their iconic shoe Air Max. Players are invited to join ‘the ultimate sneakerhunt’ with new outfits and apparel for sale – linking offline and online worlds.
Take time to understand the community
The gaming community is notoriously quick to spot and disengage with half-hearted advertising that disrupts the game experience. It’s important to embrace new ways of connecting with this audience. If a brand doesn’t want to step too out of the familiar, esports offers the possibility to show ads that replicate real-life sporting events. Jerseys sponsorship, billboards, and pitch-side banners are all traditional ways to get eyeballs on brands in a virtual setting. However, there are unlimited creative possibilities on offer for bolder brands looking to advertise within the esports games themselves.
Alongside creative execution, brands should consider the wider community aspect of gaming. There is already growing recognition of streamers’ celebrity-like status. To give a sense of their commercial influence, one mention of underwear company Me Undies on Ninja’s stream broke their sales record (and their website)—his collaboration with Adidas to create signature sneakers sold out under an hour after launch.
The Round-Up: Advertising to improve the experience, not disrupt it
As the lines between marketing and entertainment continue to blur, how people interact with brands is changing. For brands, the move into gaming could herald a shift in perspective – thinking of advertising as another means to add value and enhance experiences rather than disrupt them. If marketers can learn this lesson, gaming, and esports present a golden opportunity to reach receptive audiences with high customer lifetime value.
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