Gaming has never been bigger…
With 1/3 of the global population engaging in gaming, there’s an immense opportunity for marketers to use gaming as a media channel.
In this episode, Claire Nance will cover why marketers should pay attention to gaming as a media channel.
Claire is the Head of Global Communications & Industry Marketing at Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s largest interactive entertainment companies.
She’s here to share her expertise on gaming & advertising, including:
- Common misconceptions about gaming audiences
- 3 ways brands can interact with games
- A “player-first” approach to advertising
- And more
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is gaming as an effective channel for marketers.
Here to speak with me as Claire Nance, who is the Head of Global Communications & Industry Marketing at Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s largest interactive entertainment companies with operations across North America, Europe and Asia. Claire’s an award winning marketing and communications leader with over 15 years of experience in both the US and Australia managing communications campaigns on a global scale.
In her current role Claire oversees all external messaging and positioning for Activision Blizzard’s in-game advertising business across industry-leading titles such as Candy Crush, and Call of Duty. Prior to this, Claire held senior communication roles at IPG Mediabrands, North 6th Agency, and News Corp. Claire, welcome to the show.
Claire Nance: Thank you very excited to be here.
Steffen: Now Claire, before we start talking about gaming, and how marketers can use the different platforms to, to send messages across to their target audience, tell us a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in your career? And what led you to Activision Blizzard?
Claire: Yeah, great question. I wouldn’t say I’ve had a conventional career path, though. I don’t know who has these days. But you know, I think the one kind of through thread when I think about my career is it’s really all about telling stories. And so I actually studied journalism at college. And so my first role was working for a website. And this was back, over 15 years ago, when let me tell you working for a website in an editorial role was not a cool thing.
It was kind of like you’re working for a website? Why aren’t you working for a magazine or a newspaper? You know, what are these websites? How are they making money? So I kind of got involved in the digital space very early on, and then kind of transition from kind of journalism and editorial into PR and communications. I was working for a couple of different TV networks as a TV publicist, which was a lot of fun. And then kind of gradually made more of a shift to more of the marketing side of things.
And so my current role, still have the communications pieces as part of what I do but with a broader remit in terms of our industry marketing. And so what that means is really telling our story to the broader industry Activision Blizzard’s story to the broader industry, and helping brands and marketers understand gaming, but also you know, how they can activate with us and so that’s kind of how I ended up at Activision Blizzard.
As I said, the through line has always been this idea of telling stories and, and kind of, you know, helping to change opinions. And that’s definitely something I do day to day in helping folks understand the gaming space from an advertising perspective.
Steffen: Now, gaming has never been bigger with gamers now making up 1/3 of the global population. With the growth of gaming, so too comes increased opportunities for brands and marketers. Today, obviously, we’ll talk about why the interactive and lean in nature of gaming makes it an effective channel for marketers, and break down some of the common misconceptions about gaming and gaming audiences. Now, gaming is huge. It’s a huge entertainment platform, as I mentioned, with a lot of gamers globally. Why should marketers be paying attention to gaming as a media channel?
Claire: Yeah, and look, you know, gaming is really, you know, I don’t want to say it’s having a moment right now. But I think that people are starting to pay more attention to gaming. And gaming has always kind of been, you know, on a rise in terms of, you know, folks playing and interacting with it. But I think people are really starting to pay attention to it now, because they’re seeing it not just as this niche activity, but actually another form of entertainment.
And, you know, I think if you look even, you know, recently, we’ve had, you know, the Super Mario Brothers movie that launched recently and The Last of Us, those are two kinds of forms of entertainment that are based on gaming IP. And so we’re starting to see, you know, more attention being paid to this space. You know, gaming itself, and you touched on this a little bit in your intro, is a very interactive and immersive experience.
So when you’re comparing it to some of the traditional forms of media, and the traditional ways that advertisers and brands try to reach their audience, the gaming experience is much more leaned in, as you said. And so you’re able to reach audiences where they’re highly engaged. They’re not just kind of scrolling through a phone.
They’re not kind of like flicking past things. They’re actually immersed in the experience. And so for marketers, it presents a really unique opportunity to tap into that and also tap into you know, what is really, you know, a cultural moment in terms of the interest that’s being, and the focus and attention on gaming right now.
Steffen: Now why do you think, in-game advertising hasn’t really taken off so much? The reason I’m asking is when I used to work at Mindshare back, I’m dating myself, back in 2006, a colleague of mine went to a company called WildTangent. And they were kind of early on working with companies, with gaming companies to put advertising in games.
But it never really took off and then feels like, yes, now we are able to go on platforms on advertising platform and place our ads in Candy Crush, or other platforms. But there’s also still that notion, is there really value there? Because a lot of gamers use that to get in-game currency or in-game, things that help them advance in a game. Do they really connect with the brand that is advertising?
Claire: Yeah. And it’s a great question. I think a lot of it comes down to like, there’s a lot of misconceptions about the gaming space. And that comes down to education, which as I kind of touched on earlier, is a lot of what I do in terms of my day to day. It’s really helping brands and advertisers understand the gaming space more and the opportunities that exist there.
You know, there’s one of the biggest misconceptions, I think, when it comes to gaming is around the audience. And there’s this kind of stereotype and we use this line a lot and kind of, you know, jokes that get very overused. But this idea of, you know, that gamers are just the teenage boy in the basement with a headset on. You know, when the reality is actually that that’s not the case. We know that, you know, 50% of the gaming audience is actually female.
But, you know, it’s that education piece, I think that has been missing and previously where, you know, brands and advertisers don’t fully understand, you know, some of the nuances to gaming. And so, by kind of partnering with them, and helping them understand how the audience is, you know, rather than it’s not just homogenous, you know, there’s different audience types, there’s also different ways that people play and interact with, with gaming.
And, you know, if you look at a mobile experience, versus the experience that folks have on a console, you’re going to be reaching, you know, potentially different audiences across game types. But also, when there are very different mindsets. And so for brands, it’s really about looking at, okay, who is the audience that they’re trying to reach? And where does it make the most sense for them to activate in the gaming space.
In terms of your point earlier about, you know, the motivations of why people play, again, making that connection between knowing why folks are playing and what mindset that we’re in with what it is that the brand is trying to achieve, and also the types of activations because, you know, not all, you know, brand activations within the gaming space are created equal.
And the type of activation you’re going to see in a mobile game environment, which is traditionally the, you know, rewarded video where, you know, there’s that value exchange for players, you know, they watch a video and they get an additional life or what have you. Versus, you know, maybe a console experience, where you’ve got the, you know, billboards and the brand up there is very different. I think the other piece to call out is that, you know, the measurement piece in terms of gaming has come a long way as well.
So, you know, effectiveness is critical. And for brands and marketers looking to spend in this space, they need to know that what they’re doing is working. And so I think the way that we measure and think about, you know, the effectiveness and the objectives for these ads has come a long way. And I think it’s also helping, you know, brands to understand the value that exists here.
Steffen: Now, I have to say, as a marketer, it’s easy, obviously, to access inventory on mobile games, than it is accessing inventory on consoles, for example. Talk about that a little bit. What ways do marketers have to access inventory on console? So you know, whether we talked about earlier, when I play, if I play, I’d like to play football. The real football. Soccer games, right? And there are billboards there that could show real brands, right. And more and more now you see real brands there. But what are ways for companies to get displayed in games these days?
Claire: And I think there’s a simple way to think about it as kind of three ways to kind of activate in the gaming space. The first one is in the game, which is very much what we’re talking about, you know, in terms of like the billboards and that type of experience. And even thinking about some of the other titles and and a lot of like, you know, brands have leaned into this space in terms of like Fortnite and Roblox and some of the really big kind of, you know, exciting brand activations that they’ve done, which was within the game experience itself.
And then the second way is kind of what we call adjacent to the game play experience. So that’s, again, when you think about mobile, more of that, you know, an ad that will appear in some of the natural breaks in the gaming, you know, play the rewarded video, the pop up, or what have you. And then the third piece is outside of the game. And that’s things like streaming and eSports, where you’re kind of, and reaching gaming audiences, actually outside of the game experience themselves, but where they’re kind of engaging and still interacting with gaming content.
And so I think, to your point about the console piece, you know, again, even looking at that in itself, there’s so many opportunities there from, you know, the billboards, and that type of thing, is you know, going to be easier for brands in terms of having, you know, creative and assets that are already in existence, to the more bespoke, you know, larger campaign integrations, like I mentioned, with, you know, we see a lot in in Roblox and Fortnite.
So that’s kind of, I think, the way to think about the gaming space. And the trick is really making sure that whichever activation or entry point that you use, and there are, you know, pros and cons to each, but that it aligns with what it is that the brand is trying to achieve and their outcome, and also the audience.
Steffen: Now are there platforms available that allows you to kind of almost live display your brand. A little bit like, you know, when we build a display campaign, we do our audience targeting and everything else, and then we activate it. And then whenever the necessarily audience or the right audience comes along, we display the ad. Is something like that possible for in-game more on a console side? Obviously, on mobile, you’re able to do it through advertising platform, but when we talk about console, even other platforms, streaming, etc, is that possible?
Claire: Yeah, you know, there’s this terminology. One of the ways that it’s best described, I think, in the console space is this idea of like, intrinsic in-game advertising. And that’s where you talk about with the kind of like, the billboard, you know, kind of set up and that type of thing. And that’s where, you know, the technology that exists there makes it very easy for brands to kind of like, you know, swap in and out and swap out the creative. So it’s not hard coding the, you know, ad experience with the brand experience into the title. It’s having the technology there so that is that flexibility to swap things in and out.
Steffen: Interesting, interesting. So, as you said, a lot of people play on their mobile phones, myself, too. But whenever I see ads, I still see a lot of cross game promotion. So most of the ads that are there is from other games that try to get people to download their app. What are other barriers you think that needs to overcome for people to, or for brands to really see the opportunity there?
Claire: Yeah, I mean, I touched on kind of like, the misconception piece. And I think, you know, sometimes for brands that really intimidated by the gaming space. They know that there’s a lot of talk when we talk about gaming audiences, you know, and the word authenticity gets thrown around so much in marketing. And so I kind of hate to use it in this context.
But there’s a lot of talk about, okay, if you’re going to activate in the gaming space, it needs to be authentic to the gaming experience, and to the gaming audience that you’re trying to reach. But I think some brands, they see some of the bigger activations that I talked about earlier, that, you know, they do take time and resources to bring to life where that they’re really impactful and exciting when they do that.
And I think some brands get intimidated by that, because they see, you know, it’s a lot of investment in terms of time, resources for something that is relatively new, and that the brand maybe hasn’t done previously. One of the benefits of the mobile space, is it’s a way for brands to kind of dip their toe into gaming, without having to have that level of commitment.
So you can, you know, take existing assets and reuse them and reformat them in a way that’s going to be authentic and, and best practice to the mobile environment and the game environment. But without the commitment of kind of, you know, going all in. And I think that’s, you know, helping marketers understand, you know, that there’s these different ways to get involved in the gaming space.
But it doesn’t have to be as great a commitment as sometimes I think, folks think it is because, you know, a lot of the activations that get the attention and the buzz are the big, flashy ones, and for good reason. But there are other ways and opportunities to activate in the space that don’t require that same level of commitment.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, you talked about measurement, or you mentioned measurement earlier. Obviously, on mobile phones measurement is relatively easy, right. You know, how many impressions you have, you know how many clicks you have. That’s what your ad platform will display. And you see what comes after. Did people download your app or did people take the action that you want them to take? How is that with other in game or other game advertising? How are you able to measure there?
Claire: Yeah, and look, I will caveat and say that I have much more knowledge on this piece, in the mobile space than I do in the console space, for example. But I mean, you look at industry bodies, like the IAB. And they’re doing a lot of work at the moment, and have done work to actually release industry standards around the measurement of ads in game.
And that’s a really important piece, again, in terms of helping legitimize gaming as media channels for folks. Because there needs to be that measurement piece, but it also needs to be standardized. And so, you know, I think having those industry bodies on board and kind of really driving things forward there is, you know, I think critical, but also has been much needed.
And so I think that really is helping to move gaming forward. So that brands know that when they’re activating in the space, you know, they know what they’re getting. And it’s standardized across the industry. It’s not one company saying x, one company saying y.
Steffen: Yeah, now these days, targeting obviously, for a brand is really important. You want to make sure that the message you’re sending out hits the right people or the right group of people. Easier probably on mobile phones than on other platforms. But can you talk about a little bit what is possible, what is not possible across the entire ecosystem?
Claire: I think it will probably get into a slightly more technical area than I can kind of speak to in terms of the specifics of targeting, but I think, you know, there’s some general kind of parameters you can think about. And that is even looking generally at the type of games and the, you know, the audience with those games. So using an example, you know, if we compare Candy Crush, or Call of Duty, which are both Activision Blizzard titles.
They’re going to be reaching different types of audiences, within both of those titles. And for a brand they’re probably going to be looking to target one or the other. It’s unlikely that they’re going to be looking to target both. So while I can’t speak to the full specifics of the exact targeting capabilities, just really outside my wheelhouse. You know, having that awareness about okay, who is the audience that we’re trying to reach?
And looking at some of the things like, what is the title, the platform that it’s played on? The style of game, like the genre also comes into play. Like a puzzle game, even in mobile, because you’ve got Candy Crush and Call of Duty mobile that both exist in the mobile space, a puzzle game versus, you know, a first person shooter game.
So looking at those kinds of things, even as a starting point, will help kind of guide brands when thinking about, okay, where does the audience fit going to be there? And then of course, there’s greater targeting capabilities that can happen, you know, from there.
Steffen: Now, if a brand decides or wants to dip their toes into the water, how does a company like Activision Blizzard help them to make that first step? You know, you said obviously, on a mobile phone, they can use existing assets, video assets, for example, to kind of get started. But if they want to move into the other areas, how do you guys help them to make that step and make it easy on them?
Claire: Yeah, it’s honestly, it’s all about partnership from day one. And so really partnering with the brands that we work with, to kind of help them on the journey. And so help them you know, on the education piece. Sharing things like, okay, what are the best practice guidelines. We don’t kind of, you know, especially if they’re new to the gaming space, we help them navigate, you know, some of the things that they don’t know.
And, you know, we have plenty of learnings in terms of what works and what doesn’t work. And so that’s part of our job is really having that partnership there on you know, what is going to be most effective for them. So taking them on that journey every step of the way. And, you know, we work very closely with our game studios as well.
You know, I’m looking for opportunities for brands who are interested to partner with the studios and also, again, learn from some of the best practice. We’re not going to put an ad experience in our titles that isn’t effective and that doesn’t respect the game IP and the player experience. That’s number one.
So one of the benefits of partnering with someone like Activision Blizzard, which is, you know, a large gaming publisher is that we work closely with our studios to make sure that anything we’re doing with brands in our game is, you know, a good experience for the players, which ultimately means a better experience for brands. And so again, we kind of take the brands on that journey, sharing our knowledge to make sure that whatever they’re doing is good for them, good for us, good for the player.
Steffen: Now pulling ourselves a little bit more out. What roles does gaming play for marketers interested in exploring ideas such as the metaverse of virtual worlds?
Claire: Yeah, you know, there’s been so much buzz about the metaverse. Especially last year I felt like that was you know, definitely the word of the year. Kind of the attention has shifted a little bit to AI at the moment, but you know, that there’s still a lot of folks who are interested in the metaverse. And, one of the things when it comes to gaming in the metaverse.
Gaming is, you know, when you’re thinking about how people interact in virtual worlds, look to gaming, because, you know, as we think about what the future holds with the metaverse and what it may look like, and of course, there’s plenty of different opinions and ideas on that. You know, it’s really about how people interact in these virtual spaces.
And that’s happening already in gaming. So for brands who are interested in, you know, the metaverse and activating in that kind of space, there’s a lot of learnings that they can take from gaming and understanding how gaming audiences interact in the gaming space, you know, is going to give them a head start in terms of understanding how folks are going to interact in the metaverse.
So gaming is almost like the entry point, I think for brands in terms of understanding the metaverse and other future technologies, you know, before they’re really here for us all to fully understand them.
Steffen: Interesting. Now, what opportunities are for brands in gaming? And how should they think about trying to reach these audiences in a gaming environment?
Claire: Yeah, I touched on it earlier about kind of like thinking about it, and breaking it down in the three ways. The in-game, adjacent to the game, and outside of the game. And so, you know, I think using that framework to really look at, okay, well, where does it make most sense for me as my brand with the audience that I’m trying to reach, and you know, the brand alignment and what it is that that I want to achieve.
You know, one of the, you know, in the mobile space, we’ve got things like rewarded video, but we’ve also got interactive and playable ad experiences. So again, when you’re thinking about the level of how much folks want a bespoke experience, versus the kind of you know, we’ve got some existing creative, can we have it in best practices.
You know, the playable ad experiences, allows brands to integrate some of their IP with, for example, the Candy Crush IP to make it, you know, a playable ad experience without actually playing a game. Which is really fun. That obviously, he’s going to have more, you know, engagement and, you know, interactivity. Again, touching on that leaned in experience.
Then you look at something like, you know, eSports and streaming, which is like the other end of the spectrum, where there’s a lot that can be done in terms of in stream media, or the bigger brand partnerships and integrations where it’s like bigger sponsorships of, you know, content, or eSports leagues and that type of thing. So a real spectrum of opportunities. And I think it really comes down to what is the right fit.
And I think one of the things we see is with gaming itself, but also with its audiences is it’s kind of treated as this monolithic thing. But it’s actually very nuanced in terms of the different aspects to it. It’s not just, you know, oh, I’ll activate in gaming, but it’s how, you know. And I think, you know, understanding the different opportunities is critical for brands.
Steffen: Interesting. So what I hear from you is, it’s not just people probably just think about what happens on mobile phones, unless you are, you know, interested or immerse yourself with consoles, and streaming and all these other activities, you probably don’t think beyond just the mobile phone part. But what you’re saying basically, is, there are other opportunities beyond just the obvious that brands can consider.
I mean, I love the idea, I think I read somewhere that you guys actually created a level for a brand that was really focused on that specific brand. I don’t remember which one it was, but I mean, that’s how far it can go. And that’s not media buying, that’s not kind of buying on an ad platform, your impressions, your clicks, you name it. That’s really being immersive in that game, and having probably a much bigger impact, than the other activities.
Claire: Definitely, and you know, the other benefit for brands in that scenario, when looking at some of those, like, bigger brand partnerships. And I touched a little bit on like, you know, some of the bespoke opportunities in mobile in terms of like, you know, the playable ad experiences, or yeah, as you mentioned, you know, having actual kind of, like mini games created that are associated with the brand is that, you know, when you’ve got games like Candy Crush and Call of Duty, these are iconic, know, franchises and titles that are really well known. Candy Crush celebrated its 10th anniversary last year.
It’s been around for a while, everyone knows it. And so, there’s also the opportunities, this IP integration gives brands a chance to also, you know, have the halo effect of being attached to brands and IP that is really loved. You know, people love Candy Crush, people love Call of Duty. So these more bespoke integrations, you know, as well as being more engaging also gives brands that chance to align that brand really nicely with, you know, IP that people love.
Steffen: Now, when channels come to the market, or when they’re relatively new, excuse me, inventory usually tends to be a little bit on the lower side, compared to other channels. Do you think that that’s still applicable to in-game advertising? Does it matter what, you know what channel we are looking at?
Claire: I think, you know, one of the things that I’ll say is our approach to in-game advertising is always, you know, this idea of player first. So it always needs to be, you know, integrating into the game that doesn’t disrupt the player experience.
So, you know, from our perspective, we’re never going to have an environment where it’s, you know, spammy ads and you know, it just kind of interrupts the gameplay experience, because you know, we’re a game company first. And so we need to keep that, you know, at our core and our focus of everything, for what we do. I will say that, you know, there’s more opportunities to activate in the gaming space, which I think helps that, you know, kind of point that you raised about access to inventory.
But doing so in a way that’s still, you know, true to the game experience, and, you know, protective of that. Which I think is also beneficial for brands, because, you know, by having this player first mindset, like yes, it creates a good experience for our players. But so too, does it create a good experience for the brands because you’re gonna get better results.
Steffen: Yeah. Now before we come to the end of today’s podcast episode, is in-game advertising more something for growing brand awareness? Is that something more for the lower funnel? Or is it really across the entire funnel?
Claire: Yeah, good question. And again, it depends on, you know, the type of activation that you do. We’ve done activations with brands, where, you know, if players complete the minigame, they can get a free sample, or get, you know, a discount code. It’s very much really kind of, like, pushing to that, that purchase piece. But then a lot of it as well as also around the brand awareness.
And I think when you look at some of the, like, the big activations, like I touched on, that happened in some of the console games, that’s really more of a, you know, awareness play, and some of that, you know, really the top of funnel. But in the mobile space, I think, you know, when we think about media buying, that’s probably where you’re going to be looking more for some of that conversion, as well as the brand awareness piece.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, Claire, thank you so much for joining me on the Performance Delivered podcast, and sharing your knowledge on gaming as an effective channel for marketers. Now, if people want to find out more about you, and maybe what Activision Blizzard can do, from a marketing perspective, or how they can engage with you guys, how can they get in touch?
Claire: Yeah, look, definitely head to our website, which is activisionblizzardmedia.com. We have a lot of research and insights and tools there for brands who are wanting to just kind of learn more about gaming in general. And then obviously, they can learn a little bit more about what it is that we offer, and we do. And then you know, email is always great. So firstname.lastname@example.org, and then LinkedIn as well, you can find me there.
Steffen: Okay. Well, as always, we’ll leave that information in the show notes. Thanks, everyone for listening. If you liked the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks so much, and see you next time.
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