What advertisers stepping into the gaming arena should know


The following is a guest post by Kimberly Dutcher, search engine marketing manager at Merkle. Opinions are the author’s own.

Deciphering human behavior can be challenging, for none more so than marketers. Marketers are trying to engage authentically with consumers to build relationships, and they know that good marketing plans require meaningful interactions, plus data-driven targeting and optimization. Increasingly, brands are looking for individuals and communities for whom their products or services can provide true value, and no advertising audience is creating more buzz right now than gamers. In 2020, more than 214 million people in the US (64% of adults and 70% of people under 18) played video games.

How can you enhance your marketing strategy with a gaming audience?

Understanding the demographics and psychographics of modern gamers

If you’re an advertiser stepping into the gaming space, you should start by answering these W’s: Who am I trying to reach? What do I want them to do? When and where do I want to reach them? Which channels will be most effective for this? Why do I want to engage this audience — what value does it add to my campaign or brand?

To answer these, it’s important to start with a critical look at the overall consumer ecosystem within the gaming space, which has changed dramatically in the past few years. In 2020, 38% of video game players were between the ages of 18 and 34, and 6% of players were 65 and older. Many gamers are homeowners and parents. In fact, less than half of people who play video games identify as gamers. Plus, an increasing number of women are adopting the hobby, with 41% of U.S. video gamers in 2020 identifying as women.

We also see that different game genres have drastically different player demographics. For example, women are more likely to play simulation and casual puzzle games, while men are more likely to play sports and tactical shooter games. With such a wide variety of games out there, it’s important to know how your brand’s target demographics and psychographics align with game genres. From there, you can work to understand what the gaming community’s needs are and how your brand can fill those gaps. Once you’re ready to press start, relationship-building often needs to happen organically.

Using brand lift studies and social listening to measure value

One way brands have successfully built organic relationships with gamers is through community immersion on public forums like Reddit, Twitch or Discord. While Reddit and Twitch serve ads on their platforms, it may be more effective — depending on your brand’s goals — to interact with your target community one-on-one, as an authentic member of the channel, or subreddit. This can help build relationships with consumers and gauge what needs your brand can fulfill.

Brand lift studies and social listening tools are great supplemental tactics to understand what online communities your brand is already a part of, and how your brand is perceived within those spaces. Using these tactics to measure the effectiveness of organic and paid relationship-building adds an extra level of research that will ultimately pay off.

Engage consumers with influencer marketing

Game streaming sites like Twitch, YouTube Gaming and Smashcast have increasingly grown in popularity, which has introduced a relatively new manifestation of celebrity: the streamer. Streamers can be anyone, streaming anything they want to share with the world. Streamer audiences can range from a small, close-knit group of supporters to large followings of thousands who follow the streamer’s every move. This opens up opportunities for brands that want to engage their customers through influencer marketing.

Influencer marketing is currently one of the clearest paths to authentically engaging a gamer audience on their terms. Getting to know the influencers your target gaming audience interacts with is another benefit to an organic relationship-building strategy.

As with any brand strategy, measuring return on investment with an influencer marketing strategy can be difficult, depending on what type of consumer engagement you’re trying to drive. This is where brand lift studies and social listening can help. Some influencer marketing campaigns can also be measured by “cost-per” metrics, measured as dollars spent per comment or dollars per video view.

Programmatically placed mobile ads as a quick start

For advertisers looking to get into games now, the quickest choice is programmatically placed mobile ad inventory. Mobile gaming ads drove $3.96 billion in revenue in 2020, according to eMarketer, which predicts that number will increase to $4.36 billion in 2021.

Mobile game and other gaming-related ad inventory, including inventory on gaming editorial sites, is available through many demand-side platforms (DSPs). You simply select the gaming category within open exchange ad inventory, or choose private marketplace inventory with mobile in-app partners. There are limitations with this type of placement, as it’s not possible currently to choose a particular genre of game, so this tactic is better suited for brands that are broadly trying to place ads on mobile.

While programmatic mobile game ad placement is a high revenue driver, the level of loyalty inspired with this ad format is inherently different than influencer marketing and community integration.

Tips to score the results you want

As marketers know, answering the 5 W’s is just the start of successful marketing campaign planning. It is also important to keep in mind some softer keys to success in advertising.

Authenticity in branding and community interaction will go a long way toward driving your campaign’s objective. Understanding the needs and desires of the gaming community is just the start; that knowledge must be combined with your brand’s purpose to create the ultimate value-add for these communities. Empathy has increasingly been a theme in advertising, and 95% of consumers state their loyalty increases when they trust a company. As we’ve already explored, no two gaming audiences are alike, so what works for one audience sub-segment may not work for another. That’s where customer experience comes into play.

The sub-segments within gaming audiences and the opportunities to reach them will continue to evolve, and brands must be ready to change with them. Marketers should continue to analyze, optimize and iterate their campaigns to drive success and ultimately finish the end game.