Claire Waring
Jun 16, 2023

Gaming for brands: The rules of engagement

An member of Cannes Lions' 2023 inaugural Gaming Jury argues that gaming is a better answer to lack of attention than short ads, offering marketers true engagement over pushed messaging.

Gaming for brands: The rules of engagement

Screens are no longer for passive viewing and gaming is no longer for geeks. It’s the biggest innovative brand opportunity since social media emerged and it’s filled with creative potential. The inaugural Gaming Jury at Cannes Lions this year has seen work ranging from genius to downright rude. Gaming is the next creative frontier but, beware, it comes with a whole new set of engagement rules.

Netflix once claimed its biggest competitor wasn’t TV, but Fortnite. And they were right. Gaming is now making more money than the music and movie industries combined. And of the 3 billion gamers around the world, more than half of them are based in Asia Pacific 1 spending on average 17.4 hours playtime per week. If you want to truly engage with an audience, there’s now no place like Fortnite, Grand Theft Auto, Twitch and Roblox in peoples’ homes.

These are some pretty crazy stats, so how did gaming get this successful? It starts by putting fans at the heart of games. This industry might be technology fueled, but it’s purpose built for and with humans. If brands want to leverage games to engage an audience, we have to adopt the same approach - putting fans at the heart of our work.

That means contributing. Broadcast offered us the opportunity of a one-way brand conversation, social opened up a two-way conversation - gaming offers the chance to form an immersive, symbiotic relationship where brand and customer both win. Adding value to the player experience is vital.

When it comes to creativity, this is the most exciting and rich area to play in since flash websites and colour TV were a thing. I’m serious. Gaming culture is now mainstream culture with built-in interactivity, participation and social connection. We’ve been focused on removing friction from websites and applying broadcast techniques to pre-roll ads. We’ve been pushing messaging instead of engagement, answering the lack of attention by reducing storytelling to six second films. But gaming is a unique space that offers the chance for deeper, richer brand experiences, other channels simply can’t replicate.

This is a medium where brilliant ideas still reign supreme, creativity in gaming creates brand affinity and commercial impact. However, to truly resonate with gamers, we need to shift our approach from talking about ideas, as storytelling does, to inviting people in to experience and participate with them. We need to get past our obsession with awareness and start to build for and with community. We have to get beyond an interruption and instead create work that gamers actively seek out and want to spend
time with. Because in this space, anything interruptive, inauthentic or short-lived will be met with harsh condemnation.

Here are the rules of engagement:

  1. Do not interrupt
    Plastering your brand on billboards around the game or interrupting gameplay will fall short. Move past conventional advertising constructs of awareness and instead strive to enhance the player experience.
  2. Build it for and with community and they will come
    This might be a tech space, but at its heart, it’s about humanity. Community is everything in gaming - It’s not enough to research gameplay, develop a deep understanding of the community and its values. Brands who put gamers first by contributing and creating a symbiotic relationship with community will succeed.
  3. Inclusivity is a secret weapon
    Move past the stereotypical idea you might have of gamers. This is a space as diverse as the real world - almost half of all gamers are women, 80% are over 18, and yet many brands market as if it was a teenage boy’s bedroom.
  4. Be in it for the long term
    Campaigns have a beginning and an end. Gaming doesn’t. This is an audience that is dedicated and values loyalty. Brands that contribute on an ongoing basis will win the hearts of the community.
  5. It’s not just about the gameplay
    Large scale partnerships with platforms like Fortnite are daunting for brands. But you don’t have to build a world inside a game to be a part of this ecosystem.

Many gamers spend as much time watching other influencers play or talking about games on discord, as they do playing themselves. There are plenty of ways in for brands beyond pure gameplay.

Advertising has long used screens to influence culture and behaviour on behalf of brands. Gaming is an opportunity to not just influence, but to play with culture at its source. It’s a genre that values imagination and entertainment, a space that defies geographic, physical and economic limitations. And I believe it’s the perfect place for inclusive creativity to thrive. Game on.

Claire Waring is Executive Creative Director at R/GA Australia and is on the inaugural Gaming Jury at Cannes Lions 2023

Campaign Asia

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