Robert Sawatzky
Nov 19, 2021

So you want to market your brand through esports?

GAME CHANGERS: Here's what motivates most brands and what the successful ones do.

So you want to market your brand through esports?

There was a time when brands viewed gaming and esports as a risky proposition, rife with sensitivities around being spurned or ridiculed by the gaming community and fears of being associated with violent or inappropriate content.  But at Campaign’s Game Changers event yesterday, in an opening panel entitled ‘Why esports might not be every marketer’s game’, it became abundantly clear that a larger fear these days might be FOMO.

“We consciously stayed away from gaming in the last couple of years, and that was mainly because of issues around brand safety and issues around brand relevancy, which is a fundamental principle across all the media investments that we do,” admitted Anuj Dahiya, global digital head at Mondelēz International.

“However, in the post-Covid era we are seeing significant shifts happening in consumer trends, and in esports and gaming the central theme shifts, with more engagement, more authenticity, more mature players and more investors coming to the space. So going forward, as VR or AR or even the futuristic metaverse erases those boundaries between the digital and the physical realms, I look forward to esports providing a great potential for limitless engagement.”

The enormous success of gaming tournaments and events, the ubiquity of gaming across all demographics and the rapidly enveloping metaverse simply cannot be ignored by advertisers any more, which is why we’ve seen nearly every major marketing agency in the world roll out new gaming divisions over the past year to serve eager clients, large and small.

“Global or multinational companies with big participation in North America, Europe, Korea and China tend to be pretty sophisticated already around what they're trying to drive at and where their goals are around gaming and esports,” said Carlos Alimurung, CEO of One Esports. “But brands that are more local tend to require a little bit more education around what they really need. That’s fine because it’s great to work with both types.” 

What are the biggest factors driving brands to gaming? 

In the words of our panelists, there are a few pretty factors driving interest in gaming:

Size, scale and growth

Given the size, roughly around 3 billion plus gamers worldwide, I definitely see how the gaming industry is getting massive. The pandemic has only amplified this trend with more homebound players coming in and there's more mature investment coming.  —Dahiya

Targeting Gen Z and younger generations

When [our client TV manucturer] TCL started to think about eSports, it was actually us who was driving their thinking towards actually starting to embrace Generation Z in China. TCL has been partnering and supporting traditional sports, namely football and basketball, for more than a decade in China. For them trying to enter into esports is a way to embrace the younger generation.  —Melody Li, senior director of sales and marketing, Sportfive

If you look at traditional stick-and-ball sports, look at the average age of someone who's participating or watching that sport. They're only getting older, right? And so these brands that are interested in esports and gaming are essentially trying to access a younger demo—the new generation of consumers. They're trying to futureproof their business. That is essentially the overall driver of why conversations even start with us.  —Alimurung

Brand awareness and rejuvenation

Of the three overall needs that we typically encounter, the first is a client and partner who really just wants to build their brand and awareness with this [younger] demo.  —Alimurung

For [our client KitKat], it's about trying to be as relevant as possible in front of their consumers. When we support major brands in both China and Europe, we try to really identify their needs. Some are considering a brand rejuvenation, some are trying to engage more with consumers via gaming and esports.”  —Li

Building data 

[Another overall need] is essentially trying to acquire data, basically to build their own first-party CRM.  —Alimurung

Driving sales

They're trying to drive transactions. I just remind our partners that you can't drive to transactions until you've established your credibility in this space. By far I think the biggest challenge or mistake that brands do in esports is they rush too quickly to driving towards a transaction. [Instead of saying,] ‘Let's get people in stores. Let's get people in ecommerce. Let's send them digital promotions so they can transact—you need to really build your credibility and show your commitment to this community beforehand.  —Alimurung

Which practices help brands succeed in gaming?

Wanting to achieve all of the above motivations is one thing. Delivering on them is another.  Brands and agency partners that can do the following things well, according to our panelists, are the ones holding an advantage:

Superior storytelling

While Alimurung believes esports is the future of sports media, he says esports marketers still have a lot to learn from traditional sports marketing. “They do a pretty kick-ass storytelling,” he said. 

He cited the example of upscale luggage brand Tumi, for whom One Esports built successful video content using an esports player that beat out the brand’s traditional marketing content even with celebrities, augmented with sponsorships and microsites. All of this was in the name of first creating compelling gaming content so that when Tumi began to put gaming products in stores, it already had credibility. 

Though some might see the message as a sales pitch to spend more on campaigns and activations, Alimurung pointed out that the costs actually came in lower than traditional marketing spend.

“When I talk about doing brand building and working your way to transactions, that's the case study. It started with content,” Alimurung said. 

Authentic content

It's nearly become a cliché—the need for authenticity. But the fact that experts reiterate this again and again signals the need for it is real and that brands that take shortcuts can easily end up in hot water. 

“Gen Z and millennials are by far the most marketed-to generations in the history of the world," Alimurung said. "It's already in their DNA to know what is real and not. Some of us in our 40s and 50s forget that because we grew up without social media and were not trained to be marketing-savvy like the Gen Zs.”

Marketers aren't fooling this demographic—nor do they need to if they're making a genuine contribution. 

For Li, it means involving a team of professional colleagues to work with clients—like TCL and its association with League of Legends Pro League (LPL) in China—who are passionate about esports, who live and breathe gaming, who know the brand and can naturally interact with the community. 

“We really leverage the meme culture in China, and for every TCL- and LPL-related content posted on TCL’s social media, we make sure that it's relevant, that it’s authentic, and that it’s coming from a real heart, from an esports fan, an LPL fan.”  

For another Swiss-based client, KitKat, Sportfive launched a specific KitKat Gaming Twitter account to ensure all gaming content there is presented by brand-savvy gamers. 

“All the funny jokes, all the daily encounters and interactions are all gaming-related, but with the wider sense of bringing-in KitKat’s branding and products in daily encounters with the consumer,” she said. 

Authenticity, then, goes both ways: knowing gaming culture but also knowing your brand and being transparent about its involvement. 

Adding brand purpose

Going hand-in-hand with brand transparency and authenticity, is the ability to align your brand’s purpose with its gaming initiatives. This immediately gives the work more meaning and relevance. 

Certainly when brands come in with a strong point of view around their own values, what they stand for and what they want to communicate to this community, that's a great start,” Alimurung said. “Brands that come in simply say ‘I saw it on Bloomberg or CNN - this thing is big. I want to join’... well I’m not going to not take that call, but it just triggers in my mind that I need to do a lot more education.”  

Here, Alimurung cited how his company was able to relate Tumi’s obsession with product quality checks to a similar obsessiveness some gamers have with their gaming equipment. 

For Mondelez, consumer engagement through gaming will need to be conceived with brand purpose in mind, said Dahiya.

"This form of media has great potential for being far more engaging in new ways," he said. "At Mondelez we’ve always believed in purpose-led marketing, and all our brand activations are aimed at connecting consumers with a strong purpose around both mental and physical well-being. So we're at the starting point where we've experimented in the space and we should continue to scale it as long as we see the opportunities for driving the purpose-led relevancy as well as the authenticity with our consumers.”   

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