Marketers look to keep score with in-game advertising

LONDON - The rising popularity of online gaming has been mirrored by a surge in in-game advertising. With gamers around the world pitting their wits against each other online, it is now possible for ads to be tailored to individuals.

While football videogames have long featured ads on billboards around the perimeter of the pitch, now targeted ads can be served. These can be tailored by a user's geographic location and demographic profile, offering advertisers the chance to access a unique target audience.

Jean-Paul Edwards, head of OMD Media Futures at Manning Gottlieb OMD, says it is not hard to see why brands like in-game advertising. 'What is interesting is that it demands the consumer's attention, because if they are not concentrating on the game, they will die, crash, lose or whatever. In this media-fragmented world, where it is hard to capture people's attention, that is not something that is easily sniffed at,' he says.

However, while there is no doubt that in-game advertising has become more sophisticated, many believe the techniques employed to measure its effectiveness have failed to keep pace. The sector still does not have an independent, third-party auditing system in place. 

IGA was one of the first companies to see the potential of dynamic in-game advertising. The company currently has more than 15m unique users in its network, and, according to Ed Bartlett, co-founder and vice president, publisher relations, this number is growing rapidly.

He agrees that the sector is now mature enough for independent auditing, but rejects any suggestions that dynamic in-game advertising is not accountable enough to justify the hype surrounding it. 'The measurement that clients get from us is a lot more robust than they receive from a lot of above-the-line media,' says Bartlett. 'It offers something with levels of accountability similar to those of below-the line activity.'

IGA's system measures the time, size and angle of exposure to in-game advertising. Users have to see ads at a given size and angle for 10 seconds for it to register an impression. Ads are then billed on a CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) basis. Other in-game ad specialists, including Double Fusion and Microsoft's Massive, take a different approach. They also require a user to have seen an ad for 10 seconds, but allow this period to be made up of half-second units, meaning that an impression can be registered when a gamer sees an ad on one occasion for 10 seconds, or glimpses it on 20 occasions for only half a second each time.

'Research confirms that to read and recognise a billboard or a texture usually takes a third of a second, so we have set it at half a second to allow plenty of time,' says Frank Sagnier, Double Fusion's senior vice president, business development.

According to Sagnier, interest in dynamic in-game advertising has grown significantly over the past two years. 'We are seeing a number of global brands adopting it and investing more in it,' he says, adding that sports, automotive, lifestyle and entertainment brands are particularly enthusiastic.

As brands increase their investment, accountability will become more of an issue, but the technology to measure click-through is already there. 'The issue is that most publishers would be reluctant to let people click away from the

game and disrupt the experience,' says Sagnier. 'Perhaps it would work for causal games, but not for something like Grand Theft Auto.'

Meanwhile, Bartlett claims that in-game ad networks already have a huge volume of research at their disposal from the games publishers themselves. 'When a publisher is spending £10m on a game, it collects a wealth of data on the users, so it can say to advertisers, "These are the types of people we are targeting and here are the impressions we deliver".'

According to Dave Hompe, group media director at digital network Isobar, the issue with in-game ad measurement is the same one that affects all online advertising. 'In the TV market, everything is compared to the relevant impact of a 30-second spot. We do not have those multipliers for impressions, either for gaming or for standard online advertising. That kind of insight just isn't available,' he says.

Hompe adds that a lot of brands and companies are starting to see this as a challenge. 'The first stage is when clients say, "Let's assess relative efficiency for $1 invested in TV versus

online versus in-game advertising." This is the ultimate prize. We are probably not at the point yet where can make that assessment, but we can see there is an absolute value in using multiple channels for campaigns. The tricky part is finding the right balance,' he says.

As levels of broadband penetration and connection speeds increase, and tech-savvy kids grow into tech-savvy young adults, it is hard to see online gaming's fortunes going any way but up. Provided the market research industry, games publishers and in-game advertising networks can work together to develop the channel, it seems the in-game medium is destined to follow suit.

Case Study: BMRB

Paul Milsom, new media analyst at British Market Research Bureau (BMRB), believes that for brands to invest in in-game advertising, games publishers and networks should provide three broad types of research information.

They should offer a count of unique users, which is likely to be provided by web-based metrics similar to ABC Electronic's unique-user measure for website traffic. Demographic profiling of the game's audience will also be essential for the advertiser to incorporate interactive entertainment into a campaign. Decision-making on any media channel, including online games, must also be enhanced with the addition of lifestyle information.

'It remains to be seen how this type of information will be delivered, but it could be provided by a global audience panel, or by survey research,' says Milsom.

Case Study: TNS

Research company TNS has collaborated with games companies IGA and Electronic Arts and media buyer MindShare to conduct the UK's first study of in-game advertising effectiveness. The results will be revealed at the Market Research Society's Research 2008 Conference on 18 March. 'The study aims to provide some insight into whether players are taking the advertising messages away from games,' says TNS Media managing consultant Graeme Griffiths.

Impact on brand perceptions

Researchers examined three in-game campaigns, for Nike 6.0, Samsung Mobile and Sure for Men. 'We carried out pre- and post-evaluation as we would on other platforms,' says Griffiths. 'Brand awareness had not risen in the post-campaign analysis, but we did see changes in the perception of the brands, indicating that the in-game platform works well when coupled with existing campaigns.'

Griffiths believes the study marks the beginning of research in this field. 'I don't believe there are many agencies in the world that are any further down the line with this, because until now the industry has not been ready. The time is now right for the market- research world to pay attention to this medium and start looking at innovative ways in which we can track it.'

TNS believes that when analysis of players' activity within a game is combined with external research on media consumption, attitude to the brand, propensity to purchase and actual purchasing behaviour data, the research industry will be able to prove the effectiveness of the advertising.

Have you seen any particularly impressive in-game ads? Let us know?




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