How Advertising Found Its Power-Up in Gaming

We take a jump into the world of gaming, where community matters. Let's level up, shall we?

By Dani Gibson

Gaming advertising revenue is on track to nearly double by 2027, while reaching a whopping $100 billion by 2025. In the UK alone, game sales saw a 2.9 per cent increase, hitting £4.74 billion in 2023 according to the Entertainment and Retail Association’s latest findings.

Gone are the days when video games were seen as solely for kids. As Gen X and Millennials matured during the industry's formative years, gaming has transcended traditional entertainment media like TV and streaming, capturing more of Gen Z's time. And unsurprisingly, the average gamer now clocks in at around 32 years old.

We know the stats. They underscore how gaming has grown to overshadow even music and sometimes outpace Hollywood in earnings. Gaming's influence spans diverse demographics, age groups, regions, and interests. Brands are innovating with unexpected and engaging strategies to enter this space. They're beginning to understand the value of content-driven advertising, immersive experiences, and inclusivity within gaming communities, rather than just adding a branded NFT or metaverse special build.

Every Pixel is Your Playground

Immerse yourself more in the gaming arena, and you'll achieve much more compelling results. If you have an unsexy proposition from a brand perspective, remember, this is an engaged audience. A gamer is not defined solely by gaming; it's just a small part of their identity. Gaming offers a lucrative landscape for marketers as pretty much any sector can find a way into the space. It's like tapping into an untapped market - even for funeral care, says Terry O’Neil, creative director at Grey London. 

“It's a point made in jest,” he explains, “but the beauty of gaming is that you can explore spaces inaccessible in other media. You can even revitalise dry sectors and brands, like the funeral care space, making them interesting. It's always been very linear. If done right, it has the ability to juxtapose two worlds and explore endless possibilities.”

To that point, O’Neil’s creative partner, Angela Harding adds how gaming has the potential to educate and teach people. “Banks could utilise discussing interest rates in a fun way," she notes. "There's always new technology or new ways of doing things, and that's where it's super exciting. 

“In Minecraft and Roblox, you learn a lot. It's technical, delving into culture, architecture, and various worlds. There are opportunities for every sector; it's just about finding the right approach that aligns with the brand.”

But it's not just about advertising products; gaming presents unique and promising opportunities for recruitment as well. Companies have relied on conventional approaches such as CV evaluations, interviews, and assessments for many years, but Christopher Joyce, creative director at VML, hopes for more engaging recruitment advertising in gaming.

“Big tech companies have run in-game Easter egg hunts, coding challenges and hackathons to mine the rich, tech-savvy, digital native generations. Even spy agency GCHQ ran some shadowy recruitment ads in-game at one point, but I’ve not seen many other industries innovate in this space. It would be amazing to see all companies and categories – especially outside of tech - leaning into gaming as a way to recruit people who are just plain bored of filling in forms.”

However, slowly, everyone is trying to get a piece of the gaming action. Finance, fashion, FMCG brands, car brands, governments, health - so many are already into gaming. The industry is seeing brands embracing authentic engagement. There's a discernible distinction between those seamlessly integrating themselves into the conversation and adding genuine value, and those resorting to mere monetary transactions to force their way in.

At Edelman and Assembly Media, the agencies behind Dove’s 'Code My Crown' (and for more on this, see below), senior director James Donovan and ECD Jamie Cordwell find excitement in unexpected partnerships between brands and elements within gaming. They recollect on the Ralph Lauren and G2Sports partnership, where the high end fashion brand kitted out the eSport teams for the eSports championships.

“Those are two sectors that you wouldn't have put together but did - and in an interesting and creative way,” says Donovan. 

“There are loads of opportunities within gaming for brands because of the sheer variety and breadth of topic areas that games cover. They cover every aspect of life, which gives brands that ability to come in an authentic way that is right for them. They just need to pick the right game, the right topic area, the right community.”


Talking of communities (those wonderful subsections of the gaming world that hold the key to meaningful engagement and understanding of the sector), it's advisable not to treat them like a cash grab and expect them to open you with wide arms. If you respect them, they'll respect you.

One of the most talked about gaming campaigns of 2023 was Dove’s 'Code My Crown'. A purpose driven piece of work that was executed in a natural way. Recognising a significant issue in the portrayal of black gamers lacking realism or authenticity, Dove took action. Research showed that 85 per cent of black gamers felt misrepresented. Leveraging its prior initiatives like 'Virtual Beauty' and partnership in the Crown Act, Dove created the world's first guide. With strong support and remarkable enthusiasm from gamers, coupled with the dedicated efforts of the development team and community, the initiative made a notable impact.

“The beauty of that campaign was making that code open source,” says O’Neil. “Allowing all gaming companies, coders, creators, and programmers to utilise it and implement changes."

As the gaming industry advances, there remains a clear call for further progress. Dove recognised this opportunity to catalyse progress and elevate the landscape.

Cordwell adds: “We [Edelman] hoped to turbocharge it. We are seeing really great games making great steps. But we thought this was a chance for Dove to really give it a bit of a boost. It was probed by gamers and even the gaming industry. Sarah Bond, president of Xbox at Microsoft, who has a console, shared it, which was absolutely fantastic. You can't really get better praise than that.”

To get anything into a game right now can prove difficult, with publishers having lengthy lead times and a predisposition to tread cautiously with brands among the ways that slow up the process.

"Lead time has caused some campaigns to fluctuate," Harding explains. "Take McDonald's 'Unbranded Menu', for example, leveraging gaming without direct involvement. Such tactics suit iconic brands like McDonald's, offering sneaky associations with gaming."

Both Harding and O’Neil have embraced the gaming space with their client Pringles which, in the last few years, has slowly but thoroughly carved its way into the hearts of gamers.

Its latest effort, 'The Pringles NPC', provided gamers with the opportunity to become a non-player character (NPC) in a video game, tasked with restocking Pringles vending machines. The victor would make an appearance in Train Sim World, a train simulation game accessible through Xbox Game Pass.

“It was about tackling the challenge of getting inside the minds of everyday Pringles consumers,” says Harding. “Finding something that's captivating and authentic to gamers while effectively resonating with the target audience in a genuine and engaging way."

Every year, the briefs sent to Grey by Pringles revolved around entertainment, particularly focusing on films.The agency realised the potential in the gaming market, knowing gamers tend to snack while playing. And Pringles had data supporting its reputation as a less messy option and a natural fit.

It would be impossible to discuss successful gaming campaigns without mentioning 'Clash from the Past', the mobile game Clash of Clans' 10th year anniversary extravaganza. In order to go up against the likes of Super Mario or Pac Man, the game felt it needed a 40-year legacy of fandom and history rather than just the 10. So Wieden + Kennedy created the missing 30 years of Clash of Clans history, imagining what it would be like if it had been created in 1982 rather than 2012. It had a 20-minute documentary, fake product partnerships, ads and news spots. The agency even created versions of Clash of Clans as if it would have been in the 80s 8-bit platform and the 90s 2/3D racers, that people could play.

“It authentically captured gaming culture,” explains Sophie Cullinane, creative partner at Gravity Road. “It resonated with the gaming audience, being playful and highly effective. It sets a high standard for work in this space—it must reflect how people genuinely interact and use platforms.

“The first step is understanding the authentic behaviour of the audience and finding ways to complement their gaming experience. Being lazy and adding something that feels disconnected from gameplay or culture won't engage the audience.”

Game On, Advertisers!

With an understanding that to get to audiences fandom culture needs to be embraced, what’s next for gaming in the ad space? Skins, clothes, stickers, dances, even the NFT, still have their place, but if you want to be taken seriously you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is.

Gamers are getting more selective these days. It's really important to grasp their gaming habits and add some extra flair to keep them hooked. Instead of only targeting the mainstream crowd, perhaps it’s time to consider how you can boost engagement among smaller, specialised communities.

The untapped goldmine for brands is Reddit, insists Cullinane. “While some brands are thriving on the platform, many are not taking full advantage of its potential. My focus this year is to explore opportunities on Reddit because I see it as an untapped resource. Discord is also promising, although it lacks the same user numbers as Reddit.

“Reddit is a fascinating space, often overlooked as a traditional social platform. There's immense potential for brands to engage with specific communities and plant easter eggs for upcoming game launches. It's about finding the right subreddit communities and crafting content that resonates,” she says.

The industry really has struck gold with Twitch, particularly in amplifying key gaming initiatives beyond traditional review and gameplay executions. But why stop there? There's loads of potential for real creative content in these realms. TikTok is opening eyes to similar communities, highlighting the need for a diverse platform strategy.

In these spaces, creators thrive on their personality rather than sheer gaming expertise, cultivating a community around themselves, says Rob Meldrum, head of creative partnerships at EssenceMediacomX. “Similarly, in the early days of YouTube, influencers focused on building communities through their thoughts and commentary. When brands entered the scene, there was a shared excitement as these influencers felt recognised for their unique perspectives. Twitch partnerships represent a fresh frontier for brands to explore.”

These days, people tend to raise an eyebrow when brands show up, knowing it's not just about spreading joy; there's usually an expectation of getting something in return. Meldrum makes a clear point, emphasising the importance of a value exchange. He says, “In advertising, especially digital, if you provide some form of value—whether it's the right message, timing, or product—it's not annoying; it's genuinely useful. And usefulness holds significant value.”

Don’t interrupt a gamer's experience. This isn't just another media channel where you can buy ad space and place ads. “Some brands have treated it as such in the past,” says Cordwell. “Maybe it worked initially due to novelty, but now it feels intrusive. Things like buying ad space between loading screens disrupts the gaming experience, blocking the very thing players love—the game itself."

Donovan advises that marketers should recognise that gamers, while diverse, generally possess a high level of marketing savvy and internet fluency. Simultaneously, they are deeply passionate and protective of their community and interests. “Brands venturing into the gaming sphere must invest effort in understanding both the community and the games themselves, ensuring an authentic engagement. Failure to do so may result in immediate pushback. Employing subject matter experts within your team is crucial, as they can help navigate potential pitfalls related to language, terminology, and approach, ultimately mitigating risks and fostering genuine connections with the gaming community.”

Creative teams filled with authentic gamers is certainly key, adds Cullinane. “We're utilising fantastic tools like Unreal Engine to construct these new worlds in all our executions. Alongside it, we have a knowledgeable team of authentic gamers who can script seamlessly, avoiding any jarring experiences, like our MineCraft/Crocs AR experience. It's all these elements combined that enable us to operate with that bit swifter.”

Meldrum adds, “When we're working on partnerships, the clue's in the title - you're creating partnerships. For us at EMX, it's crucial to collaborate with those who understand where the work will live. Without this understanding, the idea may fall short and could be rejected outright. It's essential to have someone on the team who understands the community or audience you're targeting. Otherwise, it's simply not viable."

Ultimately, in the world of gaming, you’re the sidekick, not the main attraction. Stay humble, keep it light-hearted, and strive for authenticity, says Joyce. “There’s a huge risk of the ‘hello fellow kids’ vibe with gaming, so partner with gamers, streamers, agencies who can help you navigate the digital realms with authenticity and understanding.”


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