Every few years, the gaming industry has a moment in popular culture. And right now, we’re having one of those moments. With both casual mobile gaming and hardcore esports on a meteoric rise, the opportunity for brand marketers to activate this community of passionate, discerning consumers has never been more compelling.
There are plenty of stats and research out there that support the case for nontraditional or non-endemic brand sponsorship in competitive gaming (as well as emerging case studies from hot shot brands like Coca Cola, Mountain Dew, Taco Bell, etc), but approaching these digital pioneers with a brand proposition is no game at all. Authenticity, overall value proposition and brand really matter in this highly vocal community.
Aside from reaching a diverse community of often highly affluent consumers, the gaming industry also provides CPG brands with one other truly unique opportunity: to be on the forefront of the digital frontier. Gamers and affiliated communities (fandoms, comics and etc) are notorious early adopters, which allows for CPG brands—who have, until recently, been more cautious when it comes to adopting new technology—to associate their brands with innovation, or even break into new ways of doing business like blockchain technology and crypto currency.
But how can your everyday consumer goods brand get started?
Mobile gamers are your friend (literally).
You’ve seen it—Candy Crush, Temple Run, Farmville—these mobile games are incredibly accessible (and highly addictive) to a truly broad audience of users, and they’re often ad-supported. In addition to lucrative in-app purchases, many of these games are free to use if the player opts to receive communications from its advertisers.
As a brand marketer, you can approach this three ways:
- Include mobile games in your media planning. There’s plenty of inventory available and these games often operate at low cost and can often be purchased programmatically.
- Monitor and assume some of the cultural cues from these games in your owned properties. We see brands do this all the time with popular movies and television shows. Gaming can be treated really similarly.
- Explore exclusive promotional efforts or co-branded programs. Mobile game publishers typically leverage their own digital currency, which you can offer as a gift to new customers or loyal fans.
Get ready for esports to go mainstream.
League of Legends Season 3 World Championship, Source: lolesports-flickr
Look, esports are already exploding. There’s nothing else to it. Simply look to sold out DOTA or League of Legends stadiums, the millions of daily viewers on Twitch, or any of the news from of E3 this year. What was once regarded as a highly niche, exclusive community is hitting the mainstream cultural consciousness in a big way.
Major CPG brands have always maintained relationships with traditional athletes, and esports really shouldn’t be any different. Big spenders like PepsicCo and Coca-Cola have already contributed to a near $155 million in ad spending that was expected to return $266 million through esports in 2017.
But, unlike traditional athletic sponsorships, you don’t need to be a Coca-Cola of the world to engage the esports and competitive gaming communities. You just have to be a really, really compelling one. The real power of esports is access. Fans, subscribers and followers love the direct access they’re granted to star players. Donate a few bucks and you can almost always expect a shout out online—or, if you donate enough, the opportunity to play for interact with competitive players and streamers.
Brands, especially consumer goods brands, can enjoy the halo of that access by sponsoring events, meet and greets, or digital experiences that grant access to competitive gamers. For brands, that means extremely positive brand associations between gamers and fans who have been historically difficult to reach via traditional advertising.
Expand your idea of “influencers.”
Streamers and esport influencers are HIGHLY trusted. Their fans and followers buy the gear they use, eat the food they like, and are extremely invested in their favorite competitive gamers and streamers. Subscribers and fans tip, donate and contribute to the success of their favorite players, which has allowed a new wave of full-time streamers and competitive gamers to quit their jobs and pursue gaming as a (lucrative) career. And while gear and gadgets might be your first instinct, streamers have been sponsored by everyday brands and products from sports drinks and snacks to fashion accessories and cosmetics.
Not ready to get that investing in single players? Twitch, the community’s leading streaming service, also allows streamers to participate in revenue-sharing programs when they allow advertisers to publish on their channels. But due to the financial support streamers already receive directly from subscribers, it’s an option that is less-used by massively popular streamers. (In many cases, this balance that is demanded by subscribers.)
As with all influencer marketing efforts, brands will have to confront the challenge of protecting their brand reputation, especially when it comes to sponsoring professional esports gamers an popular streamers.
Is gaming really social?
Thanks to digital engines like Xbox Live and Playstation Plus, more and more gamers are opting to play together, rather than alone (PC gamers have been at this for awhile). A perfect example of this is the seemingly overnight cultural phenomena of games like PUBG and, more recently, Fortnite—both of which operate in player vs. player (PvP) or co-operative players vs. environment (PvE) modes. Online games like these are almost always equipped with written and voice chat functions, the ability to form and maintain groups, game-exclusive emotes and art, as well as video and file sharing functions.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because it should. These games are, in essence, a form of their own social media, complete with a set of social standards, communication forms, and rules. If CPG brands want to succeed on these platforms, they’ll need to seriously adopt and adhere to the informal rules of these unique social environments.
Being an (admittedly new) gamer and Twitch subscriber has taught me a lot about what I can do differently as a digital content producer. Throwing myself into the gaming community has inspired me to reinvigorate direct-to-peer communications, and has provided invaluable lessons about what it really takes to build a highly visible, highly engaged audience.
Here are a couple of the key takeaways:
- Community building takes time and there are no shortcuts. Period. The practice of maintaining digital communities is one of trial and error, and often requires a certain appetite for risk.
- Authenticity has certainly not gone out of style. Any brand can interrupt a pop culture conversation with a message of its own, but the output will always be equal to the input. How much your brand cares about the conversation will directly impact how much the conversation will, ultimately, include your brand.
- There’s something to be said about trying new things, just for the sake of trying new things. So often in my own re-introduction to gaming, I experienced moments of real insecurity. Should I turn on my headset? Will the world actually respond? Will they be cruel? Is this a waste of my time? Too often, we see brands talking about innovation, but are too risk-adverse to throw on a VR headset and say, “Hello, world!”
Whether or not your CPG brand is appropriate for the gaming community is really a question of identity, but hopefully this has given you something to chew on.
(And, if in doubt, just respawn at the start and try again.)