For a long time, in-game advertising has been a contentious but necessary evil because it interrupts gameplay. Now, new in-game formats, where ads are native within the player experience, are fast gaining traction with brand advertisers.
However, while display or video ads that run during breaks in gameplay can be measured via CTRs and viewability rates, there are yet to be any industry-wide measurement metrics for the new native formats. Is this hobbling media spend?
We asked some experts from EYE Network and the wider mobile advertising ecosystem for their thoughts on measurement. Here’s what they said…
Antonio Dale Forte, Gaming Group Lead, IAB UK
When it comes to measuring native in-game ads, it’s important that marketers understand the value of the format rather than looking at it through the lens of traditional display.
Video games represent a uniquely engaged entertainment channel that requires a user’s full attention. To advertise in such an engaged space, brands must be careful to fit seamlessly within the wider experience, not distract from it. Introducing interactions to these environments would jeopardise the unrivalled attention that video games receive, and therefore fail to capitalise on – or appreciate – the USP of the format.
The key to measuring the success of in-game campaigns lies in viewability, but this is also where the challenges start. Measuring viewability within user-controlled rendered gameplay environments is difficult, but where there is opportunity, the tech will follow.
Accredited solutions are in the pipeline and, as these progress, advertisers can be confident in their investments and this innovative emerging format can continue to thrive.
Niklas Bakos, Adverty, Founder and CPO, Adverty
It’s crucial that In-game advertising feels native and non-interruptive, sitting seamlessly alongside the immersive experience of virtual worlds that individuals frequent for escapism and fun. This is too frequently forgotten, with too little consideration of the end user shown.
Contextual sensitivity is critical. This is a big problem with much digital advertising today – not just gaming. It’s important to focus on experiences rather than simply trying to shift products. Interruptive ads spark a backlash, wherever they are placed.
Indeed, the gaming sector represents perhaps the last unexplored frontier of media, but the key to success lies in recognising the importance of the unique context and considering varied, rather than blunt, metrics. For instance, in-game advertising can offer detailed in-view measurement data in addition to brand uplift studies.
Kristan Rivers, CEO, AdInMo
Advertisers can no longer ignore the scale and reach of mobile games, especially the ability to target Millennial and Gen-Z audiences. However, performance marketing in mobile games simply doesn’t work because it’s too intrusive. Apple’s new ATT framework, now finally mandatory, has also forced the industry to rethink ad models.
Game industry data shows that 46% of mobile game developers see in-game ads as a key monetization key opportunity for 2021 and this means inventory across all genres is rapidly growing.
Brands need to think about engaging the players, not annoying them! Click-free InGamePlay ads that don’t interrupt gameplay help create authentic brand experiences and drive greater recall when the player is most positively emotionally engaged – playing games.
Of course, as with any nascent media, the industry now needs to align on viewability measurement standards and ensure they are comparative with other display channels to help the buy-side understand the true potential of in-game advertising. And ultimately to understand the true potential of these native ad formats, then brand impact and effectiveness will also need to be measured.
Alexander Facey, Account Manager, Havas Entertainment (part of Havas Media Group)
Traditionally there’s been some hesitancy around the quality of the mobile gaming experience, oft perceived as the initial days of simple puzzle titles and word games with short dwell times and low-impact impressions played on the commute. This is off-putting to big brands who are more likely to want to associate with premium placements and concentrated engagement.
However, the gap between mobile and console gaming is rapidly closing with the rise of titles such as ‘Genshin Impact’, where players continue a persistent and identical experience across home consoles and smartphones. New tech allows for impressive graphics and deeper gameplay, while earnable items and characters encourage long-term attachment.
Advertisers should look to leverage the in-game reward systems within these more developed GAAS experiences and then use social listening tools to monitor the effectiveness of brand association with users to monitor an increase in positive sentiment rather than relying on just CTRs and viewability.
Samuel Huber, CEO, Admix
Performance is very important, but we believe ‘In-Play’ advertising opens up gaming as a media channel to advertisers who also want to build a brand and reach engaged eyeballs at scale – with a message – not just to drive clicks. If you take current intrusive advertising formats, for example, they are not adapted for big brands but are better suited to user acquisition or direct response.
And viewability is a critical KPI to measure brand impact – we are actually the first solution to be fully measured as per industry standards. Being able to deliver scalable, data-driven campaigns and measure ROI is what brands need for gaming to grow into a mainstream media channel – an evolution from custom activations. Particularly important that in a world where IDFA won’t exist and attribution becomes more difficult – being able to provide value all across the customer funnel will be a differentiator.
Si Crowhurst, VP, Vungle Creative Labs
Games continue to be the most popular app category and it’s great to see brands are beginning to recognise their advertising value. But having the know-how to optimise native ad campaigns, such as placing luxury fashion brand skins in just the right game environment, is a whole different ball game.
To ensure the best results with native ads, brands not only need creativity, but also the knowledge and expertise to make the ad fit in, yet still be impactful. Game intelligence about genre and art style is key here. For example, in the US, ‘cartoon’ is by far the most popular mobile game style, but in Asian markets manga dominates – especially in role-playing and strategy games.
Understanding all the factors at play is crucial for designing creative that fits harmoniously into the game experience, and creates the emotional connection which ultimately leads to advertising success.
Natalia Vasilyeva, VP Marketing, Anzu
As an emerging media, blended in-game advertising, native to gameplay, has yet to define how to measure effectiveness. While it’s true that advertisers may be holding back from advertising in games due to lack of standards, it also may be that they don’t want to be associated with typical intrusive ads prevalent in mobile that annoy players.
Brands may prefer performance advertising because it is easy to measure, but as brand awareness marketing, blended in-game ads cannot be measured with CTRs. However, there is still significant value, bringing long-term increases in awareness, affinity, and even purchase intent. As the gaming audience matures, advertisers will need to adapt: brand suitability should be taken into account and contextual targeting needs to be employed, especially in a post-IDFA world where there are no IDs to help advertisers find their right audiences. Future-proof blended in-game advertising already offers this to brands.
Fernando Faria, Chief Marketing Officer, Bidstack
It is only natural that us marketers focus on CTR’s because we live in a numbers world. Online advertising is all about ROI, every ad spend has to be attributable. When it comes to in-game advertising, some formats such as reward ads, interstitials and banner ads are well-recognised metrics that deliver CTR.
However, native in-game ads are by definition non-intrusive, therefore non-clickable. They form an intrinsic part of the gaming experience with ads that blend in seamlessly with the virtual world they exist in, which means CTR is not the right way to measure the success of the format. Viewability definitely provides a solid alternative for measuring in-game advertising and our recently announced collaboration with Moat by Oracle demonstrates how this measurement is becoming more standardised.
As mobile games evolve we are starting to see premium brands lean into them more and more. Firstly because of technological advances that are creating mobile experiences that are comparable to PC and Console formats, but also because of the incredible reach that they can offer to brands.
As discussed above, while viewability is a good benchmark I think the industry won’t stop there. We have been measuring how long ads are in view, dwell times, and uplifts in brand perceptions and purchase intent and benchmark these findings against other channels to give our clients a clearer picture of the effectiveness of the channel. Currently we do this through eye-tracking research, but we are constantly working to refine the way we measure performance.
The focus for brands should be to focus on brand awareness and make their advertising immersive rather than intrusive. Offering authentic in-game activations that become a part of the gaming experience has been shown to improve recall and create a positive sentiment with their target audience.