Just how effective is that Burger King ad in the game NFL Street? Marketers have often wondered. Considering that more than a third (36%) of gamers actually bought, talked about or sought information about a product after seeing an ad in a videogame, per Nielsen Games, a case can be made that they are very effective.
Not long ago, advertising within videogames was looked upon as an exciting new venue to attract a "lost boys" demographic that had stopped avidly watching TV. However, the excitement wore off for some as the ROI for such an unit was difficult to prove.
Looking to get a temperature check among today's gamers, Nielsen Games polled 534 active videogame players last month on Brandweek's behalf (both are units of Nielsen). Of those surveyed, 11% said they purchased a brand that was advertised in a game. Some 19% said they talked about it after seeing an ad and 10% said they recommended the product. Eleven percent said they sought more information. (While no direct comparison rates were offered against other forms of media, 1% of consumers exposed to direct response advertising eventually buy the advertised product.)
Coke was most recalled by the Nielsen panel, then Nike, Burger King, Axe, Pepsi and Pontiac. "Burger King's goal is always to engage gamers in the BK brand through a medium they love," said Brian Gies, vp-marketing at Burger King, Miami. "Throughout, it's been about knowing the target audience [young adult males] and finding relevant ways to reach them through great consumer experiences."
Burger King isn't using games to sell Whoppers, but to pursue what it calls "extended brand interaction." The fast feeder has advertised in top sellers like NFL Street, provided players hidden codes to access the "Burger King Challenge" in Need for Speed and inserted the King into Fight Night. The creepy King served as a corner man that players can pick for their fighters. The company also creates its own proprietary games for the Xbox. Activision's Guitar Hero series was the most popular game among participants who remembered specific advertisers, followed by Need for Speed, the Madden football series, Grand Theft Auto titles, the NCAA Football series and Tony Hawk games.
Global spending for in-game ads is hovering below $200 million, per the Yankee Group, Boston. It will approach $1 billion by 2011. This figure matters to the videogame sector, but is chump change for a $3 trillion ad industry.
In-game ads primarily have been a brand awareness play, but recently publishers have cast the medium as a direct-response vehicle. Electronic Arts is working to add more interactivity to its PC games. For example, a player could click the space bar to stream a trailer of a movie advertised within a game.
"Marketers want consumers to buy their products, that's why they're in the advertising model to begin with," said Manny Anekal, EA's global director of ad operations. "If the in-game message is clear and nonintrusive . . . you will see more consumer change or actual purchase [as a result of interactive ads]." There are as many as 16 in-game ad formats, said Michael Goodman, Yankee Group's director of digital entertainment. They include interstitials before and after playing, placement while a different skill level loads and sponsored cheat codes. For gamers who recalled ads, "the vast majority indicated that it did not adversely impact their experience," said Brad Raczka, marketing manager for Nielsen Games.
Still, the medium serves mainly as an awareness-builder versus a trigger to buy, said Goodman. "You have to recognize where the consumer is at that point of time. They're not looking to buy a Coke or fast food." But with males 18-34 spending 15% of their time playing, in-game ads are an opportunity that can't be ignored, said Justin Townsend, CEO of New York in-game advertising agency IGA. "It's not supposed to be directly in your face for advertising purposes; it's trying to be part of the consumer's experience every day."