Interest in in-game advertising expected to grow as new systems make it more targetable

Canadian advertisers have been rather limited in how involved they could get with in-game advertising since most games have been designed for North American or global consumption. New technologies now have the potential to bring games into the world of traditional media and enable targeting by region and various demographics.

Canadian advertisers have been rather limited in how involved they could get with in-game advertising since most games have been designed for North American or global consumption. New technologies now have the potential to bring games into the world of traditional media and enable targeting by region and various demographics.

Last month New York-based Massive Incorporated launched a network with a server system able to deliver, change and update ad message in top-selling Internet-connected console and computer games.

Although likely to start at the global brand level, because the technology is similar to the delivery systems being used by other online advertising sites, inventory will later be able to be segmented based on geographic location and the demos of the people playing the games.

Mike Parker, managing director of Tribal DDB in Vancouver, says even though Canada is home to many top game developers, they have been building them for the global audience. There has been little for Canadian advertisers wanting to target Canadian consumers.

Some marketers looking to drive traffic to their Web sites have done that through games. That was part of a promotional campaign that Tribal DDB did for Bank of Montreal’s InvestorLine during RRSP season early this year. It involved having contestants play a round or two of virtual golf before entering its online Ultimate Golf Getaway contest. The target was affluent males aged 40 to 55.

Parker says it was a great success with over 2,500 hours of gameplay logged but most importantly, those who played and then opened an InvestorLine account was 15%.

That success aside, Parker says the jury is still out on the effectiveness of in-game advertising but that the logic is clear – young males and teens in particularly are spending a lot of time playing games and not watching television.

Rather than just a banner or billboard type ad in a game, he says Tribal DDB is looking at other ways of harnessing the power of games to reach them, such as working with clients and videogame makers to create access and special opportunities for customers.

‘If your client is Pepsi, by joining a Pepsi club or purchasing a product, consumers can get a code or something that would unlock a special stage of a game they wouldn’t otherwise be able to play.’

On a larger scale, Tribal DDB in Chicago recently executed a product placement deal for McDonald’s and the latest version of the very popular Electronic Arts game, The Sims. McDonald’s outlets are actually in the game, allowing the characters to go into a McDonald’s to make purchases.

This type of involvement makes sense for global marketers but Nick Barbuto, director of interactive solutions at Cossette Media in Toronto, is more interested in when Massive will be selling and managing Canadian-specific inventory for the game publishers.

Ads within games so far have been static and unchangeable, says Barbuto, and what Massive’s type of system offers is the ability for advertisers to put campaign-based messages into games and segment messages based on geographical locations, time of day, or even day of the week.

‘It will follow the way traditional online ad servers have gone the last few years. It’s the difference between just sponsoring a game and delivering a campaign-based message. So if you have new shoes that have come into the market and want to promote them, the current videogame scenario isn’t conducive to doing that because the shoes will be old within a year and you don’t want to keep an ad in a game that’s promoting a year-old shoe.’

Many advertisers have experimented with Flash-based games online or games built around their brands on their Web sites, but Barbuto says the real gamers are the ones advertisers want to reach – young males.

He says it’s not that Canadian advertisers really want to be involved in in-game advertising; it’s really about keeping up with their consumers who are increasingly spending more time gaming.

Although X-Box console and PC videogames are self-contained and can be played offline, the reason they are online compatible – besides the obvious multiplayer function – is that game suppliers sometimes update content via the Web and allow gamers to download through their systems that have built-in hard drives where it can be stored. This is also how Massive will be downloading and changing ads in the top 15 game titles.

Barbuto cautions that there are a couple of issues to consider when it comes to in-game advertising, one being that many of the top game titles are pretty gory. Some advertisers are not going to want their brands associated with games where the goal is the stealthy killing of others.

The other issue to consider, he says, is that gamers aren’t used to blatant ads within games right now so there will be some complaints, some pushback.

Perhaps added-value components could smooth over objections, Barbuto says. ‘There will have to be some sort of value proposition coming back to them – whether that’s a subsidized on-line experience instead of paying $10 to access the online version of the game, maybe that’s now free and brought to you by the advertisers.’

On a global note, MediaLab, the consumer insight, research and development division of ad agency Mediaedge:cia, and the European in-game advertising agency, Down Under Ingame Advertising, recently announced the InGame Value Matrix (IVM). The new tool is designed to help advertisers understand the value of different forms of in-game ads relative to traditional media like TV, print and radio. Neilsen/NetRatings and video game developer Activision joined up earlier this year in a similar venture to measure and standardize the value of in-game advertising.