Marketing To Gamers On Video Game Consoles: Can Brands Play?

Players gonna play, so brands are targeting gamers via partnerships with PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo.


In the immortal words of music industry darling Taylor Swift, “the players gonna play, play, play, play, play.” She probably wasn’t talking about the video game industry, but she might has well have been: Video games are hugely important source of entertainment for men ages 18 to 34. At the same time, video game consoles have historically been difficult devices on which to reach consumers. They will, however, become increasingly important to advertisers as they become more functional and, therefore, powerful. But how can brands take advantage of this burgeoning opportunity?

English couch potatoes, rejoice: Domino’s is reportedly working with Microsoft to enable Xbox One players to order pizzas from their consoles.

Per the Sunday Times, the partnership is due to be announced in November and is “thought to be the first time British consumers will be able to buy a physical product via the Xbox.”

According to a rep for Domino’s in the U.S., it is a UK-specific effort and he is not aware of any plans for a comparable deal in the U.S.

Nevertheless, the Domino’s-Microsoft partnership is noteworthy as an example of a brand making itself visible to consumers on yet another device.

And, as consoles become more functional, they will play increasingly important roles in the living room as sources of entertainment beyond games. And, as a result, their relative importance to marketers also increases.

“There’s a lot of talk that we may not be cable subscribers [in the future], but data subscribers,” said Brian Blau, research director at research and advisory firm Gartner, pointing to devices like Amazon Fire TV and PlayStation TV.

Despite existing flaws, Blau said these devices will only get better over time as consoles turn into “much more powerful graphic computers.”

Brands & Video Consoles: Who’s Playing?

The Domino’s-Microsoft pact is certainly not the first branded partnership within the gaming – or even console – industry.

Nissan and Sony, for example, have teamed up multiple times for Nissan PlayStation GT Academy, a gamer-to-professional-racer competition that the brands say uses “the virtual world of the Gran Turismo 6 game to unearth real-world racing talent.”

In a similar vein, in a tweet in May, Nintendo announced it was working with Mercedes-Benz on an integration within Mario Kart 8 on Wii U.

Reps for Nissan, Sony and Nintendo did not respond to requests for comment.

Also in May, Microsoft announced a multi-year partnership with the NFL to give Xbox One users “exclusive interactive NFL experiences,” as well as an ESPN app.

And, of course, there are all those Madden games.

Countless other partnerships exist and it’s no wonder: driven by strong mobile gaming and video game console and software sales, Gartner forecasts the worldwide video game marketplace will reach $111 billion.

Gamers: A Difficult, But Valuable Audience

While ads have a long history in the video game industry, consoles have historically been one of the most difficult platforms for advertisers because “consoles are really a male-oriented product and tend to skew young to younger middle age,” Blau said. That’s in part because certain game genres like shooter, racing and sports are popular with that demographic and “this is a tough audience to reach…and the audience might not be as accepting [of ads],” he added.

(In a case study, Think with Google echoes Blau’s statement, noting, on average, 18- to 34-year-olds spend more time per view in gaming than in any other content segment.)

And, much to their wives’/girlfriends’ (or mothers’) dismay, they are a captive audience on these devices, which makes them prime targets for advertisers.

“It’s not like the web,” Blau said. “It’s not like mobile apps [either] where there’s a lot of in and out and back and forth. The ad opportunities are limited [on consoles].”

Can Brands Reach Gamers?

So how does a brand reach these captive consumers? They have several options.

One way brands currently connect with consumers on consoles is through sports games in which “big money is exchanged” for sponsorships. That includes contracts with teams, stadiums, advertisers and the like and heavy integration, Blau said. It’s a similar concept with racing games that have deals with car manufacturers.

And then there are branded apps like the upcoming offering from Domino’s, as well as brands like Netflix, YouTube and GoPro.

What’s more, consoles also have ads within their main interfaces.

And then there are branded games.

But, whatever the strategy, in order for a brand to successfully reach consumers on consoles, the content has to fit within the game and it has to resonate with that audience.

“The best advice is that brands really need to find how their customers cross over with games, and then make sure there is a really solid tie-in between the message and the video game, which could be the game situation, content or user interface,” Blau said. “The tie-in is the most powerful way to have an impact with game players and if that tie-in is optimized it has the best chance of having meaning for the game player, versus ad content that is tangentially related or not related at all and then it becomes obvious that the ad is out of place.”

Marketing Challenges: Game Over?

The ability of a brand to reach consumers on consoles is further complicated by competing interests among all involved parties.

“There are four parties when it comes to having successful ads in games: the advertiser, the game developer, the game player and the console maker. Everybody has a say so in this and getting them all to line up is really difficult. It’s a good opportunity, but it’s not easy things to get right,” Blau said.

Gamers don’t like ads and developers don’t want to show ads because they “want to show their art in its purest form,” and advertisers want to take advantage of the opportunity that exists without upsetting anyone.

“There are a lot of pieces and it’s a complicated business,” Blau said. “That’s why it hasn’t really hit its stride. And the same situation will continue for a long time.”

And because of all the existing challenges, Blau said it will only change if brands make a big push.

“I think it will happen more because consumers are more accepting and games are having their heyday,” Blau said. “We’re going to see more, but it will be interesting to watch the development because of the challenges.”

What do you think about opportunities for advertisers within video game consoles?