Why are brands still wary of getting into gaming?

Four smart marketers offer their advice

Every now and then a brand dips its toe into gaming. Yet for many of them, they stay away. Maybe it’s not the right space for them, or perhaps they simply don’t understand how to be authentic in a way in which gamers will respond. Whatever the reason, we decided to ask a few clever marketers why they think brands are still so cautious when it comes to this area.

Kate Knowles — freelance strategy director

Kate Knowles

With gaming set to overtake mainstream media this year, interest in gaming from brands is increasing. And — from web3 spaces for beauty brands, to beverage and game collaborations — brands are beginning to dip a toe in the gaming pool. But while brands can see the opportunity for cultural credence and virtual world brand extension, they aren’t ready to dive right in until it’s shown to be a more ‘brand safe’ place to play. In both game narratives and online gameplay, gender and racist stereotypes are commonplace. Women gamers (notably half the community) have to create their own gaming approaches to avoid gender-based aggression — hiding their gender, or creating closed loop inclusive gaming circles. In this toxic boys’ club/pool, there is a different chance for brands to earn their stripes. An opportunity to make a tangible difference to gaming culture, through what we do best: campaign for change.

Kev Chesters — strategic consultant, trainer, speaker and lecturer

Kev Chesters

I think it is a legacy of the fact that the industry is slightly misunderstood and suffers from the usual hierarchies of snobbery. When I was kid gaming meant pong and space invaders — it wasn’t exactly the creative canvas of choice for a genius. Now you’ve got companies like Sony spending $200m developing creative immersive brilliance like The Last of Us, and then seeing how amazingly it can translate that deep, rich storytelling platform to TV (Netflix actually spent 40% less on the TV show than Sony spent on developing the game). As the ignorance shifts and education grows as to the clear and obvious opportunity for brands — with younger, more female focused and diverse audiences — then hopefully we’ll see more brands embrace the space. They really should. Brands can take advantage, right now, that not too many competitors have cottoned on to the virgin territory. But they will, and soon. No time to waste.

Jesper Norgaard — Strategy Director at Grey London

Jesper Norgaard

The truth is… gaming isn’t relevant to all brands, so it’s only normal that some don’t pay it much attention. However, for the ones that do find it relevant and want to engage with this hard-to-reach audience, it’s still an unpredictable space with some genuine brand safety concerns. Whether we like it or not, the world of gaming can be an incredibly toxic environment, especially for women and marginalised groups. So, just like I fully understand that brands don’t want their ads next to offensive content on X or other platforms, I don’t blame brands from being a bit apprehensive and not wanting their sponsorships, branded skins or custom-built worlds to be experienced in the same breath as racist or abuse behaviour. I think the unfortunate truth that, in a virtual world where people can hide behind a screen, we aren’t going to see major change overnight. But with initiatives like AnyKey’s GLHF pledge for diversity and inclusion in competitive gaming, I’m optimistic, and think change is afoot.

Adam Wyatt — Strategy Director at DRUM

Adam Wyatt

Perhaps a case of ‘better the devil you know’? Ultimately education is still lacking and marketing decision makers find it challenging to move budgets from ‘trusted’ channels into new ones for fear of unknown returns. ‘Nobody got fired for buying social media and digital media’; but remember the 2010s when digital (display and social) expenditure was still way behind TV and traditional media? Today it far outspends just about every channel. Gaming, with over 50% of the worlds population (3.5bn) gaming on a regular basis and increasing by approx.150 million YOY, has the potential to eclipse them all. What’s more is that the audience crosses-over multiple generations so that you get high-penetration amongst Gen Alpha and Z (90%), millennial and Gen X (85%) in extremely high active engagement environments, meaning that brands can be part of genuine moments which last in the memory of their audience. 

The key to unlocking its power and potential for brands is strategy. Like with any sponsorship, partnership or comms channels, brands need to think carefully about how and where their brand shows up in gaming’s vast landscape. Then be calculated about the value that they are adding to the community, and where this will travel across the gaming ecosystem.

Featured image: Luis Villasmil / Unsplash