When you see the amount of people playing mobile games or see brands like Louis Vuitton invest in esport, it’s about time brands started understanding what strategy they have for gaming.

But are most marketers currently gaming imposters? Inspired by the viral game hit of 2020, Among Us, The Drum sought to get under the hood of the trends driving this shift to gaming. During a session at The Drum Digital Summit, alongside Adcolony, GroupM, RB and Anzu.io.

A key starting point for brands in understanding gaming and gaming audiences, says Adcolony’s senior vice president for APAC, Tom SImpson, is to unbundle the preconception of what a gamer is.

“I think one of the really interesting things when we look at gamers is the different types of gamers. You have esports at the funnel at one end, where you got really passionate fans but it’s a fairly small percentage of consumers of people. At the other end of it, right at the top of the funnel, you've got mobile and people who play mobile games, which is 80 to 85% of most markets. Most people have a mobile game on their phone that they play,” he explains.

One surprising data point for many marketers is the scale to which gaming has grown. The gaming audience in APAC is around 1.1 Billion, of which Adcolony reaches over 900m.

FMCG marketer Pete Mitchel, who is global comms and media lead (nutrition) at RB, says the scale of adoption at the casual level of gaming, and particularly on mobile, is a potential door for many brands to enter into having a gaming strategy.

“About 48% of people who play games are women, but they wouldn't identify themselves as being gamers. Only about 6% of women who actually play games identify themselves as gamers. It's the casual gaming, mobile gaming, that's a huge chunk. That's the biggest and  rising the fastest and the scale is huge. Having worked on FMCG brands for a long, long time, in the last two years, we've started thinking about it more but we need to move much faster. We don't do nearly enough but we are experimenting with piloting and we're doing things we weren't doing this time last year,” he adds.

In terms of activating on mobile, the ads served tend to be more permission-based with a clear value exchange. For example, a player can watch an ad to get given more coins, lives or points to use in a game. This is appealing, according to GroupM consultant/market SPOC for digital transformation and change management, Singapore, Vivian Yeung, but she says brands need to consider the creative because it can be a disruptive experience.

“Even if it's permission based, for the user to see the ad, the question is whether it is delivering a quality engagement with them. In some ways, we are disrupting a user, who is fully focused on a specific game. Games publishers and advertisers alike need to just ensure that they can continue to play a game so that it becomes a more native way of building it in,” she says.

Adcolony’s Simpson responded to this by comparing the ads in gaming to a sports game, where major sports leagues will pepper TV broadcasts with a lot of disruptive ads. In gaming, the experience has been improved from this. Ultimately the lesson for brands is to think about ads that fit well within the gaming environment.

Also on the panel was Itamar Benedy, co-founder and chief executive officer for Anzu.io, a tech business that does exactly that, it inserts brands into the gaming environment in a natural way, almost in the same way ads would be seen in real life. For example, on the side of a van in a game or a drink a character is drinking. Ultimately, it’s dynamic in-game product placement.

Benedy explains, “People like to play games that, in games like sport games, urban environments and shooter games, have branded content added to some of their experience. This content can enhance the game experience. To succeed it needs to be sensitive to content that is relevant for me and you need to make sure that content is a natural part of the in-game experience. Then, as a brand, you can reach those gamers. Some gamers are harder to reach because they watch less TV, they have ad blockers, but more importantly, you communicate with them in a positive way, and you don't block them from playing the game, you don't annoy them.”

The world of gaming is one that brands need to understand, as it becomes mainstream to all audience groups. To get an intro into some of the top trends, watch the full session as catch-up on The Drum Digital Summit website.