Mobile gamers: Brands must approach with caution but can reap rewards

The rise of touchscreen devices has been the catalyst for gaming to become one the most popular mobile pastimes, which for brands means opportunities as well as risks, writes Richard Smith, Account Director at Mindshare UK.

As more of us adopt smartphones with better hardware, it’s a pastime that will continue to rise and impact more traditional media touch-points.

Some advertisers are already keen to use gaming to reach their audiences whilst others may be nervous about what their brand can do. Regardless of which camp you’re in it’s essential to understand brands in the context of gamers, not just the games they play.

Knowing what to do in gaming can be a daunting prospect: traditionally advertisers stayed away from gaming when it was mainly on consoles, as the lead times were long and publishers weren’t interested anyway.

Fast forward to today where mobile gaming opportunities can be turned around much quicker and free to play/freemium pay models mean advertising is not only a reality, but it’s easy to get involved without considering audiences.

There’s been lots of commentary in the trade, talking about gaming audiences being either casual mobile/tablet gamers or hard-core console players, and the former, because of their perceived casual relationship with games are "fair game for advertisers" and they won’t object to brands in their games.

But research we recently undertook with our bespoke panel of casual mobile gamers showed a very different story. 

Don't interrupt

Even casual gamers object to brands interrupting them, and quotes like the following were common.

"People play games for escapism and thrills. They don’t do it to be bombarded with pop-ups and infomercials. The thing being advertised becomes an obstruction to my enjoyment. I begin to resent the brand as it rudely barges into my moment."

Casual mobile/tablet gamers play games for all of the same reasons that console gamers do; for escapism, for fun and for thrills, and they’ll object to inappropriate branding not necessarily with scathing online comments, but they’ll definitely vote with their feet (or thumbs), and go elsewhere.

The reason for this is that gaming is not a normal pastime; it can be addictive and it requires a lot of concentration. Many of us can testify that trying to maintain a conversation whilst locked in the middle of a game is almost impossible, and most interruptions to the gaming experience, be they a brand or even someone trying to hold a conversation with us can be rather unwelcome.

Enhance the gaming experience

The advice therefore for brands is to complement the gaming situation, give consumers something they want in return for their interaction. This principle is nothing new, it’s been the foundation for content marketing for many years, but in gaming it doesn’t have to mean creating a game.

There are growing numbers of examples of brands in gaming, and those that are seen to be the most successful have a very good understanding of their audience’s needs. If you can address the true pain-point of your audience through gaming you’re off to a good start, as you’ve created a reason for gamers to engage with you.

Understanding what the pain-points of your audience are both with respect to gaming and even in the real world, can help you have an angle in gaming that will give gamers a real reason to interact with you. This could be from the very simple insight that gamers are limited by the amount of money they’re willing to commit to micro-payments and provide them with some in-game currency for interacting with your brand or it could be something much more specific.

A great example of partnering a game and giving rewards to gamers was Axe in the US (the deodorant known as Lynx in UK) partnering with EA’s ‘Battlefield 4’.

Axe put activation codes for free official merchandise on their products that could be activated in-game. By understanding their audience’s desire for free stuff that gave them bragging rights in the game, Axe gave themselves a brilliant reason for gamers to interact with them.

In the development of out Future of Gaming report, we pushed this notion that understanding an audience need could lead to a gaming solution for most brands, even those that might not consider themselves even remotely close to gaming arena.

DIY approach

One notable example that we came up with was for a DIY retailer.

Every weekend thousands of parents wander around your stores towing small children that really don’t want to be there. Why not create a GPS-enabled game on mobile that is like a treasure hunt around the store, rewarding children for finding certain products?

It would keep them distracted and even could help parents financially by making the in-game currency redeemable with loyalty points at the till. It’s only a basic idea, but it at least shows that by looking at a genuine pain-point consumers face, gaming can provide a solution.

Gaming is an area where the opportunities are continuously changing and brands can get involved more easily than they could before. With an open mind and by understanding and respecting the needs of the gaming audience, most brands can have an approach to gaming that can turn into prosperous relationships for gamers and brands alike.