How Disney, Starbucks and Toyota are owning the mobile game scene

Jude O’Connor, general manager, brand, AdColony

Disney. Unilever. Starbucks. Home Depot. Toyota. These brands share more than just a Fortune 500 ranking: They are amongst the world’s most admired companies. So it should come as no surprise that these brands are also some of the most innovative when it comes to advertising — both in the creative concepts they employ and the channels they have adopted to better reach their target audience. 

These five brands are all actively spending on advertising in a channel that many other brands are still ignoring: mobile games. And they aren’t just advertising in games; they are innovating to push new limits on formats and creative executions. With millions of dollars on the line, these major brands are truly owning the mobile gaming space.

Why are these innovative, most-admired global brands choosing to advertise in mobile games? Simply put, it’s because they know that they can find their audiences there, delivered at scale.

This year, for the first time ever, mobile eclipsed TV in terms of time spent per day (3:43 vs. 3:35) and mobile app usage accounts for the vast majority (88 percent) of that time. Gaming is now the third most popular app type overall, and second most popular amongst millennials.

The common stereotype of a “gamer” is the mid-30-year-old male who is an underachiever, lives in his parents’ basement and sits around playing games all day long. While that is an unfair and inaccurate assessment of even a console gamer, it especially couldn’t be further from the truth when compared to the profile of the common mobile gamer.

For starters, mobile gamers actually skew slightly female. They also tend to be highly-educated and make the buying decisions for the affluent homes they run. They care about brands, and they represent enormous market potential for everyday items you see at big-box grocery stores and fast-casual restaurants — along with big-ticket items like laptops, cars and travel. And just like any other medium, a curated list of apps can be put together to reach any specific audience of mobile gamers that you need.

Are these mobile gamers on social apps as well? Of course they are. Social, however, is an ever-changing channel that is dominated by user-generated content which is, unfortunately, not always brand-safe. Measurement in social channels is also a challenge and doesn’t always allow you to clearly demonstrate ROI.

According to an AdColony survey, one in six users prefers to encounter ads in mobile games, compared to just one in 14 on Instagram. Mobile gamers, even those who just play hyper-casual games in short bursts, “are much more receptive to advertising than non-gamers,” according to Newzoo’s 2019 findings

Just how receptive are they? Receptive enough to open their wallets and spend. One in 4 mobile gaming users purchased advertised products & services according to the survey. And despite Instagram’s recent moves to become more of a platform for e-commerce advertising, less than 1 in 8 consumers made a purchase after seeing an ad there.

So why are mobile gamers more receptive to advertising and why do they buy more frequently than users in other mediums? The ads and the formats they encounter in these environments play a large role.

Gaming environments are dominated by what most of the industry calls “rewarded video,” but I prefer the term “user-initiated, value-exchange video.” Rewarded sounds like too much of a one-way street. Here, the user is choosing to engage with a video in exchange for some type of in-game benefit. They are opting to trade a moment of undivided attention for a value, and as a result, they receive the brand’s message while in a favorable mindset.

It is one of the rare occasions with online video advertising that the audience has a positive moment with a brand or video. When you compare that experience to the more common advertising experiences users encounter — forced pre-roll on publishing sites or Youtube, mid-roll ads on Facebook, etc — it is no wonder that users receive and react more positively to an ad that they choose to interact with.

I don’t envy the current position advertisers find themselves in. There are more channels to consider than ever before. But while newer channels such as OTT are viewed as “the next big thing,” they are simply not mature enough yet to be truly utilized. Between the lack of defined and available data, universal measurement and insufficient reach and frequency (e.g. Advertising 101), it’s still a risky bet to place. Why reach 64 million “households” when you can reach 2.4 billion people in mobile games today? 

Today’s OTT market resembles what mobile was 10 years ago before it fully matured. Mobile gaming today is ready and proven, and offers the best of everything one could hope for OTT to deliver in the future; scale, measurement and the ability to purchase addressable audiences programmatically. Mobile gaming is currently the biggest opportunity your brand has not yet explored. Advertising will always be audience-first. Mobile games are where the addressable (non-social) audiences in mobile are — and will be.

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