Author’s Note: I owe this awesome title to my friend Daron Bell. He wrote a paper on video game violence long ago and it stuck with me. Additionally, he is one of the best game reviewers I have listened to. Check out his website here.
As most people know, media usage has been fracturing for quite some time. Less time is being spent with more devices. This has made it difficult for advertisers to reach a high level of saturation with their target audiences. Naturally, advertisers are generally willing to try new avenues of ad delivery in order to hit their awareness goals. Enter in-game advertising. According the IAB, in 2014 there were 265 million U.S. gamers (men and women) who, on average, spent 2 hours per session in the game environment. As discussed in my Mobile Marketing article, the reason to utilize a particular advertising channel can’t be solely due to the volume of people. We must consider WHY the ad environment works from a consumer mindset and HOW that will help achieve advertising goals.
Gaming puts the consumer in a very unique and sensitive mindset. They are allowing themselves, for a brief time, to accept other realities. The consumer’s brain is literally open to new possibilities. The challenge for advertisers becomes working within the game environment, and thereby the gaming expectations of the consumer (known as Expectations Violation Theory). Ads are going to create dissonance (uncomfortable emotions/violations) for the gamer. Dissonance is acceptable in small doses because it generates a heightened level of awareness. However, in large doses dissonance works against an advertiser and generates negative emotions tied to the brand. This means we must manage the “violation valence.” Violation valence is the degree to which the advertiser rocks the metaphorical boat. Think of it in terms of conversation. A joke might be hilarious at a bar, but at a funeral it might not be well received.
In order to control the level of valence, advertisers must do two things in unison. They must work within the expectations/environment of the game and then reward consumers for tolerating the dissonance their brand has generated. Generally speaking these two actions work inversely to one another. For example, the higher the level of dissonance (interruption) the greater the reward must be. If we are playing a fantasy game where horses are the predominant mode of transportation and you advertise motor oil… be prepared to offer a premium prize to the gamer so they do not hate your brand for interrupting their escape into another world.
Typically, advertisers in gaming environments are taking advantage of both contextual relevancy (to diminish dissonance) and rewards. However, they are usually not used together. Contextual relevancy is usually used on standard platform devices (Nintendo, Xbox, Sony) and rewards are almost entirely used in mobile and tablet (“freemium” – “watch this video get this tool to help you complete the game”). By combining them an advertiser can offer up a really unique game experience: one that both matches the game environment and rewards the player. An example would be a zombie game that allows you to use a branded chainsaw to beat back the oncoming hoard. The brand generates enough dissonance to be noticed but the delivery is in such a way that does not shake the gamer from the game environment. By utilizing the Expectations Violation Theory we are able to help determine what level of dissonance is appropriate and how much reward is necessary.