In this edition of Spotlight SEA, WARC Asia Editor Rica Facundo looks at gamevertising and the immense potential that the region’s gaming universe holds for brands and how marketers can reach and engage with this diverse audience.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on series on e-sports and gaming in Southeast Asia. Read more

Should I pick e-sports, gaming or both as a topic for this edition of Spotlight Southeast Asia? An editor’s job is to be ruthless in refining the scope of the story. But in this case, the story is where these two domains intersect.

Globally there have been a lot of reports about the “e-sports winter”, with major challenges in their path to profitability, partly due to an over-reliance on sponsorships.

But rather than jump to the hasty conclusion that the industry is dead, it’s worth taking a step back to understand the overall gaming ecosystem, the underlying gaming culture and consumer behaviours behind it, as well as the role of e-sports (among other types of gaming verticals) within it.

In Southeast Asia, in particular, Vero’s Vu-Quan Nguyen-Masse says that gaming is akin to “malling”, a favourite pastime for Asian consumers that points to why the interactive, entertaining and retail nature of the medium speaks to many who spend time there and why it’s a lucrative industry for marketers.

Source: WARC SEA Gamevertising Spotlight infographic

In this virtual retail environment, our Spotlight infographic shows that gaming is a key channel for discovery and consideration. However, building salience is not simply about placing an in-game advertisement. Despite various studies indicating the effectiveness of in-game advertising, the major caveat here is that intrusive ads are detrimental to the brand.

That’s why for this Spotlight, we look at how marketers can integrate more seamlessly into the lives of Southeast Asian gamers, both within and outside the game, to capture the US$5 billion market of 270 million gamers in the region.

Deeper and diversified engagement

The diversity of the audience base is one of the underlying reasons why “gamevertising” has so much potential. And yet, describing the audience as “gamers” inadvertently limits how marketers can reach and engage with them, a common theme that many of our contributors point out.

“Not only does gaming mean ‘play’, it also means watch, listen, discuss, attend, create, immerse,” writes Amazon Ads’ Jan Bojko about the potential to blend fandoms. 

“The key to finding attention-grabbing entertainment is to tap passionate communities. The average person has 7.6 fandoms that they claim to like/love. Topics like gaming, sport, music and streetwear fulfill emotional drivers like escapism (78%) and empowerment (46%), providing the perfect alignment for brands whose products and services also fill those needs.”

The name of the game is deeper engagement across multiple channels and passion points.

According to a 2CV study which analyses the most effective non-endemic brands in gaming in creating brand equity, the most successful strategies are from brands like Coca-Cola and KFC, which have a multipronged strategy across multiple touchpoints.

“Brand owners should consider what types of marketing activities match the brand’s audience and consider various areas to invest – from minor investments in advertising at small-scale gaming events or sponsoring a gaming content creator, to bigger commitments such as sponsoring major e-sports teams or leagues, or creating your own gaming-related product or service,” recommends 2CV’s James Redden.

Looking to the future, AI will “usher in never-before possibilities for two-way interactions between a brand and a player”, especially with the advancements in non-player characters (NPCs), which are key features of a game.

Dentsu’s Jamie McConville writes that “these AI-enabled NPCs can be utilised by brands to build their own characters and through these, develop relationships with audiences in a way not previously imaginable. By using these characters, brands can provide a personalised real-time consumer experience within these interactive platforms. Not only is it personalised but the relationship can continue to develop through every interaction as the AI learns more about the consumer and conversation.”

However, leveraging this requires brands to rethink the “delicate balance between protection and community engagement”.

Take note of cultural nuances

Marketers cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach to target gamers and must understand the cultural nuances underpinning channel choice, motivation to play and barriers to entry.

For example, Southeast Asian audiences are often characterised as being predominantly mobile gamers. However, PC gaming provides an often-overlooked touchpoint to reach Southeast Asian players, especially with the proliferation of gaming cafes as a gathering place.

In Vietnam, a Vero survey found that 44.9% of gamers prefer PCs, which explains why gaming cafes continue to thrive across the country.

“Note that gaming cafes or in-person gaming venues offer a communal venue for casual gamers to socialise and create a network (or build allies) of e-sports teams. For brands, advertising in these venues presents a strategic opportunity for targeted marketing and direct access to an engaged community,” points out Vero’s Vu-quan Nguyen-Masse. 

Another key nuance is understanding Southeast Asians’ propensity to spend, especially in a price-sensitive market with audiences with lower disposable income.

OMG/OMD’s Tippie Tan points out that “top-funnel activations will see the most success with Filipino gamers since they have a lower propensity to spend and will only do so on brands they have a high affinity with”. 

Tan also adds that Filipino gamers tend to be completionists, with a study by OMG APAC indicating that 39% feel compelled to complete the entire game or story.

“This presents an opportunity to establish brand stickiness with consumers as they are more likely to see a brand’s ad content across multiple levels as they indulge in several hours of gameplay.”

Being useful, not disruptive

Gaming is the next attention frontier for reaching consumers with the rise of in-game advertising and evidence showing its effectiveness. GosuGamers Samson Oh notes that “unlike traditional influencer content, where users passively scroll endless feeds of content without fully engaging with it, gaming offers active participation in the experience.”

However, there is a major caveat. Players are adamant that ads – despite the content being contextually relevant – do not disrupt the gameplay experience while simultaneously adding value to their lives.

This value can come in the form of in-game benefits but the opportunity is for brands to “extend these activations into real-world experiences”, notes OMG/OMD’s Tippie Tan.

“They like collaborations that offer real-world incentives, such as partnerships that result in content and merchandise, in-store gameplay, sponsorships and early access to gaming content.”

Another way that brands can add value is by tying an activation to key occasions, such as sports, to extend the phygital brand experience.

Dentsu’s Jamie McConville provides a case study from Pizza Hut Malaysia’s “Cheese Codes” campaign during the 2022 World Cup.

“By leveraging mobile football games’ popularity among Malaysian football fans, Pizza Hut successfully bridged the gap between virtual entertainment and real-world consumption, driving tangible results – a 14% increase in orders – and enhancing brand affinity. The campaign drove one million interactions,” says Dentu’s Jamie McConville.

In general, gamers are already a diverse cohort, how much more if you layer in the diversity of Southeast Asia into the mix.

As Amazon Ads’ Jan Bojko points out, “Southeast Asia highlights the best of gaming’s diversity, with a rich player base across multiple devices and occasions, and gaming fandom being exhibited beyond the screen.”