Too many media planners are sticking with safe bets, says Cary Tilds, as she highlights a glaring omission in many schedules.  

Some might know the phrase, “Nobody gets fired for buying IBM,” referring to the idea that, in the business world, buying from companies with presumably the strongest of reputations is a safe bet.

This phrase, and others, emphasizes the idea that choosing a well-known, established brand, often the market leader, is considered a safe choice and generally more accepted – even if it may not necessarily be the most innovative, effective or cost-friendly option.

In the media industry, a failure to reflect reality

Determining the “safe choice” within a marketplace requires accurate marketplace intelligence, but what if marketplace information is skewed? That’s what’s happening in the media industry right now. It’s suffering from the innovator’s dilemma. If that phrase is familiar, it’s the title of the 1997 book by the late Clayton Christensen, chronicling how some companies fail to innovate, even when they have the resources and capabilities to do so. It’s often because they are focusing on serving the needs of their current customers and, therefore, not leading them into areas outside of a limited scope.

In the advertising world, one of the most glaring omissions – a sure sign of its innovator’s dilemma – is that cross-media comparisons skew media planners’ insights because they do not treat gaming as a mainstream media channel. It’s missing. But gaming is not something to be overlooked as just another passive entertainment channel; playing a video game – and therefore advertising within one – is very different from reading information online or watching TV.

Recently, AdExchanger published an article, “Billions Of People Play Games – Yet Marketers Still Aren’t Spending.” It noted one reason marketers aren’t spending is because they can’t see the right data about the gaming industry within their current planning tools. 

Here’s a challenge – find the references to gaming

Here are four examples, among many, where the very companies helping media planners plan aren’t even asking them about their investments in gaming.

The first company asks the question, “For each media channel below, do you expect to increase, decrease, or maintain your spend in 2023?”

Among the x-axis labels above, “Digital Display/Video” is its own channel. However, the list mixes channels with formats. All these channels, with exception to print, can have display or video as ad formats, and in-game advertising is entirely missing. If gaming were added, based on marketplace discussions, the gaming industry should be shown as a channel where media planners are increasing spend in 2023.  

The next example is from a company looking to document global budget plans among marketers for 2022. This list showcases ads in context of each channel, and yet, in-game advertising is again missing. If in-game ads were included, the data most likely would show a net change.

In yet another example, a company looked to do an expansive search of media usage by channel worldwide. Among more than 40 categories listed, ranging from “Smartphone User Growth” to “Digital Video Viewers” to “Twitter Users,” gaming is not listed, despite overwhelming evidence that it’s a significant media channel. Indeed, the AdExchanger article cites data from Newzoo confirming that gaming ranks third in the US in terms of how people occupy their down time, at 11.8 hours per week. That figure is barely outstripped by social media, at 12.1 hours.

Gaming information (see below) is buried in the video games link under media channels, and social media is also treated separately. Stand-alone usage reports on gamers are available, however there are no comparisons of ad spending in gaming as a channel compared to the other media channels like social.


Perhaps the strangest part is that advertisers, whether they know it or not, have been advertising in-game for years. These ads have been categorized under a general umbrella of “online” or “app” but gaming hasn’t been given its own listing. 

It needs to be said again: gaming is a mainstream media channel, right alongside TV, social media, search, radio, out-of-home and email. When it is missing in mainstream reports comparing ad channels and comparing channel spend year over year, it depresses potential spending in a channel which consumers flock to, because when media planners pull reports to create their plans, gaming is often missing. 

As it stands right now, it seems like no one gets fired for leaving gaming out of the mix. With over 3 billion gamers in the world (Newzoo 2022, Global Games Market Report), we need to update media channel reporting to help media planners understand what truly is a “safe choice” and not just the perceived “safe choice” as categorized under the innovator's dilemma.