Nowadays, video gaming is not just child's play.
In fact, about 44% of adults in the United States play video games during a typical week. That's according to a recent report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). And gaming apps are the number one type of apps that are used on smartphones, with 37% of adults in the U.S. using mobile gaming apps.
Bottom line: Gaming is mainstream.
"We really are past the time of a stereotypical gamer," says Alan Hartman, studio head of Turn 10 Studios, Microsoft's video game developer and creator of the Forza Motorsport series for all Xbox consoles. "[Gaming] is everywhere—and on every device…. It isn't the kids in the basement gaming; those kids grew up long ago and had families who have now grown up in a world of gaming."
That evolution in the profile of the typical player has marketers across all industries jumping into the game. Although males make up the majority of video gamers (57%) and are usually heavier gamers, the typical mobile gamer is female (56%) and is a steady, casual player who tends to be more affluent.
Male or female, however, gamers are digitally savvy, mobile-focused consumers, according to IAB, and are more likely to be persuaded by digital marketing campaigns, have major influence on the purchases of others, and tend to buy more products online. All are traits that make game marketing more appealing to brands looking to engage with shoppers in their personal spaces and through their individual interests.
"The best marketing doesn't feel like marketing at all," says Guy Welch, global product manager for Xbox. "We make sure that whatever we put out, including content that's part of a promotional partnership, is worthwhile of our players' time and consistent with the expectations they have of our brand."
Welch and Hartman say that game marketing is much more than positioning a disruptive product placement or ad inside a video or mobile gaming experience. It's "using access to a game's customer base to target a segment of the population with relevant content and value," according to Hartman.
Recently, automaker Mazda tapped into the fervor and ardor of gamers to promote the 2016 MX-5 Miata—the motor corporation's popular convertible sports car and a perennial favorite with club racers. Currently, Mazda is teamed up with Xbox and, for the second year in a row, the two companies have crafted an interactive campaign that targets two groups: gamers and car lovers—the perfect combination for a passionate base. Marketers created the Mazda MX-5 Livery Design Contest, which players could find only in Xbox's Forza Horizon 2—an open-world, motorsports video game developed for Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Up until January 4, players went inside the game's Mazda-branded hub, entered the design contest, and created unique paint jobs for a 1994 MX-5 Miata—a car that's available in the game. Now, gamers are voting for their favorite paint designs—each personally created by consumers. Mazda will award two finalists a trip to SXSW in March for a design showdown; one winner will walk away with prizes worth about $4,000. As for everyone else, Mazda will gift the winning design to all Xbox One and Xbox 360 players.
Engaging. Digital. Personal. It's a formula that strategists at Xbox say can work for a multitude of brand marketers—especially marketers promoting big-ticket items, such as cars, watches, and other luxurious goods, which may not draw as many in-store shoppers.
"In the past, automakers have used movies and TV shows to get people to take notice of a new vehicle. [But] too often, the placement is fleeting," Welch explains. "Our medium is unique and allows players to form real relationships with [big-ticket items like] cars over time."
So is there ever a time that game marketing does not fit a brand?
"Of course," Turn 10 Studios' Hartman insists. "We use real-world events as a comparison. Imagine the Indy 500, one of the largest automotive events in the world; there are products and services that make sense in that space. I would not expect to see a billboard for toilet paper over turn one. And there are many brands and services that make sense to target toward that audience beyond the obvious."
Ultimately, Welch and Hartman say video gaming is a dynamic, growing medium and insist savvy marketers need to begin working on winning game plans.
"A gamer is a very connected and digitally aware consumer," Hartman concludes. "I don't believe this is about putting a Pepsi can as a prop in your gaming experience; that is bringing passive experiences to a very engaged consumer. This is about engaging the customer, creating long-term affiliations based on positive experiences; sharing key brand attributes in a way that passive brand awareness simply can't achieve."
This article first appeared on dmnews.com.