Just because New England Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady is good at football doesn’t mean he’s good at Madden. And just because you’re good at marketing doesn’t mean you’re good at esports marketing. While esports may not yet have the same name recognition as soccer, football, or baseball, the prospect of it soon joining their ranks is not too far-fetched.
As the owner of 10 major esports brands, we at Gamurs Group have seen and reported on the esports industry rapidly gaining steam and grabbing the attention of fans across the world. According to a recent report by IHS Market, in fact, the amount of time spent watching competitive video games totaled more than six billion hours in 2016, up 19 percent from 2015. Moreover, the Olympic Council of Asia recently announced its decision to make esports a medal event in the 2022 Asia Games in Hangzhou, China — hinting at a potential future of esports gaining Olympic status by 2024.
Nevertheless, advertising revenues have yet to match esports’ rate of growth. As our esports news site reported, the same IHS Market report estimates that $280 million was spent on esports advertising in 2016, and forecasts the amount to reach $1 billion by 2021. And while many advertisers might be tempted jump right in and plaster their ads on game or competition streams, that strategy has been known to fail.
Based on our experiences working with Acer, Red Bull, and other major brands, here are the four best strategies to reach esports fans with your advertisements:
Know your audience
Esports is new, and as a result the audience is still somewhat of a mystery to advertisers, but it is clear that there is a huge potential in the market. “The esports audience includes some of the hardest-to-reach and most sought-after demographics for marketers and advertisers,” said Bobby Kotick, the chief executive of Activision Blizzard, speaking to investors.
As such, it is important to first demystify your target audience before bombarding them with unwelcome advertisements.
We have found that doing this boils down to living and being a part of the esports community. Without being gamers, we would never have been able to keep on top of the quick-moving trends in that community. At the end of the day, who knows what esports fans want more than esports fans themselves? As an advertiser, if you want to succeed in the realm of esports, you must do your homework and understand the community to know exactly what resonates with your audience. Then, you can design advertisements that play directly into your audience’s interests.
For example, in this Facebook video advertisement that we designed, you can see that, despite its clearly promotional nature, it is focused on what resonates with the audience. Piggybacking off of content that already interests your audience provides a great opportunity to introduce your advertisement or product. Another example highlights how framing video advertisements as news pieces related to your audience’s interests can help extend your advertisement’s reach. By linking your advertisement with news that is relevant to your target audience, you can benefit from a much higher level of engagement.
To best reach your audience of esports fans, it is crucial to first understand who they are, what they like, and — perhaps more importantly — what they don’t like.
Don’t detract from the content
No one likes being interrupted by promotional content — especially gamers. The demographic which includes significant numbers of young males “typically shun[s] brand marketing” — unless it’s done right. To get esports fans on board with your advertising attempts, the key is to show them content that speaks to them directly, without interrupting a game or competition stream.
Instead, get fans on board by integrating advertisements seamlessly with content that already resonates with them. We have seen great success by utilizing banners at the beginning of an article or a bumper at the end of a video to expand reach without detracting from the actual content your audience wants to consume. Another method is using title sponsorship for a video. We used these same techniques in a recent campaign we ran for the League of Legends World Championships and found them to be highly effective.
Native advertising has also shown extreme promise in reaching gamers and their fans due to its unobtrusive nature. Rather than smacking fans across the face with blatant advertising attempts, a more subtle approach will yield better results. Creative advertising that supplements — rather than dominates — the content attracting is a much safer bet. Take a page out of Snickers’ book and its “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign that launched as a sponsor of Eleague last year. The campaign achieved great success for its capability to seamlessly incorporate interesting content into its campaign strategy.
Choose your channels
Knowing who your audience is and what they like and dislike is just one half of the equation; you must also know where to find them. Live streaming video platform Twitch has attracted a large and dedicated esports community where fans flock to watch live streams of their favorite games and gamers.
Just last year Twitch boasted views from 2.2 million unique streamers with 292 billion minutes watched — up more than 50 billion minutes from 2015. For this reason, many successful advertisers have turned to employing the help of gamers and influencers themselves in their promotional strategies. By partnering with someone trusted by the community of users on a platform like Twitch, advertisers look more authentic to viewers. The approach is not new; however, the channel is — and it continues to gain more and more popularity.
We use a similar approach with Facebook and other content pages that are very popular with the community as well. Gamers are generally very spread out, but they also tend to congregate in specific places. Therefore, focusing your advertising efforts on these niche communities are sure to see a higher success rate.
Don’t pretend to be a gamer — hire one
Being good at marketing is different than being good at esports marketing. Just as you wouldn’t sign up Tom Brady for a Madden tournament, you shouldn’t rely on your traditional marketing team to know how to advertise to the esports community.
Instead, hire someone who knows the community well and understands exactly what the target audience wants. Or you can dare to meet the same fate as Bud Light, whose first and awkward venture into esports marketing resembled a dad talking about gaming with his son. In the flopped campaign, the company missed the mark on all of the players they nominated for awards, showing a significant lack of research and preparation, and were ridiculed by the esports community. Ultimately, this serves as the best example of how not to do things.
As gamers and businesspeople, we can tell you: hiring a marketer that is familiar with and actively involved in the esports community is the best way to know which ideas carry the most weight and would best succeed. Knowing the right terminology, a deep understanding of the rules, and up-to-date information about the games and players will give you an edge and avoid the shame of coming across as an ignorant outsider — as well as the wasted advertising dollars that would come along with it.
Esports advertising is no simple task, but with a proper understanding of your audience, it can be. And if exercised properly, you’ll be able to get in and reap the early profits that the emerging industry has to offer. As an advertiser, it’s more than just talking the talk — you have to walk the walk too. The best way to do it is to become a part of the community and know exactly who your audience is and exactly what it’s looking for.