If you want further proof of how mainstream video games have become, you need look no further than the advertising that appears outside of people’s homes.
No London commuter can escape the bus side ads, phone box posters and massive Underground banners, all selling the latest major games releases – and these ads are just as prevalent across the country.
Publishers invest millions every year in following consumers through their day, and with good reason. As the potential audience for each title becomes larger, so too does the scope for any marketing campaign. And putting a brand out in the open can be crucial to raising awareness.
“One of the main advantages of outdoor advertising is that people can’t switch it off, skip the page or fast-forward through the ads,” says THQ marketing director Jon Rooke. “Aside from shutting their eyes, the target audience has no option than to be captive.
“Another advantage is that outdoor advertising generally has a long flighting time, and hence greater frequency. Some campaigns can stay up for months so the frequency of each placement against a target audience can be very high. A target consumer driving past a billboard on the way to work every day for a month will see the same message at least 20 times from just one placement.”
In fact, time can be a crucial factor when advertising in outdoor locations.
Depending on the destination, companies can all but guarantee their message will be seen every single day – something that cannot be said for any other form of media – so it is more feasible to run time-sensitive messaging.
“You can be more reactive with outdoor,” says Sony’s UK marketing manager Mark Bowles. “It’s also a competitive market so there are often good deals to be had making media budgets go further.”
And outdoor marketing isn’t just about posters any more. This avenue allows marketers to experiment with some much more adventurous ads.
“QR Codes are becoming more widely used and, coupled with high smartphone usage, will almost certainly become more widespread in the future,” says Rooke.
“Augmented Reality is another exciting development and can really help bring brands to life. Lynx’s use of AR at Victoria station for their ‘Angels Will Fall’ campaign showed just how engaging and effective the technology can be.”
The Lynx example is certainly an inspiring one. Ads placed on the floor of the terminal encouraged passers by to look up at the departure board, which showed the angels wandering through the concourse among commuters on a video screen.
With companies like Nintendo starting to use AR in their games, it will be interesting to see what gaming firms can come up with when using the technology.
Even much simpler advances, like digital panels that show gameplay trailers, can be more effective at conveying a game’s selling points to a much larger audience.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Ultimately, it is where companies advertise that can be just as important as how they do so.
While destinations with a high footfall such as transport hubs are obviously ideal for any advertiser, creative agency Freeform.London suggests that even carefully selected ad sites can deliver.
“You can be really specific with your targeting, such as targeting all Tesco Metro outlets in Greater London,” says the firm’s group marketing director Amanda Colvin.
“You can literally list each site line-by-line, and even take over whole areas like we did on behalf of Ubisoft with the Oxford Circus tube station. And if you want your boss to notice, select all the 48 sheets on his/her route home.”
Which leads onto another crucial point: it’s not just about where you are targeting, but who. Whether it’s enthusiasts, non-gamers or your superiors, outdoor advertising has the potential to reach a much wider range of consumers than other media.
“Outdoor is a great medium for broad messages that don’t need to be as specifically targeted as other communications,” says Bowles. “It also compliments the other, more targeted elements of campaigns.
Ben Cheesman, head of client sales at creative agency Boomerang Media, says this can be taken one step further, suggesting publishers can use publicly placed ads to target certain groups.
“Outdoor formats reach your audience when they are in their social and peer groups,” he says. “With the social element of gaming becoming more prevalent, publishers positioning their games within the very social environments where consumers spend their time adds real weight to the campaign.”
But while the advantages of outdoor advertising are numerous and obvious, firms are quick to warn that it must be used in moderation. Competition is also tough – not only with other games firms, but with every other industry imaginable.
“Outdoor destinations have a finite number of panels, and can only accommodate so many advertisers at any one time,” says Cheesman.
Colvin adds: “When buying the media space, publishers must make sure the weight of the campaign is enough to make it viable; if it’s too light it won’t be effective.”
And, most importantly, games companies must always be aware of the medium’s limitations.
“Outdoor advertising is by its nature ‘at a glance’, says Rooke. “You only have your audience for a limited period of time so messages must be brief. Almost 90 per cent of the time the audience is in motion.”
But if a team can hit that sweet spot, it can be some of the most memorable marketing in a campaign.
Any other media form requires the viewer to be expecting advertising and to have opened their mind to it. Outdoor advertising needs to be more assertive, to aim for that double take moment where a consumer stops and looks again, and that’s a skill that can be invaluable.