That’s Entertainment: How gaming has disrupted the world of commerce


22 November 2021

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Imagine yourself back in time – it’s May 22, 1980 and you are in the bustling district of Shibuya in Tokyo. Head down to the arcades and there’s a new game in town – Pakkuman or Pac-Man as it became known to millions. No one would quite know how momentous the advent of this little yellow eating character would be on the gaming world, and no-one knew just how momentous the gaming world would have on the world of commerce.

The world of gaming has changed beyond belief. In 2020 it was valued at $178 billion, more than Hollywood, the NFL, the NHL and the NBA combined – yes, games are bigger than movies and sports put together. And the world of gaming is not about mere entertainment anymore, but a commercial environment for brands to be present, and for brands to sell.

Gaming market size

No longer just a platform for teens to connect and communicate with mates while playing online, this universe now seamlessly wraps in sponsors and partners bringing target customers by the millions to the brand. With over 36 million people estimated to play in the UK alone (a staggering 50% of the population), why wouldn’t brands want to join the party? And they are in their droves with brand owners beginning to understand how to reach their customers in a world they are already inhabiting and why online entertainment is the new doorway to getting close to your consumers.

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Back to history, books and brands have always been involved in entertainment to some extent – watch any major sporting event back in time and you will see the sponsor’s banners around the stadium, and the branded sports shirts. However, digitalisation of the gaming world has brought an integrated, more lived-in approach to brands and their customers. Now your own aviator can wear Coca-Cola branded sunglasses and attend Ariana Grande’s Rift Tour, bringing brands into your home from the comfort of your sofa. Brands are building real estate, safe in the knowledge that they’ll see tremendous footfall, and the best examples are using tech and interaction to drive deeper and more meaningful engagement within the games themselves.

Let’s take Fortnite, the online battle royale game which, at its peak in mid 2020, claimed a player base of 350 million registered users. Fortnite excels at creating massive, limited-time events to which tens of millions of viewers flock. The game folds its sponsors and partnerships into the virtual reality world.

A partnership with Marvel doesn’t just plaster a poster over the loading screen, it means that Iron Man guides your character as you start a new game, Ariana Grande doesn’t just play a gig; her avatar is incorporated into the game itself.  And naturally there are themed outfits and other shiny virtual toys for users to buy. The trick is in executing the partnership with gusto and commitment, creating the right content and making it feel in keeping with the game’s style.

With new skins, gadgets and releases, progression rewards and updates, there are a multitude of carrots to bring the player back for more. Gaming has made the transition from hobby to all-encompassing, trend defying meta activity – we love to game, and smart brands are finding ways to cater for and feed that love in contexts and markets that have nothing to do with the traditional world of Call of Duty or World of Warcraft. Take Balenciaga, for example:

But although gaming has become the disruptor in the commercial branding world, allowing a consistent, influential presence in potential customers’ lives, the truth is it isn’t only about Fornite or eSports. Entertainment – in whatever form – can contribute hugely to the success of a sales channel. Whether you are harnessing the power of influencers to attract your customers or looking at ways to reward and delight to keep them engaged with your brand and product, entertainment allows you to make your brand part of your customers’ daily life and therefore more top of mind when it comes to purchase. The trick is to place it in the right context and be faithful to the medium.

In China, for example, retailers like Alibaba or allow users to play virtual games within their apps. The points they acquire within these games can be redeemed against free shipping or discounts on real-world products. It’s a laser-like focus on what people enjoy doing — what they’re doing already, with or without you — and then finding a way to make them do that with you, to everyone’s benefit. It’s loyalty not just through offers and incentives, but through genuine interaction and an ongoing engagement loop.

The #CustomStudio campaign that we developed together with Pepe Jeans is another good example. The campaign centred on a simple insight: that creators and customers would welcome the chance to customise Pepe products. The brand created a set of unique designs — fabrics, illustrations, buttons and logos — which were then recreated as stickers within Instagram Stories. All users had to do was go and play with them to customize a pair of jeans or a denim jacket.

Back to May 22, 1980 and the world of Pac-Man. Who knew when the first game was created in Tokyo how immersed the gaming world would become. Who knew that within a few decades our customers would be occupying virtual worlds, and for us to be able to sell to our customers, our brands too need to be part of these new worlds. And who knew the sales opportunities that these worlds would open up to our brands?

If you would like to find out more about how to leverage Close to Consumer Commerce to your brand advantage, let’s talk!