Ben Fenster

PCR FEB issue Content & User Interaction: The game is on!

Ben Fenster, Co-Founder and CPO of in-game advertising platform, Anzu.io. talks to PCR about bringing brand advertising to in-gaming and e-sports.

Could you please tell me a bit more about the company?
When we founded Anzu in 2017, our key question was: how can we bridge the gap between brands and game developers in an industry that holds so much potential? We wanted to develop a scalable business and tech solution. There was a tremendous new audience of gamers to tap into, but brands couldn’t access them because of a lack of scalable AdTech offerings. Developers faced the problem of hard-coded ad technology that made it difficult and time-consuming to integrate ads into the game content. And by installing ad blockers, gamers were telling the industry very clearly that they didn’t like how ads were being presented in their games.

Anzu has solved this by building a scalable, cross-platform advertising technology that fulfills game developer, advertiser, and gamer needs. Our solution introduces dynamically updated, blended in-game ads in existing IAB-recognised formats directly to the gameplay in a non-intrusive way that respects the game experience. Available across all platforms, Anzu has introduced programmatic in-game advertising to PC and console gaming, two premium platforms that, until now, have not been accessible to advertisers, although they looked attractive from the reach and inventory perspective. Anzu’s ease-of-use and compatibility with the current advertising standards, as well as support for all major game engines, makes it easy for advertisers to run campaigns.

Anzu has partnered with trusted AdTech vendors to introduce ad viewability, fraud detection, data enrichment, and brand lift measurement across platforms in-game. Now, advertisers have access to a scalable technology that gives them confidence in the media value and data, empowering them to make informed decisions.

Could you tell me a bit more about in-game advertising?
We have consciously built a flexible, full-stack solution that offers innovation in the in-game space. Our core asset is our battle-tested, secure SDK, which is available across platforms and supports all major game engines, including Unity, Cocos, Unreal Engine, CryEngine, and proprietary engines. Another significant product is a patent-pending 3D ad tracker that allows tracking and measurement of ads in real-time.

As I mentioned, our in-game advertising technology deploys ads directly into the gameplay. Ads are blended into the games through a basic integration that allows us to access the game’s engine textures, physics, and geometry. While textures are updated to present the ad content, physics and geometry are used to measure ad visibility. Our blended ads are designed in a way that they deliver high performance with a small footprint. Initially designed to suit AAA titles, we’ve now built a multi-platform tech that is easily supported on new platforms and engines.

How does in-game advertising involve the use of cookies and consumer data?
In-game advertising does not use cookies. It is mainly based on estimated location data, first-party data, statistical demographics data, and platform advertising identifiers when available.

In-game advertising focuses on brand awareness and consideration goals, so the call-to-action around cookies is not needed. Our goal is not to track user behaviour in the race to improve conversion rates, but rather to help brands reach the right audiences, based on information such as: the current game being played, country, language, device type, and basic demographics properties like family status, income level, and so on.

Why is cookieless consumer data a benefit to consumers?
Throughout the digital landscape, users are becoming increasingly concerned about their privacy and this is certainly true for the gaming industry, as players have become more mature. Until now, third-party cookies have been a major way marketers collect information about their audiences. But cookies identify the individual and track his or her behaviour in an invasive manner. For example, if you’ve ever clicked on a Facebook ad and then felt that highly-targeted ads are subsequently chasing you all across the Internet, that’s due to cookies and cookie-synching technologies. In today’s privacy-first environment, cookies are a real problem, which is why they are being phased out.

Although cookies are an effective way to get results in performance-based campaigns, moving to cookieless targeting based on estimated location, platform, content context, and statistical demographics data will provide relevant and localised ads to users without them feeling like their privacy is being invaded or that they are being chased by ads based on online activity. Cookieless consumer data provides a real advantage to consumers.

What are the benefits of Anzu and Digiseg’s partnership?
The partnership will allow advertisers to reach the right gaming audiences without tracking individual user online activity. Again, this benefits the user by protecting his or her privacy and creating a more pleasant, less intrusive, advertising experience.

More specifically, Digiseg is one of the only targeting solutions already prepared for the cookie-less era, gathering information at scale, free of personal data, without tracking people, and outside the scope of GDPR. Digiseg is able to segment in-game traffic with the same taxonomy and targeting power as standard sources, identifying real consumer needs based on household characteristics.

Advertisers who want to target gamers need to be able to understand this audience with great precision in order to make informed decisions. The addition of Digiseg’s audience targeting technology to Anzu’s platform allows us to continue to set standards and protect consumer privacy.

What are the current in-game advertising developments and trends?
One of the biggest trends is that mobile gaming is driving the growth of the gaming industry, accounting for more than 50% of the annual revenue. According to one recent report, marketers saw the cost of acquiring a mobile player drop by 66% in 2020, but the cost of acquiring a paying user increase by 24% – which means that, moving forward, game developers will need to focus more on monetising through in-game advertising.

Another important development in 2020 was the out-of-the-box partnerships that emerged between brands and gaming due to COVID. With entertainment, sports, hospitality, and other industries ravaged, gaming became a way for brands, entertainers and athletes/teams to reach their audiences at home. Great examples of this are the Travis Scott concert within Fortnite that reached over 12 million live in-game and various brands that have created interactive experiences within the game Animal Crossing. I expect we will see even more of this in 2021. While this was less about blended in-game advertising, it strengthened gaming as an extremely valuable media channel.

How is content and user interaction being used to attract the target audience?
Anzu’s advanced contextual targeting allows brands to interact with their target audiences in authentic and personalised ways. First, they can target audiences based on statistical data or first-party data entered by the user, such as age group, geo, interests, hobbies, etc. Any banner can be used and content can be adjusted based on interest (in case this data is shared with us by the game developer). Second, brands can interact with players based on an in-game action that serves as a trigger. For example, when a player scores a goal in a soccer game, a branded congratulatory banner can be displayed.

What new ways are content producers looking for to monetise content?
There is a major trend, especially with Millennials and GenZ’ers, to demand authentic advertising experiences from the brands they interact with, both in person and online. In-game advertising in general and Anzu in particular enables brands to give players those types of authentic ad experiences within games. Blended ads enhance the gaming experience by adding realism to the game and by allowing gamers to play organically, without interruption. With Anzu, game studios and brands can respect gamers and give them those authentic experiences while still monetising games and meeting their revenue goals.

What dangers or pitfalls does in-game advertising create?
In general, in-game advertising does not create any new dangers or pitfalls. Quite the opposite! I believe that blended in-game advertising avoids the common pitfalls and dangers of standard 2D ads common in games today, which usually interrupt the gameplay and annoy users, cannibalise in-app purchases, introduce risks to virtual game economy, etc. Even more than that, in-game advertising actually creates opportunities with its higher levels of brand safety, lower levels of ad fraud, and lack of user-generated content.

What future trends can we expect to see with in-game advertising?
In-game advertising, with its native nature, has an opportunity to offer the best advertising experience with personalised content messaging to make this space stronger. I believe we will see a move towards consolidation as the industry adopts digital ad performance that focuses more on quality over quantity. This will place more value on the metrics of ad viewability and measurability, and ad platforms will have to be ready to make their offerings relevant.

I expect to see in-game advertising becoming common in console platforms that never allowed ads before and in AAA game titles that never showed ads before. And I also expect to see increasing adoption of in-game advertising by leading ad exchanges and SSPs that will form dedicated exchanges for the new ad category.

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