Advertisement in esports and gaming proved a bit of a tough nut to crack for big corporations when the industry was only getting started. To put it one way, esports fans and gamers in general are too smart to fall for traditional marketing gimmicks.
It’s not that esports fans don’t want to buy a BMW or snack on KFC, it is just they don’t want to be told that something is different than what it truly is. Over time, advertisers in gaming have come to realize that the best way to promote their products to esports aficionados is to stick to genuine practices.
However, deploying successful marketing campaigns through esports events or broadcasts, or even in-game, is a Herculean task all by itself, but not as much for Anzu.io, which has figured out a successful formula to the top and is on a trajectory to success today.
The company closed in on another successful funding round worth $9 million earlier this year, soliciting interest from the likes of BITKRAFT Ventures and Sony Innovation Fund as some of the company’s core investment.
Why? Because getting esports advertisement right is no easy task, but Anzu.io just so happens to have a successful formula. Here’s our conversation with the company.
Q: Can you tell us a little about Anzu.io yourself? What has made your company a success in gaming, entertainment, and esports advertisement so far?
Anzu is the world’s most advanced in-game advertising platform, introducing native, creative, and dynamic advertising to video games and esports.
Something that sits at the very heart of Anzu and is built into our DNA is a passion for challenging the status quo. Before Anzu, in-game advertising was always thought of in terms of mobile, and there was nothing for AAA PC and console games. So we set out to change this. Our technology now allows advertisers to run campaigns across all these platforms.
We believe cross-play and the free-to-play model will play a massive part in the future of gaming. You just have to look at the success of games like Roblox, Fortnite, Call Of Duty Warzone, and Genshin Impact, which all attract millions of players every day across mobile, PC, and console. This is a vision shared by many in the advertising and gaming industries and is why we have backing from many of the world’s biggest advertisers, game developers, and studios, including WPP, Sony, Xbox, Ubisoft, Samsung, Vodafone, and Pepsico.
We also find ourselves at a time when users are extremely wary of how their data is used and how they are marketed to. We believe that people don’t hate ads. They hate bad ads, which is why there has been a sharp rise in the number of people installing ad blockers recently.
At Anzu, we believe in putting gamers first. We don’t think there should be a trade-off between a game’s pricing and user experience; advertising in its non-intrusive form should make the game more realistic and enhance the gameplay. All our formats do just that, and we work with game developers to advise them on the best places within their games to place ads so they feel natural to the player, much like ads they would experience in the real world. These include spots on billboards, posters, graphics on the side of vehicles, banners around sports stadiums, and prints on players’ kits.
Q: What makes Anzu’s product so worthwhile that it has repeatedly secured backing from leading investors?
We believe gaming is going to be a significant advertising channel. When you look at time spent vs. ad dollars, the opportunity is enormous and bigger than both the music and film industries combined.
There is a huge gap in the market, and there are technical solutions needed to help access the potential that gaming offers. Part of the work we do at Anzu is educating advertisers to help them understand how diverse gaming audiences are and that this space is where people are spending more and more of their free time.
We also work to help game developers understand that allowing advertisers in for monetization does not take anything out of the game. Instead it adds to the experience, making it more realistic. It also provides them with an additional revenue channel allowing them to put more time into improving existing games and creating new ones.
Gaming is a hugely untapped market that is on the verge of being unleashed, and this is all very appealing to investors. WPP, the ad giant, made its first-ever investment in gaming by investing in Anzu for the first time back in 2019. Likewise, Sony, the owner of PlayStation and the biggest gaming platform in the world, made its first investment in advertising in Anzu in 2021. With such huge, respected, and experienced allies and strategic partners on both sides of the fence, we look to the future of in-game advertising with massive optimism.
Q: Do you reckon much has changed in how big companies now approach gaming and esports advertisement? Is it fair to say that they were a little presumptuous at first, or were they always aware that esports fans are savvier than most consumers?
We spoke about this during our last Anzu Talks webinar with the former CEO and Co-Founder of SuperData Research and author of the video games textbook One Up, Joost van Dreunen. The fact that many brands are still hesitant about gaming has nothing to do with data, measurement, or technology but rather that the decision-makers do not understand the industry and the opportunities it presents and so see gaming as a risk rather than a reward. It’s going to take a new generation of decision-makers and managers who are versed in gaming and esports to understand how the ecosystem works for it to truly take hold.
However, something that is helping brands understand the potential of this industry right now is the cross-pollination of gaming with other sectors. We are starting to see people who have worked in the gaming world take up roles within large brands and ad agencies who are then becoming advocates for gaming within those institutions, helping to transform the mindsets of the decision-makers from the inside.
Covid also turned out to be a catalyst that sped things up for the future of gaming. It forced us to interact differently with people, and with no live sports and few new films or TV shows, people turned to places like Twitch to watch others compete in esports tournaments. With many of us stuck indoors, gaming also quickly became pop culture. As a result, the buzz around the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X launch was also so much bigger than in previous years because gaming perception had shifted. Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Nvidia are also bringing out new services to capitalize on gaming’s growth, indicating the sheer size of the opportunity. With all these preconditions, it seems like the perfect time to be focused on what we’re working on at Anzu.
Q: How is your in-game advertisement policy incorporated in a way that is organic and doesn’t detract from game functionality?
There are a lot of layers to how we approach this. Firstly, there are platform rules set by companies like Xbox and PlayStation. Then there are engine rules like Unity standards, there are industry regulations like COPPA and GDPR. Then there's the developer needs to take into account, like control over the ad experience, where ads will be placed, how many there are, making sure impressions are being counted correctly, and other conditions like frequency capping. We then have brand controlslike how the creative will look, how big it will be, when it changes and what it changes to, and campaign success as compared to competitors and industry standards. Finally we have our own Anzu standards like ensuring the ad respects the gameplay and naturally fits within the environment. If an ad survives all these funnels, then we know we are in good shape to move things forward.
Q: How do you gauge the success of an in-game marketing platform and have your clients been happy with the results so far?
We have two types of partners, game developers and advertisers. We want to make our solution easy to integrate for game devs, give them a working business model and a good stable revenue flow, and help them make sure that their players are satisfied with their gaming experience.
When it comes to advertisers, we work to provide them with an easy-to-use platform that’s accessible and affordable and that has a strong impact, is programmatic, and works with all DSPs. Then there are standard metrics. When you play a game, you cannot neglect the content like when you’re watching TV, with gaming, you’re entirely concentrated on the game. We ensure that brands only pay for viewable impressions. When you combine this with almost non-existent fraud rates, fully viewable strong exposure is an attractive proposition. We also offer incremental reach, with gaming being one of the only ways to communicate with Gen Z.
So, as you can see, we have a strong value proposition on both sides, which is extremely important if we want to continue attracting the world’s biggest brands and games.