Pokemon GO gave us a glimpse of the future. More important, however, the location-powered game taught mobile marketing a critical lesson in 2016 about mobile users’ openness to being enticed or encouraged by transactions in the physical world - ones based on events in the game world.
We are poised in 2017 to see early and important iterations of augmented-reality experiences continue to emerge, and with them will come opportunities for mobile marketers, chances for new creative ad-units and innovations to dovetail with clear consumer interest in location-based entertainment.
Our focus must now shift to implications, ways that game ad-units can evolve in light of this consumer mindset.
In the following sections, examples of how this evolution may well play out come from real-world work, projects underway across the games development industry.
Each instance helps highlight next steps for mobile marketing, how the industry can leverage game ad-units as physical and digital experiences that matter to the consumers who encounter them in stores and on their screens.
The ‘Matrix Effect’: In-game ads, retail and the merging physical-digital space
Call it the Matrix Effect (to call upon a favorite film for the term) - the merging of experiences and transactions to which consumers are accustomed in the physical space with the kinds of value exchange that consumers encounter in the increasingly transactional digital spaces of mobile games.
Pokemon GO gave us a glimpse of the future.
Given an advertising ecosystem that’s increasingly conversant with geofencing, integrated SDKs and the rise of beacons, mobile marketing is ideally positioned to take advantage of this “Matrix” dynamic.
As evidence of this evolution, consider the following examples.
- Say a player needs a critical in-game power-up. One avenue to acquiring it is that the player earns it in the game, but another approach is that the player asks for in-game help. In this case, an ad-unit appears, informing the user that a major national brand is providing the power-up. The brand has helped the player - providing a positive interaction in the game world - and there’s a mobile coupon attached to the offer that translates to an action opportunity in the physical world.
- Another example: buy a soft drink when in proximity to a display and a drink brand could prompt the purchasing consumer’s device by rewarding them with a power-up in a game they already play. Or, under similar circumstances, when a player comes back to their chosen game, they find a full purse of tokens courtesy of the drink brand and delivered with a coupon (added to the consumer’s mobile wallet).
Mobile marketing stands to shift users’ thinking about in-game events and progress from a virtual economy to one that blends gameplay with the physical economy.
- Mobile marketing similarly stands to shift users’ thinking about in-game events and progress from being based primarily on a virtual economy - tokens, gems and other in-game objects exchanged for increases and advances - to thinking that further blends gameplay with the physical economy of stores and retail. For example, some games involve building castles and reinforcing defenses. Players task their characters with constructing something in the game and that process can then continue in the background for hours or days. Suppose a player waiting on that build-time to complete meanwhile visits a geofenced home-improvement store in the physical world - their visit and/or purchases can be rewarded (and incentivised) so that in-game construction time is reduced.
- Mobile marketing could ultimately categorise all the different CPGs: if you need to get food, if you need to get water, if you need to get fuel - whatever you require in the game you're playing - purchasing items at a retail store consequently decreases in-game task time, heal time, whatever is relevant to the type of location, product and game involved.
Taking this approach another step, thinking about mobile marketing’s ability to track user location among consumers who’ve granted data access, marketing can begin to define places of interest and the neighborhoods players frequent.
Game ad-units can be targeted locally, in this way, with offers operating at a street-by-street level of granularity.
Plus, if marketers learn that a player seldom moves through a nearby region, they can fuel conquesting by creating game-to-physical-world interactions around businesses within a target geography.
Challenges and next steps for game ad-unit innovation
One of the chief challenges to creating game ad-units like the examples above is that of scale.
Ultimately, game developers and advertisers will want partnerships around these ad-unit innovations that allow them to reach vast numbers of users. That means mobile marketing will likely have to lead with channels such as national fast-food and big-box retail.
These approaches represent a business development challenge, one on which we should all collaborate - and one around which marketing should unify as an industry.
Meanwhile, next steps for mobile marketers involve developing the means and mechanisms by which these game ad-units bring value to the player, inside and outside the game.
Both outcomes are based on play-related concepts and activities, and both turn on the consumer’s physical-world behavior in relation to evolving expectations around what a smartphone screen can do.
Pokemon GO was just the beginning. Mobile marketing must now map the future - a near future - and one in which the industry significantly steers location-based entertainment as it develops and grows.