When you think of Christmas shopping, what springs to mind? The first screening of the John Lewis ad? Maybe the frantic search for Black Friday bargains? Or is it the rush to buy that must-have gift everyone is talking about?
When it comes to the third option, new video games and consoles are always a key part of the festive season — and this year, anticipation is especially high. The pandemic has powered huge growth in gaming’s popularity, with player numbers soaring and hardware selling out fast; most notably the Nintendo Switch console, which saw over five million shipments earlier in 2020. So, it’s no surprise there is already significant hype about the unveiling of Sony’s PS5 and the Xbox Series X – with pre orders selling out at record speeds.
It makes sense that retailers are keen to cash in on the gaming boom during the final golden quarter. But as they reimagine seasonal campaigns around the joy of play, it will be important to make the most of every opportunity.
Tis’ the season for new hardware
There is a reason why new kits and software are often launched at this time of year; the festive season is prime time for sales, and it looks as though this year will be no different. With games and consoles one of the most popular sectors during Amazon’s recent Prime Day – which offered sizeable discounts on brands including PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo – gaming will be a key driver throughout the busiest shopping period.
Smart retailers will be keeping an eye on the biggest areas of demand. The launches of the new PS5, and the Xbox Series X and S next month, for example, are already sparking a fierce marketing frenzy. While in 2019, it was the PS4 that hit peak sales, analysts have begun predicting who will win the battle of the console in 2020. Some are saying the Xbox Series X will have double the sales of the PS5 by Christmas, while others believe Nintendo Switch – a console that isn’t facing pre-order issues and has already experienced a successful Prime Day – will outsell Xbox, PS4, and PS5. Whoever is in the lead, it is likely that stock availability will be a crucial factor for retailers hoping to make the most of these peak gaming sales.
But with pre-orders underway and some consoles already selling out in core markets such as the US, it’s also worth noting that retailers have the chance to capitalise in other ways. With additional special offers on older consoles and games, for example, they can create enticing alternatives for those who have missed the new console rush, or who are looking for bargains when it comes to gaming gifts.
Extending the range of festive cheer
Consoles aren’t the only element of gaming to have experienced a considerable spike amid COVID-19. While some consumers took up painting or perfected their banana bread recipes, many others turned to gaming via a variety of screens. In fact, recent estimates show play time is now up to an average of 8.6 hours every week across mobile, PC, and consoles. For retailers, this means there is significant scope to use games themselves as a promotional tool and extend seasonal campaign impact across audiences and devices.
Often, the spotlight for collaboration between gaming and commercial companies tends to fall on major brands. Most retailers will have heard about deals between the likes of Nike and Fortnite, as well as big names creating specialised avatar skins – think Mac, Glossier, Venus and Givenchy Beauty for The Sims 4 and Animal Crossing. But there are other options open to retailers who want to connect with gamers in smaller-scale and more cost-efficient ways, and one of the most effective is in-game advertising.
Gaming offers an immersive environment where players are highly engaged with content, meaning ads delivered inside games have less competition for attention than traditional seasonal staples, such as TV. Additionally, thanks to the wide variety of games available, there are many opportunities for retailers to target titles closely aligned with their offering and access multiple demographics, including typically hard-to-reach younger consumers. As shown by recent international studies, Millennials now make up 42% of PC and console gamers, while Gen Z are especially drawn to mobile games.
But to ensure optimal success, retailers must also be sensitive to the user experience. The majority of players don’t like ads that interrupt play, and this doesn’t just mean banners or pop-ups. When promotional messages jar with their surroundings, the effect can be extremely disruptive for gamers; driving negative associations with the game and featured brand. As a result, the best approach for retailers is to seek inventory that allows them to creatively deliver native, integrated ads in spaces where gamers would expect to see them. For example, that might mean following in the footsteps of Nissin Cup Noodle and Final Fantasy by placing ads on billboards, or serving native in-stadium ads for sports games, as seen in the Football Manager franchise.
For retailers hoping to tap into the growing gaming interest, reimagining seasonal campaigns doesn’t have to be daunting. There are plenty of opportunities to spark consumer interest as they shop for new gaming accessories and spend time on their favourite titles this Christmas, provided festive marketing efforts put player needs first. As well as keeping a watchful eye on which consoles gamers want, delivering seamlessly integrated ads that bring real value to the gaming experience will help brands to build awareness and relationships that last far beyond 2020’s festive season.
Lewis Sherlock, CRO of Bidstack