A Brave new virtual advertising world?

So I was invited last night to a round-table discussion with some senior bods from the Microsoft. The topic was the future of gaming and advertising. To start with we had a bit of an overview on how advertisers have used games as marketing vehicles to date. Mark ?? took us through the three stages of development so far

Stage 1 – the Experimental wave – advertisers tried to integrate their brands into games in a number of different ways – from sticking logos on bananas to creating whole Xbox games around a Burger King character. No-one really knew what to expect from it and were just happy to learn. There were no standard ad formats, everything was custom.

Stage 2 – “The best of both worlds” wave – The Games console’s presence in the lounge and upgrade to HD meant that advertisers could take ad formats from both the web and TV and showcase them in a high gloss, highly engaged and self selecting environment. This delivered incredibly high levels of interaction and “click through”

Stage 3 – (And I was hoping for something really exciting here but was dissappointed) Rich TV – Mark described this as TV with 5 special attributes – On My schedule,

Mark then went on to talk about Natal and how it could be a game changing device in allowing consumers to engage with brand communications on their own terms.

This all sounded fine, but they never really got beyond this idea that advertising in games could be anything more than rich interactive TV.

I’m a big believer in the potential of games as media channels for any number of different audiences, I didn’t go to the round table to be convinced of that. However when I tried to really probe where they felt the future of the medium was, I was just referred to the existing formats that they are using in Xbox live.

When I asked how they were using consumer insight into the role of gaming in their lives as a way to make advertising more relevant I just got blank looks. As far as they were concerned it was a simple formula – Audience+Engagement= You should advertise here! The idea that we would want some real understanding of how a brand could complement and enhance the gaming experience by leveraging gamer insight seemed to baffle them.

This is a real shame: I think that microsoft are a very interesting company as a potential media partner and they have some fascinating technological developments that could massively improve the opportunity for brands to engage consumers, but until they stop using Sales people to develop the offering (who only seem to want to sell virtual poster sites) we are going to struggle to create the step change for these new technologies as communications vehicles that I think they deserve

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