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5 Steps to Protect Your Brand When Marketing to Gamers
In marketing, brand safety often refers to ad placement, but protecting your brand’s reputation and values can extend far beyond the alignment of your banner ads and content online. If you’re planning on marketing to gamers, the wide range of touchpoints means special considerations need to be taken into account. Faced with a spread of options in an unfamiliar space, it can be difficult to assess the audience and identify risks. You may find yourself wondering “should we avoid all first-person shooter games?”, “will customers be put off if we partner with more mature streamers?”, or “isn’t the gaming community kind of toxic as a whole?”
But the good news is that this landscape isn’t as treacherous as it may seem. In many ways, brand safety in relation to gaming is much the same as other entertainment industries like film, TV, and music.
Here are five tips to develop your brand safety guidelines for marketing to gamers.
1. Remind yourself of your values.
The first stage of protecting your brand reputation is to determine what you want your brand to be known for. You likely have already done this, but returning to your brand book and brushing up on it will give you the right frame of mind for figuring out your direction. It also gives you an opportunity to drill down to specifics to clear up any ambiguity when considering what brand safety means to you.
Some possible things to consider:
What is your stance on diversity? What does good service look like to you? What does your company culture look like? What is your company’s overall mission?
Create a concrete list of values, and you can use them as a lens to guide your criteria moving forward. Your values should be carried with you in every channel, whether it be through games or otherwise.
2. Create your list of Hell Yeahs and Hard Nos
Based on your values, you can now determine some definitive standards of both things you want to include and things you do not want to include in your brand communications. These lists don’t need to be exhaustive but flesh them out with detail. These will be the foundation of your brand safety criteria. The Hell Yeahs will construct the goals and objectives for your strategies, and the Hard Nos will provide you with the red flags to initially lookout for.
Also while creating your list, consider your stance through both lenses to develop more robust criteria for your messaging.
For example, if one of your values is to include diverse voices, consider what it means to do so.
In your Hell Yeah column, that can include partnering with diverse content creators, supporting organizations committed to social change, and promoting games that tell stories from underrepresented populations. In your Hard No column, some considerations may lead you to refuse to work with companies or people with a history of homophobia, racism, ableism, or religious discrimination; organizations that have little to no POC on their leadership team; and platforms that host content that breeds hostility and conspiracy against marginalized groups.
3. If you can’t draw a hard line, determine a threshold.
Because gaming as a media form has a spectacular range of content associated with it, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with taking definitive, all-encompassing stances on certain topics. When applying traditional brand safety tactics, the lens of gaming can muddy the waters. How violent is too violent? This game features terrorists – is that a problem for my brand? This streamer seems like a great personality but they play some games that I’m not too sure about –should I be worried?
There are no universal answers to questions like this, but there are some resources to help you qualify your brand’s threshold of tolerance or acceptability for certain in-game topics that are more difficult to grapple with. For instance, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) applies a rating system similar to those used for film and TV to assess the age-appropriateness of games. Looking up a game on ESRB, you can see the overall rating as well as content descriptors that describe the presence and intensity of potentially concerning material. Your brand might choose to entirely avoid games above a certain rating, or you might be more concerned with certain content categories more than others. If your brand largely targets older audiences, you may not be as worried about strong language use in a game, but you still might not want to get involved with strong sexual content.
Another thing to consider is the potential to meaningfully engage the gaming audience using strong content as a touchpoint for communication. Think about the ways that film and TV shows have used heavy or explicit content to address larger social issues: Bojack Horseman has been lauded for its earnest depiction of struggling with mental illness; Get Out masterfully tackled racial issues through the horror lens; and HBO has had an ongoing partnership with The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) to include PSAs and helpful resources in their programming. Similarly, studios have used games as a medium for impact. Games for Change Festival celebrates games that pursue this cause, and organizations like GLAAD have partnered with games to develop poignant storylines dealing with darker topics such as the recent partnership on the game Tell Me Why. You may see this as an opportunity to align yourself with games and game studios that share your company’s deeper values.
Apart from the games themselves, you also may be considering partnering with gaming content creators. While there are no official ratings for streaming platforms like Twitch or YouTube, content creators have some tools to self-select themselves for certain levels of content. Browsing on Twitch, you can filter for the Family Friendly tag on live streams, and looking at individual channels, streamers can mark their content as being for mature audiences. Similarly, content creators on YouTube can mark their own videos as being age-restricted, but this is used much less often. The process is less beneficial for YouTubers as it disables the videos’ access unless a viewer verifies their age by signing in. As an alternative resource, Common Sense Media sources ratings and content reviews to determine the age-appropriateness and content intensity of YouTube channels. Their database is not exhaustive, and content creators of interest to you might not have a listing. But it is a good place to start once you are considering who to work with.
Overall, you will have to employ some critical thinking and value analysis on the types of messaging you want to put out there to determine your brand’s threshold for including mature, darker, or controversial content.
4. Research before you commit.
We understand, especially in games, there’s a lot of pressure to act quickly and secure your spot with the top Twitch streamer, largest esports event, or the biggest trending game. Sometimes you might not fully have a choice once a direction is taken. But prevention is the best form of treatment, even with brand safety. When scoping out opportunities, you can preemptively use your guiding values to narrow your search and do some initial digging before activation.
For example, if your brand is thinking about doing something with Fortnite, you can already start to formulate the basis of a content strategy with your guidelines. Using your “Hell Yeah” column, start looking for opportunities that already align with those values. Maybe it’s building a list of influencers that match your criteria and have a positive community or thinking about charity tournaments that you can be a part of.
Your “Hard No” column can also be insightful for finding a direction. If your brand is focused on being family-friendly, you might find some Fortnite streamers are a little too spicy for your audience, and you can begin looking elsewhere.
5. Be thorough when vetting.
Being a digital industry, the gaming landscape is largely online. From streams to VOD, social media feeds to news archives, people/brands/organizations in games leave quite the digital footprint. In many ways, the internet remembers.
When vetting a potential partner, we recommend going back at least two years into their digital history. Tech-savvy gaming audiences themselves are adept and digging up the past, and it’s best to not be caught unaware of controversy by not looking back far enough. Search through their platforms, mentions, and community spaces to get the best understanding of their history.
While vetting, log both the positive and negative notable events and incidents. It’ll be useful for you later to see the net value of a partnership if you’re on the fence. You may see that a partnership with them would be very closely aligned with your goals (remember your “Hell Yeah” column) and determine in your assessment that it will be more beneficial than risky. Or, on the other hand, you may see that a partnership actually has little to offer you in terms of your objectives and determine it to not be worth the resources.
The video game industry ultimately is not too different from industries you’ve already been working in. It may likely just be a matter of doing a little bit of extra research on the games, platforms, and people you are interested in. As long as you remember your core brand values and messaging, you’re likely far more prepared to talk to gamers than you think.
If you could use a supporting hand with your research, or even need some guidance on which partnerships work best for you, drop us a line!