IAB Successfully Completes First Level of PlayFronts

By Upfronts/NewFronts Archives
Cover image for  article: IAB Successfully Completes First Level of PlayFronts

The inaugural IAB PlayFronts went off with nary a "Tilt" yesterday as a crowd of nearly 700 attendees, split nearly equally in person and virtual, from agencies, marketers in addition to gaming media sellers, gathered for a full agenda of insights, case studies, product announcements and even some wicked Beat Saber battles on the Meta Quest 2.

Despite decades of successful advertising within the gaming ecosystem, in-game ads and ad sponsorships with game publishers have historically remained on the peripherals of media plans. The PlayFronts was a watershed moment in recognition of the scale and hold that gaming now has on our culture and the changing media consumption habits; along with generational shifts that are increasingly pointing to the lack of inclusion of gaming as part of the media mix as a miss.

With Meta as principal sponsor and programmatic omni-channel platform Effectv as title sponsor, other sponsors of the event included Anzu, Activision-Blizzard Media, AdMix, Bidstack, Frameplay, Niantic, PlayerWON, RIOT Games, SuperAwesome (Epic Games), Twitch, and Zynga. Insight Sponsors included IGN and Unity. Infillion, Super League, THECE and Twitter. As a sign of hot the marketplace is getting, we heard several companies comment that they had wanted to sponsor the event but it had been sold out months ago.

The success of the IAB PlayFronts event can, in part, be attributed to the passion and herculean efforts that Zoe Soon, Vice President Experience Center at the IAB, expended in order to make the day informative, high utility, fun, and adhering to schedule. Soon, who served as panel sherpa throughout the day, emphasized that the next generation of households are gamers and explained that now is the time to test. "Immersive interaction in gaming will be threaded through the digital experience. Now is the time to learn."

Soon explained that this was the perfect time to launch an event of this caliber. "You have the perfect storm: tremendous growth in usage during the pandemic coupled with the huge rise in interest and activity in the Metaverse. While a truly interoperable Metaverse may be years off, people see gaming as a language blending with social and commerce."

Consistent themes during the event:

  • Gaming covers a broad spectrum from PC/Console action gamers to Casual/MobileFirst gamers
  • Gamers cannot be defined by the old stereotype of 15 year old "nerds in the basement". It is a global, diverse community with Meta providing data that shows 75% of diverse groups play games and 82% of LGBTQ+
  • Marketers should recognize that gamers are a community and provide experiences that add value to that community. In action games such as Fortnite or Call of Duty, interruptive advertising will never be accepted. Casual games, such as Candy Crush are more flexible.

Gaming publishers and platforms are leaning in to "attention" as a key differentiator. Longtime digital media agency leader Cary Tilds, now Chief Strategy and Operations Officer at FramePlay, chided the digital advertising industry for misplaced metrics while announcing a brand new attention-metric. "We have been chasing scale at the cost of quality. We've lost sight of what matters: the consumer paying attention and providing those consumers advertising they value." The company announced, "intrinsic frame-in-view", an AI-driven metrics tool, which, was verified through eye-tracking studies from two separate companies, Lumen and Eye-Square. Said Tilds, "We have verified computer vision with human vision." Global ad agency, Dentsu is the first to use "intrinsic frame-in-view" which Vice President, Director Global Media Partnerships Joanne Leong says will enable gaming to be incorporated into the agency's digital data-driven media mix modeling tools for the first time.

Several marketers shared success stories in their foray into gaming. Willem Dinger, Director of Global Sponsorships for CPG giant Unilever, listed a myriad of gaming programs that Unilever has executed including a highly successful Virtual Food Waste Island program on Nintendo's Animal Crossing for Hellmann's mayonnaise around the topic of food sustainability. Says Dinger, "Unilever wants to be a leader in driving sustainable business, improving the health of the planet, and contributing to an inclusive world. We need to add value and connect with gamers in a meaningful way." Unilever has created a gaming center-of-excellence, UPlay, to forge Unilever as a champion of gaming. In Dinger's words, "We see gaming as the center of culture, community and commerce. To connect in with this audience in a meaningful way is a brilliant opportunity to connect consumers with our brands"

One of the most interesting examples of the respect that gaming has achieved was a panel featuring Anzu.io Co-Founder and CEO, Itamar Benedy and Krishan Bhatia President and Chief Business Officer, Global Advertising at NBCU. Anzu.io is a platform that can serve native, dynamic creative into videogames and eSports, so think virtual stadium signage in sports videogames. NBCU recently announced that they have taken a stake in Anzu and will represent ad sales for Anzu.io in the US and the UK. Bhatia intimated that Anzu's offerings could be bundled in with NewFront and Upfront packages as that season fastly approaches.

Overall, the IAB PlayFront audience and sponsors seem to have been quite satisfied with the content and attendance. Confirms Adam Shlacter, Head of Marketing, Strategic, and Brand Partnerships at AR company Niantic (best known for Pokémon Go) and a sponsor of the event, "I thought it was a great event, and the right time for the industry to really focus on this space, as consumers are spending an increasing amount of time, energy, and money, across this massive and evolving landscape." Given the exponential number of crypto-gaming, /metaverse, VR, and AR companies that are launching every day, might we expect an even bigger IAB PlayFronts next year? Says Soon, "When we originally concepted this event, we considered calling it an Emerging Media Upfront. However, we decided to call it PlayFronts since gaming is an on-ramp for the metaverse, AR/VR and emerging Web3 technologies. We look forward to potentially addressing more of those companies at next year's PlayFronts"

Game on!

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