IAB PlayFronts takeaways: Game advertising has arrived — and brands are playing catch-up

IAB PlayFronts takeaways: Game advertising has arrived — and brands are playing catch-up

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Gaming has arrived as both a pillar of popular culture and source of advertising inventory, but some brands and agencies still struggle to grasp the value of this new medium.

Though in-game advertising companies are confident about the strength of their product — and its potential to act as a bridge between advertisers and the metaverse — even experienced operators on the media buying side remain attached to old misconceptions about the relationship between gamers and brands.

In a bid to fill this knowledge gap, the Interactive Advertising Bureau held its first-ever PlayFronts event on Tuesday — a day-long conference on the subject of advertising and partnership opportunities in gaming, featuring presentations from stakeholders across the industry, including adtech providers, publishers, agencies and brands.

“There’s just been the perfect storm right now,“ said Zoë Soon, the event organizer and a vp at the IAB’s Experience Center. “We’re seeing changes in consumer habits — so declining linear TV viewership — and CTV is getting oversaturated, and video games is another form of video, and it has such a great young audience.”

The way the event played out showed just how wide this gulf in knowledge can be in the nascent industry of game advertising. For some attendees on the tech or gaming side, much of the information shared in the presentations was not particularly revelatory; conversely, many less-experienced audience members on the brand or agency side spent the entire time jotting down notes and snapping photos of the presenters’ charts and graphs.

Regardless, as the first IAB event dedicated to the role of gaming in advertising, PlayFronts was a productive affair for all involved, even those with ample knowledge of the space. ( In addition to being a veritable Who’s Who of game advertising industry stakeholders, the event gave vendors a much-needed opportunity to share their services with brands, agencies and publishers such as Activision Blizzard and Riot Games.

Here are some of Digiday’s key takeaways from the PlayFronts. Nearly 700 people participated in the event, with a near-equal split between virtual and in-person attendees. (It also featured the PlayFronts Cup, a lunchtime Rocket League tournament won by a team from Xaxis.)

People are getting tired of the usual statistics

In a bid to inform the less-experienced members of the audience, many of the presenters leaned on tried-and-true statistical points that might be familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a game-advertising pitch deck — specifically the fact that roughly 50 percent of gamers are women, and that gamers are no longer mostly teens in their parents’ basements. 

While these statistics are real, they elicited some eye-rolls from some of the more experienced operators in the room. The demographic expansion of the gaming audience is nothing new, and industry veterans at PlayFronts found themselves surprised by the number of attendees who appeared to be taken off-guard by this information.

“Lots of women have been in gaming for a very long time,” said Sarah Stringer, evp of U.S. media partnerships at Dentsu Media, who first explored advertising in gaming about 15 years ago. “It’s just been very interesting to see that the industry has still had this bias, thinking it’s just teenage boys.”

Demographics are king

While industry veterans may have rolled their eyes at the aforementioned statistics, brands and agencies’ enthused reactions to them showed that both game developers and their adtech partners would be wise to stress their platforms’ expanding demographic reach when pitching their services to non-endemic brands.

This enthusiasm was on full display as American Eagle vp of marketing, media, performance and engagement Ashley Schapiro caught up with Digiday following her afternoon presentation, which focused on the clothing company’s branded Roblox experience. “One thing that’s really interesting, that I didn’t get to say, is that Livetopia, which is the Roblox experience that we’re on, is 65 percent female,” Schapiro said. “So that was one of the reasons we actually chose Livetopia — because it also hit our female customer base.”

Gaming advertising is a wide-ranging and diverse industry in its own right

Though Tuesday’s event was the IAB’s first function dedicated specifically to gaming, game advertising has been a presence at past events, such as the IAB UK’s Gaming Upfronts event last year, which was part of the organization’s broader Upfronts series. (

As the role of games in

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