A common refrain from any media buyer when they’re introduced to a shiny new ad format is “great, but is it measurable?”
Advertisers and agencies may be willing to test the waters with a one-off experimental campaign, and run post-campaign studies to gauge its impact. Some might even keep spending small portions on newer formats to beat their competitors into the space. But for many, big budgets won’t be released until a new media channel or format has reliable and trustworthy tools for measurement.
In-play advertising (ads which appear within virtual worlds, as opposed to ads which appear in games’ menus or as interstitial ads during breaks in play) has faced this issue to an extent. While measurement of reach, viewability, and sales have been available, they’ve not been fully standardised – and often not handled by third-parties, meaning advertisers have had to rely on reports delivered by the publishers and ad tech companies running the ads.
But growing interest in the space – driven by metaverse hype and news that major players like Microsoft and Sony are investing in in-play ads – means we’ve seen significant change over the past year.
A particularly substantial development, announced just a few weeks back, was the initial release of guidelines for in-play advertising (also called intrinsic in-game advertising) by industry body the IAB.
The IAB’s first set of in-game ad specifications was released back in 2009 – right at the dawn of programmatic advertising, before in-play ads were really established. These guidelines did cover in-play ads, but were geared towards static billboards rather than in-play video ads, or other in-game branded objects.
In the proposed new guidelines (which are out for public comment), viewability standards have been expanded to cover ads which contain sight, sound and motion, to account for the fact that in-game movement or action may disrupt these elements. New standards have been added for non-2D or video formats. And measurement terms including impressions, reach/frequency, and engagement have been defined to make in-play ads more comparable to other channels.
“Technology has advanced considerably since we and IAB issued our first set of guidelines for in-game ad measurement, which predated critical measurement concepts like ad viewability, so it’s crucial that we issue this update to address the accelerated growth of gaming,” said George W. Ivie, executive director and CEO of the Media Ratings Council, which contributed to these standards. “Through the IIG measurement guidelines, we can now have greater consistency versus having vendors create their own rules for their measurements, which enables publisher and buyer trust as the industry works together to create a non-intrusive ad experience.”
As Ivie says, these standards should make it easier for buyers to trust measurement metrics for in-play campaigns, and compare metrics across different vendors.
Outside of the IAB, we’ve seen continued focus on measurability from in-play ad tech vendors, who are increasingly looking to partner with third-party measurement and verification companies rather than providing measurement themselves. Anzu for example earlier this year partnered with Oracle’s Moat for in-game viewability measurement. Anzu’s CPO Ben Fenster said at the time that he sees third-party measurement as essential for securing wider adoption of in-play advertising.
And we’ve also seen new in-play measurement solutions emerging which go beyond the basics of reach and viewability.
Frameplay for example has developed what it describes as an attention measurement solution for in-game advertising. Frameplay’s ‘Intrinsic Time-In-View’ measurement aims to capture the amount of attention users pay to ads, rather than just how long they’re on the screen for. The company says that comparisons with eye-tracking based attention measurement companies including Lumen shows that its methodology produces similar results, validating it as a measure of attention.
There’s still plenty of work to be done – the IAB’s new standards aren’t yet finalised, and performance measurement is still lacking. But developments over the past year demonstrate the in-play vendors and games publishers are taking the issue seriously.