Brittany Fleit

One of the most highly anticipated presentations this year is “Zynga, EA and Microsoft: Why to Budget for Ads in Games.” Led by Paul Gunning, the presentation is a debate between the three gaming titans, the topics focus on the efficacy of advertising in games compared to other ad platforms.

The typical definition of a “gamer” has changed as games have evolved to cater to a variety of preferences and demographics, targeting everyone from housewives to children instead of the stereotypical adolescent male. EA’s The Sims, Zynga’s Words with Friends and hundreds of Facebook games exemplify how gaming now appeals to mass numbers of people. Essentially, gaming has changed to an activity that is extremely social and multigenerational.

Of course, when the demographic changes, advertising must change as well.

Advertisers dream of creating ads that fill users with as much wonder as the games they place them in. Lucky for them, as advertising is becoming more and more high-tech, that dream is becoming more fulfilled. The old techniques of inserting disruptive banners into a game are long gone and instead brands are being seamlessly integrated into games with a sort of “mini-game”—a challenge within the game that raises awareness of a brand without interrupting the flow or style of the graphics.

In the left corner, Dave Madden weighs in, representing EA. He begins by naming some heavy statistics about gaming itself, like how 95 percent of gamers don’t multitask when playing, whereas 66 percent of people watching TV do—even during major television events such as the Super Bowl. Gaming has literally become more attention-grabbing than any other form of advertising, which is just one reason why brands now want to partner with game publishers. Madden continues to describe one of EA’s most successful brand integration campaigns, which occurred when partnering The Sims with Progressive. EA inserted a character based off Flo from Progressive, and by tagging along with Flo for a mission, users won a reward: Flo’s favorite animal, a sparkling unicorn. The animal became a staple in the game, almost a badge of honor for completing the challenge.

In the right corner we have Stefan Pepe of Zynga, home to 68 million daily active users. Similar to EA’s experiment with The Sims, Zynga teamed up with Best Buy to advertise inside CityVille, resulting in 6.5 million people visiting Best Buy’s Facebook page. After such a successful campaign, Zynga tried again and teamed CityVille with McDonalds, giving players the option of earning more “energy” by watching a McDonald’s campaign. When the users watched all the way through, they then enjoy extended game play as a reward. Zynga found that 95 percent of players completed the video and 13 percent even clicked through the ad. As a third trial, Zynga incorporated Dreyer’s Fruit Bar crops into FarmVille; users took this by storm and planted 2.4 billion Fruit Bar crops in the game.

The final panelist is Shawn McMichael of Microsoft. He demonstrates how XBox is becoming an interactive gaming platform of the future. XBox Live turns advertising into full experiences. For instance, take Microsoft’s campaign with Loreal. After noticing that 35 percent of XBox’s audience were active females, Microsoft set out to create a campaign specific to women. They teamed up L'Oreal’s Garnier Fructis with Dance Central 2 and motivated users to compete by winning 100,000 Microsoft points.

EA, Zynga and Microsoft all recognize the power of this new gaming generation. Best of all, gamers react positively to these ads. As Paul Gunning mentioned in an interview with AllVoices before the session this afternoon, these gaming giants are pushing to redirect “the same intensity and loyalty that a gamer has toward a game toward the ads.” Indeed, inserting new challenges into games can actually act as a bonus level, augmenting the user’s experience and revving up excitement.

This article is part of Allvoices’ series on ad:tech, the largest digital marketing and technology conferences and expositions. Check out for more of Allvoices’ ad:tech San Francisco event coverage. This series is supported by ad:tech.