Gaming is big business. 66 percent of the US population plays video games, according to Nielsen, and in 2017 Business Insider reported Americans spent a total of $36 billion on the gaming industry. Additionally, the video games market is expected to be worth over $138 billion by 2021. And yet, many brands aren’t convinced gaming related content is the right medium through which to integrate their brand and engage these audiences, simply because they don’t have a direct association with gaming.

So, let’s take a step back and start to redefine how we think about gamers as an audience. Because the reality is, gamers are major consumers of products. They may have their own characteristics and preferences, but once a brand starts to understand these idiosyncrasies, the opportunities quickly become clear.

Gamers are everywhere

At a time when audiences are increasingly hard to reach through traditional ads, with an estimated 30 percent of U.S. internet users implementing ad-blocking technology in 2018, and with more of the hard to reach male millennials becoming even more ad-averse, gaming content is becoming a new entertainment medium to integrate within for many different types of brands looking to engage with consumers, build awareness and drive sales.

Gaming audiences are massive, diverse and growing, and they’re not just millennial males between the ages of 18-34. Statista reports females make up 45 percent of total gamers. These gamers don’t exist in a vacuum, spending 24/7 staring at screens, hands glued to a controller. They have jobs, open bank accounts, drive, buy insurance, order take-out, like comfy couches – they are, in short, regular people who are passionate about a particular hobby. So if you’re a brand that offers a product or service that is additive to their lives, either because it directly enables a better gaming experience (from fast food to home furnishings or electronics) or because it makes the rest of their daily lives tangibly better (from financial services to clothing and fashion accessories), there’s no reason to think of these audiences as off-limits.

But like most passionate hobbyists, what they don’t like is a brand experience that piggybacks on their passion to deliver something that isn’t relevant to them, or that purports to understand their passion but can’t back this up with any evidence that they ‘get it’. Of course, this is not specific to gamers – it’s true of any audience from football enthusiasts to music lovers. For a brand then, the first step is to work out if and how your products add value to their lives, and then consider how you might be able to integrate your brand into the content that these gamers consume.

Gaming influencers – The ideal channel to connect with gamers

Within gaming, there are different segments and opportunities to engage with consumers. There are hardcore gamers who create content across YouTube, Twitch, and Instagram to reach their gaming-centric and engaged audiences. These gaming influencers film themselves playing their favorite games solo or with friends, and also occasionally share their personal lives via vlogs or Instagram content, creating thousands of hours of content for brands to get in front of hard to reach audiences. For instance, Amazon’s go-to streaming service for video gaming enthusiasts, Twitch, saw users stream 4.3 million hours of content in 2017. And this is where the hard-to-reach millennial audience is tuning in. 81.5 percent of Twitch users are male with 55 percent in the age between 18-34. So if you’re in food and drink, CPG, consumer electronics, clothing, or similar categories, then Twitch, and the influencers who create content there, should certainly factor into your thinking if you want to have a better chance at reaching the millennial male.

Then there are casual gaming influencers –influencers across lifestyle, family and travel, who love and play video games, but may not exclusively create content around gaming. Brands can tap into these influencers by having them attend gaming related events or participate in gaming tournaments, which can help brands reach these influencers’ diverse audiences in a new and creative way. For example, Adidas was cross-promoted by YouTube star ChadWithaJ for the pre-release event of EA’s NHL 19, which the Adidas brand was integrated into. ChadWithaJ played and highlighted the game, as well as visited the Adidas headquarters and received free Adidas gear. Another example being that Fortnite held a livestreaming tournament where celebrities across wrestling, television and music competed for a $3 million prize for charities.

Gaming influencers are content collaborators – they can guide the brand to ensure that an integration appears in an authentic way. They don’t want to give their audiences irrelevant content, so you can work with them to craft an integration that fits seamlessly into what they’re already doing and what they know their audience already loves and values.

Gaming is becoming the new entertainment medium through esports

With television and other traditional media consumption declining and millennial audiences’ preference for livestreaming and video-on-demand on platforms like Netflix and YouTube, gaming related content has been steadily gnawing at the foothold these channels once had with consumers. There aren’t just more people playing games, there are also tons of people consuming the digital content surrounding it using platforms like YouTube and Twitch. Esports tournaments have giant social networks and international audiences. To put this in perspective, the number of esports viewers worldwide is expected to grow to 250 million by 2021. Furthermore, The 2017 League of Legends esports world championship drew in over 106 million viewers, just shy of the total audience for the 2018 Super Bowl.

Video gameplay as entertainment is creating an undeniably rich media channel for non-gaming brands to connect with audiences. Hosting a live event or getting involved with esports tournaments allows brands to connect with audiences through culturally-relevant opportunities and tie themselves to top creators and gaming athletes. However, it is important for brands to understand that there are multiple segments in the esports arena, most often divided by different game titles or genres. Fans and players vary widely across these segments, and to be successful, brands need to understand the dynamics of the game, its ecosystem, and the personality of the community archetype.

One great example of a successful integration is when fast food chain KFC partnered with Twitch Streamers Sacriel, Anthony Kongphan and others to advertise their chicken wings and give away free gift cards. Sacriel and Kongphan were no random streamers. KFC purposefully chose the frequent players of PlayerUnknown BattleGrounds (PUBG), as, “Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner” is a commonly used phrase by PUBG players and streamers — making it a perfect fit for the KFC brand. Additionally, Dr. Pepper teamed with esports team Team SoloMid as a way to reach younger audiences they couldn’t quite reach on their own. Through esports, non-gaming brands looking to target younger consumers can integrate their brand and connect with this categories’ overwhelmingly young male user base.

In summary, no matter what you’re marketing, don’t leave gaming content behind simply because you think it’s not the obvious choice with which to associate your brand. Gaming audiences are massive and diverse and present opportune moments to reach audiences who’ve become increasingly harder to reach. Brands who do not leverage gaming content to connect with audiences through culturally relevant moments will ultimately miss out on entertainment’s next frontier. The popularity of gaming content among millennials is beginning to run neck-and-neck with the likes of the NFL Super Bowl, and brands who do not tap into the opportunity risk being left behind.

By Kristin Glushon, EVP of Client Development & Sales & Brad Davis, Senior Director, Influencer Integration, of Branded Entertainment Network.

Click here to read the article on Advertising Week.