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Gaming Enters the Mainstream at Cannes Lions

Back in December, the7stars published research into the emerging media opportunity in gaming, Level Up. At the time, it was clear to us that gaming represented a substantial untapped potential for brands. Seven months' reflection has done little to dispel this notion.

The 2023 IAB Compass report listed gaming as one of the four digital channels with the highest predicted growth over the next five years. By 2026, UK in-game advertising spend is forecast to double compared to 2021 levels, reaching almost £2bn on mobile formats alone.

Gaming now reaches nearly three-fifths of the UK's population, including a majority of all age groups up to and including 45-54s. The proliferation of mobile gaming and a lasting lockdown-era boost have brought gaming to previously unreached audiences.

As Rema Vasan, head of global gaming business marketing at TikTok, recently put it, 'what emerged from [the pandemic] is this idea that there are moments people just wanted to have for themselves, that are about well-being and that give them joy. And that's perfectly aligned with gaming.'

Until recently, gaming was seldom considered alongside TV, social media, and other high-reaching channels as a viable commercial media opportunity. But innovations in the category, including the wider adoption of AR and VR technology allowing brands to create immersive brand-led experiences, have taken gaming activations to the next level.
This year, Cannes Lions announced the launch of the Entertainment Lions for Gaming, joining Sports and Music as additions to the prestigious awards. This follows years of winning campaigns surfacing from gaming, with a 74% increase in Lion-winning plans featuring gaming in five years, according to CEO Simon Cook.

In the ceremony last month, the flavour of work on display more than justified this inclusion.

In the partnerships subcategory, EA Sports and Apple scooped top honours for enabling FIFA 23 players to step into the boots of Ted Lasso and take the helm of fictional Richmond F.C., ahead of the launch of the show's third season. The campaign followed in the footsteps of Burger King, which won the Direct Grand Prix in 2021 for its 'Stevenage Challenge.'

Meanwhile, Greenpeace took gold for in-game brand integration. Working within the second-highest selling game of all time, Grand Theft Auto V, the campaign depicted the fictional game world of Los Santos underwater after a global temperature rise of 3°C. The Greenpeace activation was widely praised and supports the7stars' findings that gamers would be open to an increased presence from the charity sector in gaming worlds.

But while brands as widespread as McDonald's, Pringles, and Dell received commendations, the inaugural Grand Prix winner came from a category closer to gaming's roots.

Last year, as the vastly popular mobile game Clash of Clans celebrated its 10th birthday, its marketers devised an ingenious strategy: what if the game wasn't turning 10, but 40?

The resulting campaign, a 20-minute short documentary depicting the fictionalized origins of Clash – complete with 80s-esque cereal product placements and action figures – successfully tapped into the growing appetite for 'nouveau nostalgia', or a longing for the romanticized past we never lived in.

The introduction of gaming as a standalone Lion was a fitting culmination of a year that has seen the channel establish a viable, high-reaching media opportunity for brands to create lasting relationships with consumers. With plenty more innovation on the way, the time is right for brands to enter the gaming arena.