There has also been a common misconception amongst brands that gamers are not their audience, but when you consider that they make up a third of the population, you can see that this is not true. The pandemic had a significant impact on exposing this audience and shifting the mindsets of advertisers.
MEDIA 7: Could you please take us through your professional journey?
ITAMAR BENEDY: Since day one at AppWiz, which was my first foray into the exciting world of AdTech, I was hooked. All those years ago, I saw AdTech as a wide-open canvas for innovation and meaningful advancements. My mission was – and is – to create breakthrough products that have the power to change the way humans and ads meet and interact with one another. A core technical background coupled with a passion for business drove me to create technologies that would chart the future of digital advertising. With over a decade in the mobile marketing space, I clearly understood the industry’s problems. So, I teamed up with gaming product guru Ben Fenster and master software architect Michael Badichi to solve the biggest issues in video game advertising which included a lack of scalable tech and cutting-edge solutions, the disruptive nature of in-game ads, and the vast gap between advertisers and developers which was leaving massive audiences inaccessible to brands. It was also getting increasingly difficult for developers to monetize without sacrificing the gaming experience. The three of us set out to make advertising in games better when we founded Anzu in 2016, and we’ve been disrupting the industry ever since!
M7: Which industry benefits the most from an in-game advertising platform like Anzu.io?
IB: The gaming audience is hugely diverse, made up of individuals from all ages, backgrounds, genders, nationalities, and cultures. Due to this diverse nature, in-game advertising suits businesses across all different industries and vertices. You can see this when you look at many of our top clients who are spread across many sectors, including retail, telecoms, technology, automotive, travel and tourism, and leisure.
There has also been a common misconception amongst brands that gamers are not their audience, but when you consider that they make up a third of the population, you can see that this is not true. The pandemic had a significant impact on exposing this audience and shifting the mindsets of advertisers. We saw many who had never run an in-game campaign before shift a considerable amount of their budgets over while they could not advertise outdoors. Extremely low fraud levels, viewability rates way above the industry average, and the massive exposure that in-game offers have seen most continue to shift budgets over, even as much of the world begins to emerge from the pandemic.
As free-to-play continues to gain momentum and infiltrate all game genres, games studios will be forced to change their way of thinking to see in-game advertising as a sustainable business model if they want to continue making games relevant and accessible in this highly competitive landscape.
M7: Anzu.io has recently raised $9 million for a new generation of in-game advertising. Could you please tell us a little bit about this goal and how you plan to achieve it?
IB: Traditionally, in-game advertising has only been thought of in terms of mobile games. We saw an opportunity to reset this way of thinking and introduce in-game ads to PC, console, and mobile. The industry is headed for a cross-play revolution where you will no longer be constrained by what device you own. Platforms like Roblox and Fortnite have become ‘play anywhere where you can join a game at home on your console, move to the study and pick it up on your PC and then carry it on via your mobile once you’ve left the house. This view is supported by many across the industry, and it's one of the reasons why we have received backing from many of the world’s leading games publishers and advertisers. With more people downloading ad blockers, giants like Google and Apple making big moves within the privacy space, and national and international regulations on data privacy becoming more stringent, advertisers have never been warier of where their ads appear and how they are measured. Users have also never been more mindful of how their data is used and where they are being advertised to.
In response, we have put ad quality at the heart of everything we do, bringing real-time data and existing digital industry standards in-game across mobile, PC, and console. We also partner with the world’s leading ad verification and certification companies to protect advertisers and their campaigns. As part of this drive, I’m excited to announce that we’ve just been awarded the TAG Brand Safety Certified Seal under the Intermediary category and the Gold Standard Certification 2.0 from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), UK. Together, these certifications demonstrate Anzu’s ongoing commitment to promoting a safe, secure, and fraud-free ecosystem that benefits the entire advertising chain. We also strive to put the gamer first, above everything we do. To achieve this, we work with advertisers, publishers, and players to ensure our ads are integrated within the games and sit natively within the experience, complementing the gameplay rather than taking anything away. I firmly believe that our cross-platform focus, commitment to producing a safe and secure platform, and our drive to always put the gamer first will allow us to accomplish our mission to build the best in-game advertising platform which reaches every gamer on the planet while upholding the interests of advertisers, publishers, and players everywhere.
M7: What do you see as the biggest challenges in the industry and Anzu.io this year?
IB: Navigating Covid-19 has been a considerable challenge for us and will continue to be for some time. We are a global company, so it’s been a challenge not to see each other in person. I was lucky enough to get over to our HQ in Tel Aviv recently, and it was amazing to connect with everyone and hear from all areas of the business. There’s something special in meeting in the flesh, and Covid-19 has made many people realize just how much we took for granted before. As I mentioned, we are working with several industry-leading certification companies and bodies to bring advertising standards to in-game advertising. However, this is an ongoing task and one that needs cooperation from all sides of the industry. In-game advertising has traditionally always been thought of in mobile, and most AAA console and PC games have followed a pay-to-play model. With the rise in popularity of AAA free-to-play games like Fortnite and Genshin Impact, this is beginning to change; however, many AAA games publishers are still focused on the pay-to-play model. As free-to-play continues to gain momentum and infiltrate all game genres, games studios will be forced to change their way of thinking to see in-game advertising as a sustainable business model if they want to continue making games relevant and accessible in this highly competitive landscape.
Act fast as once you see an opportunity, it's highly likely that someone else has noticed it too. Within the fast-changing world, it's also easy for competitors to spring up and overtake you if you’re not focused on the future.
M7: How has the Covid-19 era influenced the growth of in-game advertising?
IB: Covid-19 helped to emphasize just how big the gaming industry is. Yes, Covid-19 helped turn a lot more people to gaming. Many who were gamers pre Covid-19 ended up spending more time gaming to pass the time inside, however contrary to popular belief, gaming did not begin to reach massive numbers during Covid-19. The players were already there. Covid-19 simply revealed to the world just how big this industry is -- something that many companies like ours have been educating advertisers on for some time. A perfect storm of titles exploding overnight (Genshin Impact, Animal Crossing, Among Us), a new era of consoles launching, F2P platforms like Fortnite and Roblox attracting kids in their millions, and experimental experiences like live in-game concerts and virtual fashion launches helped keep gaming within the headlines and top of mind for advertisers during the lockdown. As a result, there was a huge shift in the way brands and agencies began to think of gaming, resulting in more execs, CEOs, and key decision-makers seeing gaming as an essential marketing channel rather than just somewhere to do experiential marketing with leftover budgets.
M7: Knowing what you know now, what advice do you have for your younger self?
IB: The advice I would give is to be data-driven, ensuring that your decisions are backed up by relevant research and insights. Act fast as once you see an opportunity, it's highly likely that someone else has noticed it too. Within the fast-changing world, it's also easy for competitors to spring up and overtake you if you’re not focused on the future. The last piece of advice I would give is to hire senior people and let them do what they do best -- it’s very easy to take on everything yourself, but there comes a time when you need to look to others for help and know that they are experts within their fields for a reason.