LevelUp OAC offers in-game media planning and buying, experiential marketing, influencer strategy and more

By Brian Bonilla from Ad Age.

The Omnicom Advertising Collective, which consists of many of the holding company’s creative agencies including Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Zimmerman and Dieste, is launching a dedicated gaming offering called LevelUp OAC. The new gaming unit will be led by The Marketing Arm and GSD&M. The offering will provide creative and media expertise to brands looking to enter the space, such as in-game media planning and buying, experiential marketing and influencer strategy.

The practice will be headed by Andrew Robinson Jr., group director, gaming at The Marketing Arm; Maria D’Amato, an executive creative director at GSD&M; and Dave Kersey, GSD&M’s chief media officer. The unit will consist of a team of 35-70 employees drawn from both agencies, but other holding company shops could also be brought into the mix depending on the project, said James Fenton, CEO of the Omnicom Collective.

Responsibilities will be divided between the two agencies according to strength, D’Amato said. The Marketing Arm has experience in gaming influencer engagement, experiential activation, and content creation, while GSD&M has experience building AR and VR experiences for brands as well as in-game advertising.

Pockets of expertise

“As opportunities come our way we can align together and figure out what’s the best way to tackle the challenge,” Kersey said. “Regardless of who’s leading, everyone will have a part in the strategic vision and the development of the assets and gaming environment.”

Some recent examples of gaming-related work from the two agencies include GSD&M helping Pizza Hut deliver pizza boxes with an AR Pac-Man game on them, and State Farm including its signature character “Jake” in the video game NBA 2K22 via The Marketing Arm.

“There are pockets of gaming expertise throughout the collective,” Fenton said. “These two agencies have embraced it and have probably the most robust gaming capabilities out of the agencies that I’ve been exposed to.”

Pushing play

Agencies building out gaming offerings and practices is part of a growing trend in the industry. Earlier this year, VCCP launched a gaming offering, VCCP+, which is focused on the gaming multiverse. Last September, Dentsu launched its own gaming solution called Dentsu Gaming. DDB FTW launched as a gaming and esports unit as a division apart from the overall DDB Network last April, and independent agency Omelet launched its own gaming unit called CheatCode in June 2021. Early last year, Publicis UK launched its own gaming offering called Publicis Play.

While the LevelUp brand is new, Fenton says the two agencies had been working “informally” together on gaming solutions for a little over a year.

“Having something branded internally rallies the people working on it, they have something to stand behind,” Fenton said. “We’re going to have a content strategy and thought leadership plan. We’re going to leverage the insights from both agencies to position LevelUp as a gaming industry marketing expert.”

End-to-end solution

One point of difference for the offering is that it can offer an end-to-end solution, according to The Marketing Arm’s Robinson.

“There are a ton of gaming solutions for brands, specific boutique solutions, larger agency solutions, but I think there are very few that offer a top to bottom comprehensive solution. So everything from strategy, creative, media, experiential, influencer [marketing]—they are all the things that LevelUp offers.”

LevelUp will offer a “general gaming education” that clients need, according to Robinson, despite the massive popularity that gaming has garnered. One aspect of that education is helping brands understand the difference between gaming and Web3.

Web3 “just exploded suddenly and became something that every brand marketer was talking about,” Robinson said. “In some cases, there’s a lot of connectivity there [between gaming and Web3],” he said, but in other cases there is not. “It’s really important to know [what audience] you’re talking to.”

Massive market

According to eMarketer, Americans spent $47 billion on gaming software and services in 2021. Gaming analytics firm Newzoo said that the number of people who play video games grew from 2.03 billion in 2015 to 2.96 billion globally this past year.

“Despite the stigma around it, gaming revenues still exceed film, music, and theater combined—and the smartest marketers have developed highly integrated strategies to be relevant to this essential demographic,” Greg Paull, co-founder of R3 said. “The Omnicom move is well overdue. This sector has enjoyed massive increases through COVID and it’s now at a tipping point for brand engagement going forward.”

“Homegrown and gamer-first is important to deliver the right insights on the category as well as how to work best with gamers and creators,” said Lindsey Slaby founder of Sunday Dinner. “The culture of gaming is very different than advertising, so I’ll be interested to see how [LevelUp OAC] is doing it.  A lot of clients like to go to specialists like Jamin Warren [founder of gaming consultancy TwoFiveSix] or Charles Hambro [co-founder of esports and gaming data platform GeeIQ]. Those are my go-tos and the creators trust them.”

Catherine Bension, CEO of Select Resources International, said there have always been shops that have had an “aptitude” in gaming, but it’s possible that LevelUp can be something different. Bension said the unit is not something she has seen often “across the broader agency spectrum.”

“Gaming is like movie marketing in that it isn’t a conflict-challenged category,” Bension said. “You can work on multiple titles because each one is unique. It will be interesting to see how they fare.”

Moving forward, Fenton expects OAC to launch more offerings in the B2B, multicultural and Web3 spaces.

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