Esports and toothpaste challenges: The marketing game is changing

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The global gaming industry is a mammoth that shows no signs of extinction. It continues to attract widespread interest and eye-watering investments as brands and companies from an array of non-gaming-related industries plot inventive ways to tap into its vast audiences and their wallets. For these reasons, gamer audience targeting is a hot topic for most advertisers today, one that has been massively accelerated by the pandemic, writes Fareez Joulay,  Creative Director at Eclipse Communications.

“The “gaming audience” is something of a misnomer. Gaming comprises an ecosystem of varying subgroups and identities. Some people play games, and they do so on different devices. Some people consume gaming content, but may not play games themselves. Then there is esports, which is another thing entirely,” reads market research company GWI’s, The Gaming Playbook.

Put differently, the gaming audience is far greater and more diverse and inclusive than is often presumed. It is imperative for brands eager to attach themselves to gaming for marketing purposes to understand these nuances and each audience’s vocabulary and culture.


South Africa is the only African country with local servers for most major games. This, in combination with its telecommunications infrastructure, is why it leads the gaming industry in Africa with an estimated24 million gamers, followed by Ghana and Nigeria in second and third place respectively. This is according to a 2021 report into the Sub-Saharan African gaming market, commissioned by Newzoo, a games analytics company and Carry1st, a South African gaming platform.

The narrative of the gaming industry’s growth and viability is also supported by other indicators and metrics such as audience numbers, online engagement and footprint. This makes it a viable marketing option for brands. Brands can leverage social media and mobile gaming to increase their brand awareness and presence.


Gaming rarely stops at playing games; there is a vast ecosystem made up of custom content, online communities, and experiences to be aware of. For example, belonging to a community is a prime motivation for many gamers which is why gaming remains among the most popular genres of online content.Gamers use social media as a universal source of both expression and information.

r/gaming is the 4th biggest community on Reddit, while YouTube’s most-subscribed single creator channel – PewDiePie – amassed a 100 million-strong followership through video game watch and play-along. Platforms such as Twitch, Discord and Periscope are also highly utilised by gamers.

Admix estimates mobile gaming makes up 2.5 billion of the 2.7 billion player-strong global gaming market and incorporates almost every demographic imaginable. Through rapid technological improvements, mobile gaming has taken giant leaps, offering gamers a wider range of experiences than ever before.

Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, have reduced many of the barriers to entry of conventional gaming, especially in developing countries such as India and South Africa. More than one in two South African gamers play from a mobile device, with only around 20% owning a console.


Brands through their brand engagement strategies have had to deploy a different set of tactics to keep consumers engaged and informed in a way that feels rewarding. In South Africa, the adoption of gamification into marketing efforts is increasing at a steady pace, and brands are moving swiftly to take advantage of this opportunity. Gamification strategies have shown great rewards for consumers and brands.

The landscape of competitive gaming developers and interactive production houses has increased, with several marketing agencies now also housing gamification teams and service offerings for their brand clients. There are many customer engagement benefits to gamification such as customer retention and community building which are improved through increased brand interaction. It also exposes priority consumers and assists in higher mobile-marketing penetration.


FNB’s 2011, Kruger Gold Rush Facebook game mimicked the legendary Super Brothers Mario franchise. It featured protagonist Paul Kruger collecting as many Krugerrand coins as possible and completing in-game challenges before the allotted time runs out. Contestants with the highest score at the end of each competition week received a Krugerrand from FNB. The game helped entertain users, while also encouraging them to invest in Krugerrands.

This year, consumer goods giant, Unilever utilised mobile gaming to target millennial mums in Vietnam. P/S, a popular Vietnamese oral hygiene brand, increased sales of its anti-cavity toothpaste by creating a mobile gaming platform targeted at millennial mums. It used a targeted mobile content strategy to convey the idea that teeth brushing can be a fun and playful activity.

When the pandemic halted action in traditional sports leagues, ESPN, the American international sports channel turned to esports to fill the void in sports fans’ collective hearts. ESPN organised and broadcasted a 12-hour programming marathon Esports Day which featured esports tournaments across a range of gaming titles such as Madden, Formula 1, NBA 2K, Rocket League and Apex Legends. This highlights the increasingly blurred lines between sports and gaming.

Gamification is not a gimmick; gaming is now the latest frontier of experiential marketing. Mentioned here are just a few of the brand awareness opportunities in gaming available to companies. Leveraging these opportunities requires marketing, media and communications specialists with a nuanced and intricate understanding of the gaming industry, local consumer insights and an appreciation of the barriers that hinder them.