How a charity used seamless in-game ads to communicate purpose and highlight awareness of its Clean Water Pledge

Interact’s in-game billboards with targeted messages allowed users to click to find out more rather than having their gameplay interrupted with advertising. One in four players made the decision to leave the game to learn more about the water crisis.

The background

The Clean Water Pledge was launched by charity:water and agency Walk-in Media to coincide with World Water Day last March. The powerful messaging – more than 770 million people around the world are living without clean water – needed visibility, both to get awareness and ultimately to get people to sign a ‘pledge’ to show support. 

Enter ad tech platform Interact. Interact was launched by video game publisher Playstack in December 2021 as an immersive in-game advertising solution for brands and games developers to incorporate campaigns and messaging directly within gameplay. The technology allows ads to be installed seamlessly as part of the scenery of a game, encouraging an “interactive rather than interruptive experience,” says its Head of Brand Partnerships Peter Griffin.

“It really came from the premise that we knew games, we knew developers, we knew players, we knew there was all this potential and all these really engaged active eyeballs, but brands weren’t engaging with them and when they were it was done in an interrupted way.” 

Both charity:water and Walk-in Media recognised the potential of getting in front of players who were ‘leant forward’ and actively engaging in the gameplay, and the novelty of the medium also appealed. 

By installing messaging and advertising as part of the in-game experience, charity:water was avoiding pop-up ads mid-game or between levels or timed ads that users would actively look to close. What also appealed is that the user would have to make the conscious decision to click on the in-game billboard to leave the game, visit charity:water’s website and find out more.

The solution

Two Playstack games – Idle Aquarium and Idle Sea Park – were chosen for the initiative. Using Interact’s technology, interactive water-themed billboards were inserted into in-game locations, much as an individual would see if they were walking through the parks in real life. 

The choice of game was based on three factors, the first being the popularity of the games and the second being the audience type. Playstack’s data identified the demographics of gamers playing Idle Aquarium and Idle Sea Park and with a focus on age, it was quickly identified that those playing fell into a wide age category that skewed toward younger age groups. 

Finally, the theme of the games, being based on water activities, was a strong draw. Griffin says: “Supporting charity: water to deliver in-game ads in Idle Aquarium and Idle Sea Park was a collaboration that just made sense. It fitted so well with the games, and was such a relatable brand for players.

“Where it starts working really well is if you get the authentic integration through the theme of a game that fits the brand campaign.” 

Rather than ads acting as a ‘pop up’ on screen that interrupts gameplay, gamers were served ads and messages as an immersive part of the experience that allowed them to voluntarily click on the billboards to find out more about the Clean Water Pledge and charity:water itself.

The results

charity:water was looking to both increase awareness and drive interaction and activity. Billboards were created that integrated with the game’s scenery and looked like they belonged in the experience. The riskier part was the performance element, says Griffin. 

“Everyone was taking a step into the darkness, but we've seen really positive results. Is a player going to leave a game that they love, they’ve chosen to play, to go and visit a charity’s site? The answer was yes.” 

Over their 15-day run, the in-game billboards were watched for more than 180 hours, with more than one in four (27.5%) gamers actively tapping on them to be taken to charity:water’s site to find out more about the Clean Water Pledge.

Interact calculates impressions by a number of set criteria including viewing angle, screen space and visibility duration.

Griffin says: “Think of a classic marketing funnel of awareness, engagement, action – Interact is an ad tech serving solutions in each of those different areas. There was nothing accidental about those clicks, someone has actively chosen to do so and I think that’s really powerful, to leave a game you enjoy to go and do something. You’re immediately invested in that.”

Ellie Scouller, Brand and Communications Senior Manager, charity: water, says: “[The water crisis] is a massive problem but one we know how to fix, we just need more people to help. We're always looking for innovative and engaging ways to tell more people about the water crisis and our work. We look forward to working more with Interact in the future!"



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