Will PUBG’s ban have a ripple effect on in-game brand partnerships and AdEx?
How PUBG's ban will impact digital industry PUBG
Brands that did associate with PUBG, did that for its captive audience and large user base.

Will PUBG’s ban have a ripple effect on in-game brand partnerships and AdEx?

Brands that did associate with PUBG, did that for its captive audience and large user base.
  • Brands like RSVP, OPPO, Mountain Dew and RedBull have associated with PUBG in the past.
  • PUBG was known to offer high-reach and consumer engagement, two powerful baits for brands.
  • Experts answer how brands that invested in PUBG will adapt to the current situation and where they will move their marketing monnies.
It has been two days since the government banned Tencent’s signature battle royale game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and app clones like PABJE, FAU-G and Pixel’s Unknown Battleground have already started sprouting up on Play Store.

Due to the ban, Chinese tech giant Tencent has lost nearly $34 billion (HK$ 261.05) of its market value over the last two days. PUBG was downloaded 34.2 million times until May 2020 of which India accounted for 35.8% — 12.24 million installs, according to data provided by Sensor Tower.

PUBG’s ban has not only left gamers in the lurch, it also left a void for brands that invested on in-app ads, event organisers, and influencers who were using PUBG and game streaming to earn a livelihood.

The game also attracted advertisers ranging from handset makers to beverage companies. Brands that catered to the young audiences like OPPO, Mountain Dew, RedBull, etc have associated with PUBG in the past. It offered them engagement and high reach.

One of the prominent brand partnerships that PUBG saw was with Ronnie Screwvala Productions’ (RSVP) action drama ‘URI: The Surgical Strike.’ Gamers were given an opportunity to launch a surgical strike on Pochinki, one of the most popular towns in the game’s map.

While PUBG enthusiasts did not notice the advertisements on the app, it did have some incentive-led ads like ‘watch this ad to earn a scrap coupon’, collect 10 coins and build crates to buy in-game items.

Gaming was considered a niche-category for a long time in the advertising industry. However, in 2019, of the $22.6 billion spent on mobile apps in Q2 2019, $16.95 billion was spent on mobile games and Indians were the largest market for mobile games, according to App Annie.

So we reached out to a few industry experts to understand what kind of dent will the ban create in the advertising and marketing industry, how brands will reshuffle their monnies and find an alternative that offers the same amount of reach and user base.

Explaining how brands will try to find alternatives that offer the same reach, Vaibhav Odhekar – Co-Founder and COO of POKKT Mobile Ads, said, “In the gaming space, all the brands were largely involved in “audience buying” and not site buying (like Candy Crush). So as long as there are players and audiences actively involved in gaming, brands will continue to be happy. POKKT has a gaming audience base of over 252mn+ users in India alone, so we believe that there is a massive reach present in terms of gaming content, advertising opportunities and the effectiveness for brands. Now brands will look at tweaking their targeting strategy to try and capture a larger set of apps, or else surgically approach the top competitors of the likes of PUBG and other banned apps to ensure cumulative audience reach.”

Odhekar also pointed out that the majority of Indian gamers play casual games and that is where the maximum advertising is happening. Currently, top 10 apps on Google Play Store are Casual Games.

Will PUBG’s ban have a ripple effect on in-game brand partnerships and AdEx?

On what led to Gaming industry’s boom, Odhekar added, “Gaming became really big in the first place due to casual gaming, which means most Indian users are playing (and engaging with ads on) games like Candy Crush, Temple Run, Subway Surfer, Ludo, Carrom. And this entire segment is untouched via Chinese app influence.”

Brands that did associate with PUBG, did that for its captive audience and large user base.

Abhinay Bhasin, Vice President (South Asia), Data Sciences, Dentsu Aegis Network said, “Chinese apps presented advertisers with a unique avenue to reach out to captive audiences offering a fairly large base that created a diversion of spends from platforms such as Facebook and Google onto unique ad formats that the Chinese apps offered. Estimates show that apps like TikTok had over 600 million downloads in India during its lifetime and Alibaba-owned UC Browser had a market share of over 10%. With the ban on these apps and services, brands will ultimately follow eyeballs and engaged audiences. The recent ban on TikTok for example seemed to be a boon for Instagram as they launched Reels in India. Similarly, the desi competitor to TikTok, Chingari, witnessed a record 1 crore+ download on the Google Play Store shortly after an initial ban on Chinese apps was announced. Brands in India have a multitude of sources to reach out to youth audiences such as via Gaming, OTT services, the aforementioned substitutes, etc. It’s far from the end of the world!”

Rajan Navani, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, JetSynthesys, and President of the Indian Digital Gaming Society said that most PUBG casual players will switch to other similar games in India so the impact should not be much and it only brought about 2% to overall gaming industry’s revenue.

Navani said, “Impact on the overall gaming industry should not be over 2% if one were to include in-app and advertising revenue combined, in the immediate short-term. However, the professional PUBG esport players and other content creators around PUBG streaming will be severely impacted since they derive their livelihood from the game. At a time when the domestic mobile gaming industry is growing rapidly, PUBG’s ban provides an immense opportunity for other international and domestic gaming companies to grow their market share.”

According to Manesh Swamy, VP- Creative, Logicserve Digital, PUBG’s ban will not hamper brands’ way of finding ways to reach out to consumers. However, they will now be cautious to associate with any kind of Chinese brand.

“As a marketer and advertiser, I feel it won’t affect the industry at large, as we always find ways to meet our clients' marketing challenges and goals. Also, taking into consideration the current reservation against Chinese products and services, even brands would be cautious and not want to associate themselves with these platforms to carry out any marketing activities. I am sure they do not wish to hamper their consumer's loyalty,” said Swamy.

With the pandemic-infused lockdown, consumers had to find ways of entertaining themselves within the four walls of their house. As a result, gaming apps saw a spike in users and brands started realising the potential of this industry.

Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO of Mirum India described the foreseeable situation in one word - ‘adapt.’ He said brands and agencies will adapt and find alternatives.

Mehta said, “The most impacted sector/brand because of the ban is the brand/app PubG itself and most importantly their Pro-Players, who literally earned from it. India contributed almost 1/4th of the user and being a MOG (Multiplayer Online Game) it majorly ran on a Freemium model. Means their biggest revenue generator was In-game-purchase. Gaming has been one of the biggest contributors for AdEx in India during this COVID period. So gaming is here to stay, and brands have a plethora of games to advertise on. Like Video, casual gaming is also on a high and thankfully Brands have enough options.”

Ban on 116 Chinese apps and its impact on AdEx

PUBG offered brands an opportunity to place in-app advertisements, explore content marketing associations and organise group events around it. So with its ban, what kind of impact will it have on Advertising Expenditure this year?

With PUBG, the government also ordered a ban on another 116 apps like Ludo World, Arena of Valor, Chess Rush. The first list came out on June 29 after the Galwan Valley skirmish, which left 20 Indian soldiers dead and an undisclosed number of casualties on the Chinese side. This included the popular short video streaming app TikTok, UC Browser, Xiaomi's Mi Community and 56 others. So how will the ban on all Chinese apps in India impact overall AdEx?

Bhasin said Chinese companies contribute around 4-5% to overall Indian Advertising Revenue.

He said, “The ban on Chinese apps will certainly have a significant impact on influencer associations that were picking up steam on TikTok or even through gaming influencers and contests. These spends will now have to be realigned to other alternatives. Moreover, the ban on apps is most likely to have a ripple effect onto other investments into AdEx in India by Chinese companies that contribute to roughly 4-5% of the overall Indian advertising economy.”

Swamy and Mehta, on the other hand, said the impact will be minimal.

“I don’t feel that the ban would affect the overall Ad Expenditure as brands would redirect their strategies to fit in the best manner possible,” said Swamy.


Brands and agencies adapted to COVID, they adapted to the TikTok ban and now, they are gearing up to adapt to PUBG’s ban, too.