Home Gaming SuperAwesome Targets New Opportunities In Kids Advertising Beyond The Metaverse

SuperAwesome Targets New Opportunities In Kids Advertising Beyond The Metaverse

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Kate O'Loughlin, CEO, SuperAwesome

Although SuperAwesome is no longer part of Epic Games, it’s got a game plan to expand its youth-focused ad marketplace, CEO Kate O’Loughlin told AdExchanger.

After being acquired by Epic Games a little over three years ago, SuperAwesome was spun off in September in a deal that involved SuperAwesome’s management team reacquiring most of the company’s assets from Epic, including its AwesomeAds network and most of its workforce.

O’Loughlin, who was promoted to CEO from COO of SuperAwesome just prior to the transaction being announced, declined to discuss the deal price but did note that the deal closed in January.

Epic retained only one asset after the spinoff: SuperAwesome’s Kids Web Services platform, a free service for app developers that lets them confirm a parent is opting kids into data sharing.

Although Epic remains SuperAwesome’s primary investor, the two companies have made a clean break, and Epic does not have an advisory role, O’Loughlin said.

But SuperAwesome will continue its relationship with Epic in other ways, including reselling Fortnite’s ad inventory and monetizing other Epic gaming properties through the AwesomeAds ad network.

SuperAwesome’s ad platform continued to work with non-Epic properties even while it was under Epic’s umbrella. As an independent company, however, SuperAwesome is better positioned to partner with advertisers and reach kids and teens wherever they are, O’Loughlin said.

For example, SuperAwesome works with Roblox on its new Immersive Ads platform and partners with other gaming and social media apps, as well as CTV and OTT publishers.

AdExchanger spoke to O’Loughlin about how contextual targeting makes it less risky for brands to market to kids and teens and whether priorities are shifting after years of metaverse hype.

AdExchanger: What was the opportunity you saw in splitting off from Epic?

KATE O’LOUGHLIN: There’s still a need for youth-focused tech services and tools in advertising and publishing. There’s value in interacting with this young audience, but there aren’t a lot of tools that make it possible to do so in a way that’s scaled and global – and safe and compliant.

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We learned a ton inside Epic about engaging youth in gaming experiences, but it doesn’t end with gaming. You have to think about social media, music, what kids are doing in mobile or when they’re watching [TV]. We wanted room to think about the audience first, while Epic has rightfully been focused on the metaverse first.

When Epic announced layoffs last year, CEO Tim Sweeney said it was partly a correction from overinvestment in the metaverse. If even a company that has been praised for doing the metaverse right says it invested too much too fast, does that suggest advertisers were too quick to jump into the metaverse?

There’s still a mismatch between where people spend their time and marketing investments. Gaming is massively underfunded, and realizing the full aspiration of the metaverse – where your virtual identity follows you across platforms – is going to take time and investment.

But right now, there’s value in gaming and these proto-metaverses [like Fortnite and Roblox] because that’s where consumers are spending their time – much more than in linear.

Is the metaverse still a priority for SuperAwesome?

We look at it as gaming, rather than building for the metaverse.

SuperAwesome’s spinoff announcement came around the same time that Epic cut 16% of its workforce. Was the move meant to protect your employees and business from cost-cutting?

They were announced at the same time, but the reacquisition of SuperAwesome was about pursuing the opportunity we saw for the ads business.

We have about 150 people that came with us. Some folks stayed with Epic to continue to sell and build Kids Web Services. Unfortunately, we did have to let some of our colleagues go.

Is SuperAwesome’s AwesomeAds Marketplace an ad network?

If we left it to just an ad network model, safety and compliance wouldn’t be addressed.

We’ve built safety as a service, and, on top of that, we have a variety of media inventory. We’re focused on contextual and having an insight-driven way of partitioning the audience. What’s interesting to a 6-year-old is wildly different than a 9-year-old, a 12-year-old or a 14-year-old. A lot of life happens in a small amount of time.

How do you prove attribution for kid-focused campaigns without access to individual user data?

We’re more focused on brand lift metrics and sentiment. We let parents opt into letting their kids fill out surveys, and we look at sales increases in markets where we had the media turned on.

What changes to kid-related data privacy laws are you keeping a close eye on?

I hope future legislation or amendments to existing laws, like COPPA 2.0, are about including kids.

If you understand the audience, give parents control over how kids are included, teach kids how to participate in online communities and put up a framework for making good decisions – that keeps kids safer. Pushing kids and teens out is just going to incentivize them to lie about their age or go into deeper, darker parts of the internet.

The FTC is also working on changing enforcement rules around COPPA. What sticks out to you?

They’ve added biometrics to what is considered personally identifiable information for kids.

And there are some proposed changes to what’s included in internal operations, which could open the door to more data collection than is necessary. The internal operations exception is used if you collect data for frequency capping or reach counting. We truncate and hash identifiers so you can still count [impressions] without being able to reidentify the user.

Would Kids Web Services still be viable if the COPPA Rule is updated?

If you have to give parents the opportunity to consent to follow-on data sharing, that only strengthens Kids Web Services.

Is regulation making targeted advertising untenable for users under a certain age?

The spirit of what most legislators and parents would want marketers to do is to talk to kids and teens in a way that’s appropriate for their age, which can be achieved contextually. You can show them things that are relevant and interesting to them and achieve a lot of marketing and content-serving goals without all of this data tracking.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

For more articles featuring Kate O'Loughlin, click here.

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