Branding fashion through gameplay: the branded gaming and the cool dynamics in the fashion markets. A game-theory approach

Alshaimaa Bahgat Alanadoly (The Design School, Faculty of Innovation and Technology, Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus, Subang Jaya, Malaysia)
Suha Fouad Salem (Royal Docks School of Business and Law, University of East London, London, UK)

European Journal of Management and Business Economics

ISSN: 2444-8494

Article publication date: 1 March 2024

914

Abstract

Purpose

The aim of this study was to investigate the role of immersive gaming on brand coolness and brand equity, with particular emphasis on fashion gaming collaborations. We used game theory as a theoretical framework to analyse immersive branding strategies and gain a deeper understanding of fashion consumers’ decision-making process in gaming environments. Gender, as a significant factor affecting gamers, has been studied as a moderator that impacts the overall proposed framework.

Design/methodology/approach

A quantitative method was used to assess the significance of relationships within the proposed model empirically. The partial least squares structural equation modelling technique was implemented to assess the relationships of the framework with a sample size of 160 active Malaysian gamers.

Findings

The findings indicate that brand equity is positively associated with perceived brand coolness. Furthermore, of the three core values of online games, perceived enjoyment is most strongly associated with perceived brand coolness, ahead of the values of self-expression and perceived emotional challenge. The results of the multigroup analysis further suggest that in the fashion industry, building brand equity through online games is strongly related to perceived brand coolness among female respondents, the role of perceived brand coolness being weaker among male respondents.

Originality/value

The study contributes to the existing literature by providing a deeper understanding of the impact of immersive gaming branding practices on the overall equity of the fashion brand. The results provide insight for fashion brand managers into the significant effect on consumer behaviour outcomes of fashion-gaming collaborations.

研究目的

本研究擬探討身歷其境的遊戲體驗在品牌酷感和品牌資產上所扮演的角色; 研究特別強調裝扮遊戲的合作。研究人員以博弈論作為研究的理論框架,來分析沉浸品牌策略、和對時裝消費者在遊戲的環境中如何作出決策取得更深入的瞭解。研究人員探討了性別作為影響遊戲參與者的重要因素,這因素被視為為整個被提出的框架帶來調節的影響和作用。

研究設計/方法/理念

研究人員採用定量方法進行研究,目的為於被提出的模型內之各種關聯的意義進行以經驗為依據的評估。研究人員採用了基於偏最小平方法的結構方程模型研究法,來對一個包含160名活躍的馬來西亞遊戲參與者的樣本進行框架的各個聯繫的評估研究。

研究結果

研究結果顯示,品牌資產與品牌酷感成正相關; 而且,在網絡遊戲的三個核心價值中,感知享受與品牌酷感之間的聯繫最為強烈和密切,超過自我表現和感知情感挑戰兩者的價值; 多群組的分析結果更暗示了在時裝產業裡,透過網絡遊戲去建立品牌資產在女性回應者中是與品牌酷感有強烈密切的關係; 而在男性回應者中,品牌酷感所扮演的角色則較弱。

研究的原創性/價值

本研究使我們能更深入認識沉浸遊戲品牌的慣常做法如何影響時裝品牌的整體資產。研究結果為時裝品牌經理提供了啟示,使他們明瞭時裝遊戲的合作會給消費者行為產生重要的影響。

Keywords

Citation

Alanadoly, A.B. and Salem, S.F. (2024), "Branding fashion through gameplay: the branded gaming and the cool dynamics in the fashion markets. A game-theory approach", European Journal of Management and Business Economics, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJMBE-06-2023-0179

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Alshaimaa Bahgat Alanadoly and Suha Fouad Salem

License

Published in European Journal of Management and Business Economics. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode


1. Introduction

According to the latest market reports, the global gaming market reached USD$396.20bn in 2023, with a user base of nearly 3 billion gamers. In particular, Asia–Pacific accounts for 48% of these gamers (Statista Market Insights, 2023a), while in-game advertising is becoming more popular worldwide and is expected to reach USD$23.95 m by 2027 in Malaysia alone (Statista Market Insights, 2023b). During the pandemic, fashion brands entered the gaming industry (Hanson, 2022), resulting in 50% of gamers reacting more positively to brands they encounter in-game (Jakob and Meehan, 2023). Studies have shown that players spend more on gaming self-representation products (Li et al., 2020), and the acquisition of virtual in-game assets is estimated to reach USD$74.4bn by 2025 (Clement, 2021), with an estimated Malaysian virtual assets market USD$55.56 per gamer in 2023 (Statista Market Insights, 2023c). Furthermore, a survey conducted by Business of Fashion (2022) revealed that 50% of fashion consumers intend to spend more on digital assets. These market statistics indicate the potential of immersive gaming as a branding avenue for fashion brands, while recent studies have correlated gaming experiences with individual values, such as enjoyment (Fernández-Ruano et al., 2022), self-expression (Bogicevic et al., 2021) and perceived challenges (Xi and Hamari, 2019).

From a branding perspective, brands have adopted gamification concepts to simulate consumer perceptions, attitudes and behaviour by leveraging the immersive storytelling abilities of games (Wünderlich et al., 2020). Gaming platforms have disrupted traditional shopping touchpoints, affecting consumers’ behavioural outcomes towards brands and their products (Wang, 2021; Yoo et al., 2023). Fashion brands collaborate with the gaming industry through in-game advertising (branded elements within gaming platforms as an advertising strategy) and advergames (digital content that mimics gaming environments to promote brand core messages) (Ghosh et al., 2021). Those collaborations aim mainly to promote and convey brand messages in a less aggressive form of advertising (Ghosh et al., 2021). For instance, Balenciaga debuted their F/W21 collection through the advergame “Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow”. A year later they partnered with Epic Games to provide in-game skins for Fortnite’s shopfront (Balenciaga Brings High Fashion to Fortnite-Epic Games, 2021). On the other hand, Gucci has reported the purchase of a virtual version of its signature bag in Roblox for $4,000, which is almost double the price of its physical version (Yoo et al., 2023). Nike’s acquisition of the gaming studio RTFKT and the launch of their Roblox game Nikeland have contributed to their ranking as one of the top 10 brands globally in 2022 and 2023, with Nikeland attracting 7 million visitors since its launch in 2022 (Brujó, 2022; Marr, 2022).

While gaming and its values are typically associated with younger consumers, research showed that brand coolness is also an emotionally driven construct closely linked to younger generations (Chen et al., 2021; Loureiro et al., 2020), with perceived coolness of a brand can lead to positive outcomes, such as brand love (Warren et al., 2019). Brands can enhance consumer-brand bonding by adopting innovative interactive marketing practices that activate consumers' perceptions of brand coolness (Bogicevic et al., 2021). Coolness can also catalyse purchase intentions, highlighting the significance of cool images in self-interested advertising appeal (Lu et al., 2021). Building on this argument, younger consumers are more likely to be attracted to brands with a cool image. Additionally, brand equity can be a valuable asset in shaping consumer behaviour (Upadhyay et al., 2022), as studies have linked brand equity to consumer awareness, associations, perceived quality, and loyalty, all of which contribute to favourable consumer behaviour towards branded products (Fernández-Ruano et al., 2022). To understand the impact of gaming practices on brand equity, it is vital to study the interplay between physical and virtual branding practices, particularly for fashion branding. Although gamified retail experiences have been extensively researched, there is a lack of research on how gaming variables affect consumer attitudes towards overall brand equity, affecting physical brands.

This study aims to comprehensively examine the relationship between immersive gaming, brand coolness, and brand equity in the fashion industry. Using game-theory as a theoretical framework, we analysed immersive branding strategies and the decision-making processes of fashion consumers in gaming environments. We systematically explore the values and rewards that influence gamer choices when engaging with fashion brands during gameplay, while taking into account individual values and gender differences. Our study was guided by the following central research questions:

RQ1.

How do individual game values affect consumers’ perceptions of fashion brand coolness through gameplay interactions?

RQ2.

What is the impact of branded gameplay on the overall equity of fashion brands?

This study contributes to the existing literature in four ways: (1) extending the understanding of gaming branding strategies in fashion markets as a prominent business model; (2) testing the model in light of game-theory to enhance the understanding of decision-making in virtual environments; (3) identifying potential factors that contribute to and result from brand coolness in immersive gaming environments; and (4) examining the possible moderating effect of gender on the relationships between antecedents and outcomes.

2. Review of the literature

Building on decision-making theory, game-theory was introduced by Morgenstern and Von Neumann in 1944 and has been applied across various scientific fields, including mathematics, economics, and behavioural and social sciences (Patra and Ghose, 2020). The orthodox structure of the theory comprises three main elements: (1) players/decision-making participants; (2) strategies; and (3) rewards (Abedian et al., 2022; Samsura and van der Krabben, 2012). Players engage in conflicts and employ distinct strategies to attain optimal rewards within their game environment (Muggy and Heier Stamm, 2014; Samsura and van der Krabben, 2012). Game-theory from this perspective allows the examination and exploration of behavioural outcomes concerning various stakeholders; including consumers, brands and retailers, with a focus on capturing value (Abedian et al., 2022; Samsura and van der Krabben, 2012).

Our study utilizes game-theory to analyse the variables and provide a rational explanation for branding decisions in immersive retail environments. The different immersive experiences offered through gaming platforms and virtual environments are studied as strategies through which consumers are exposed to branding activities. Players—in this case, fashion brands— use strategies to optimize their rewards or exchange value with consumers in the form of perceived coolness and brand equity (Figure 1). The theory will expand the understanding of fashion consumers’ adoption and decision-making processes, as well as their behavioural considerations within the dynamic immersive retailing context (Abedian et al., 2022; Hanley, 2021).

Marketing studies, on the other hand, emphasize that brands are initially perceived as cool within subcultures—gamers, in our case—as a means of distinguishing themselves from others, before this perception extends to mass consumers (Warren et al., 2019). Brand coolness from this perspective is a significant emotionally driven construct that influences consumers’ attitudes (Loureiro et al., 2020; Lu et al., 2021). As a term, coolness has been studied in the context of luxury fashion (Loureiro et al., 2020), technology products (Tiwari et al., 2021), sustainable products (Lu et al., 2021), and consumer values (Truong et al., 2021), among others, while cool brands are subjectively labelled by consumers as timely, fashionable, sophisticated, transformative, unique, aesthetically pleasing, entertaining, revolutionary, prestigious, useful, iconic, subcultural and/or desired (Jiménez-Barreto et al., 2022; Loureiro et al., 2020).

Brand equity as another construct, is recognized as a valuable intangible asset for brands that seek to establish a global reputation (Dang Lang et al., 2022). Brand equity is defined as a collection of assets and liabilities experienced through brand names and logos that shape consumer behaviour (Upadhyay et al., 2022). While brands are struggling with interactive strategies to position themselves within competing technology-driven global markets, fashion marketers are targeting immersive technologies as a futuristic disruptive approach to restructure fashion branding and leverage the business model (Reactive Reality, 2022; Salem et al., 2023a, b). Through the integration of game-theory, brand coolness, and brand equity, we attempt to justify theoretically and empirically the decision-making process within immersive gaming platforms and how it may affect the equity of fashion brands and their market positioning. By adopting these theoretical grounds and focussing on the Asian market as a leader in the gaming market, the authors attempt to explore a path towards immersive technologies that can shape consumer behaviours within gaming platforms.

3. Development of hypotheses

3.1 Conceptual model

While game-theory is a refined decision-making theory in behavioural sciences, consumer involvement in immersive games is positively associated with brands and retailers (Gerdenitsch et al., 2020; Syrjälä et al., 2020). Similar findings have been demonstrated regarding brand coolness, which serves as a self-expressive motivator for fashion consumption (Loureiro et al., 2020). Younger consumers, representing the largest segment of the gaming market, actively seek cool brands as constructive prosocial power that illustrates their social image within their peer groups (Chen et al., 2021; Loureiro et al., 2020). Meanwhile, their perceptions of brand values are influenced by brands that effectively identify their individual and social values (Alanadoly and Salem, 2021). By adopting innovative immersive gaming, brands can activate consumers' perceptions of brand coolness and enhance consumer-brand bonding (Bogicevic et al., 2021). Considering the findings of previous studies, we formulated a set of hypotheses regarding the relationships between the focal constructs. We propose that gaming and its associated values are related to how consumers perceive a brand as cool. Furthermore, we anticipate that the perception of brand coolness will contribute to higher brand values, as reflected in brand equity. Given the established gender differences in gaming consumption, we examined the potential variations between male and female respondents (Figure 2).

3.1.1 Perceived enjoyment of gaming

Gaming emerged as a branding tool in the fashion industry, encompassing luxury to fast fashion brands. Consumer enjoyment plays a critical role in gameplay, with emotional attachment to game characters being reported as a key reason for playing (Malik et al., 2020). Immersive engagement in a playful gaming context is associated with individuals perceiving their interaction as motivational and enjoyable (Hwang and Choi, 2020; Tanouri et al., 2019, p. 1208). Enjoyment from this perception is the third main variable explaining gameplay in addition to playfulness and game flow (Hamari and Keronen, 2017).

Gamers consider enjoyable games valid for acceptance and intention to play (Jang and Park, 2019). Prior research links enjoyable gamified experiences to consumer behavioural outcomes, such as loyalty, trust (Jang and Park, 2019), purchasing intentions (Bittner and Shipper, 2014), and brand equity (Fernández-Ruano et al., 2022). Hwang and Choi (2020) applied social exchange theory, confirming that consumers perceived gamified loyalty programs as enjoyable and fun. Therefore, enjoyable gamification has the potential to create remarkable consumer experiences that can lead to long-term favourable behaviour towards a brand (Fernández-Ruano et al., 2022). We anticipate that immersive, enjoyable gaming features will positively impact the perceived coolness of fashion brands, thus,

H1.

Players’ perceived enjoyment is positively associated with their perception of brand coolness on immersive gaming platforms.

3.1.2 Online self-Identities

Brands are interested in how consumers create their self-identity (Tiwari et al., 2021). Research has shown that consumers' digital self-presentation is important for their decision-making journey (Carton et al., 2016; Hernández-Serrano et al., 2022; Hoyer et al., 2020). Gamers also consider their in-game self-represented avatars to be crucial for a positive gaming experience (Ko and Park, 2021; Li et al., 2020).

A recent report by Herrera et al. (2022) found that 47% of Gen Z Roblox users used avatars for self-expression, positively contributing to their self-perception. Of these, 70% said that their real-life fashion choices were influenced by Roblox avatars. Other studies have shown that being virtually unique and distinguishable from others affects gamers' buying intentions (Li et al., 2020), while Ko and Park (2021) highlighted the willingness of gamers to spend on self-image-represented characters.

Fashion brands consider consumers’ ability to self-express themselves in social settings as a crucial factor in their decision-making process (Loureiro et al., 2020), and studies have shown that fulfilling consumers' self-expression needs through brand products motivates consumers’ purchasing intentions (Ajitha and Sivakumar, 2019; Hoyer et al., 2020). We hypothesize that the presence of fashion brands on gaming platforms through advergames or in-game collaborations, where consumers can acquire branded fashion items, will influence the communication of their online identity and lead to perceiving these brands as cool. Thus,

H2.

Players’ perceived online self-expressive value is positively associated with their perception of brand coolness on immersive gaming platforms.

3.1.3 Emotional challenge

Emotional engagement in digital gaming is essential. Kou and Gui (2020) found that gamers adapt their in-game behaviour based on the emotions they experience. Positive emotions from socializing, teamworking, and competition motivate gamers to participate. However, negative emotions, such as tension, anxiety, and anger, can also enhance gamers performance (Denisova et al., 2021; Gowler and Iacovides, 2019). The term “emotional challenge” from this perspective relates to players’ experiences with curious emotional ambiguity that elicits a range of emotional, and reflective cognitive experiences (Peng et al., 2020).

Beyond the realm of gaming, studies of consumer behaviour have emphasized the importance of emotional experiences in stimulating consumer behaviour and influencing cognitive decision-making processes (Heffner and FeldmanHall, 2022; Tyack and Mekler, 2021). These experiences have significant value in branding, where gamified emotional experiences have been linked to favourable affective behavioural responses (Razzaq et al., 2017). Considering these findings, we propose that the psychological response to perceived brand coolness is influenced by emotional challenges presented in gaming. Thus:

H3.

The players’ perceived emotional challenge is positively associated with their perception of brand coolness within immersive gaming platforms.

3.1.4 Perception of brand coolness

Brand coolness has been studied with respect to various marketing constructs. Jiménez-Barreto et al. (2022) conducted qualitative and quantitative studies and found that niche cool brands have high value, popularity, exclusivity, and authenticity, which induce consumer’s loyalty. Tiwari et al. (2021) demonstrated that 78% of brand love could be attributed to perceived brand coolness. In the fashion industry, Loureiro et al. (2020) reported a positive association between brand desire and perceived coolness of luxury brands. Similarly, Truong et al. (2021) found a positive relationship between hedonic and utilitarian coolness and product value perceptions in fashion retail. Positive brand experiences from this perspective enhance fashion brand coolness (Napalai and Khamwon, 2023). Guerreiro et al. (2023) affirmed marketing practitioners must consider brand coolness for strong positive consumer responses.

From a technological perspective, virtual reality in online gaming is often seen as “cool,” where perceived coolness drives digital product usage for specific consumer groups (Li et al., 2021). We expect fashion brands collaborating with gaming environments to be perceived as cool, while boosting overall brand equity as a favourable outcome. Thus:

H4.

Fashion brand equity is positively associated with consumers’ perceptions of brand coolness on immersive gaming platforms.

3.1.5 Modifying the effects of gender

The gaming literature has extensively considered sociodemographic variables, including age and gender, in examining various gaming constructs, such as self-efficacy (Polo-Peña et al., 2021), gameplay intention (Jang et al., 2021), new game adoption (Wang, 2014), and team member selection (Lou et al., 2020). Jang et al. (2021) found that female gamers exhibit more resilience and less risk-taking behaviour compared to male gamers when engaging with new games. Males are less motivated to participate in gamified self-efficacy and workplace health programs (Lier and Breuer, 2020; Polo-Peña et al., 2021), but they are more willing to engage with new technologies (Alshurideh et al., 2021; Gumz and Fettermann, 2021). Lou et al. (2020) also found that female gamers are less likely to actively participate in social bonding through team collaboration in online games. As gender is a significant factor impacting fashion consumption through different behavioural responses, therefore, we expect gender to moderate the relationships between the study’s constructs, thus.

H5.

Gender moderates the influence of (a) perceived enjoyment, (b) perceived online self-expressive value, and (c) perceived emotional challenges from gaming on perceived brand coolness.

H6.

Gender moderates the influence of perceived brand coolness on brand equity.

4. Methodology

4.1 Data collection and sample collection

Data were collected using online questionnaires distributed through Google Forms. A pilot study was conducted to assess the validity and reliability of the measures, and two experts in the field were consulted to comment on the instrument with no changes deemed necessary. The questionnaire was distributed from January to May 2022 using purposive sampling, which is effective for target samples with specific characteristics and inclusion criteria (Etikan, 2016). Only people with experience in online gaming and those who lived in Malaysia were eligible for participation. After eliminating missing data, unengaged responses, outliers, and participants with no online gaming experience, 160 completed questionnaires were collected. The sample size was determined to be sufficient based on G*Power analysis, with a minimum sample size of 129 needed for a power of 0.95 (Hair et al., 2017a, b), indicating that the sample size requirement was met. Demographic characteristics of the participants are presented in Table 1.

4.2 Method and measures design

The survey began with a brief definition of the study’s goals and an introduction to branded games, with examples to establish basic knowledge. A filtering question was then used to categorize the respondents according to their gaming experience. The survey consisted of two sections, the first gathered demographic data such as gender, age, nationality, and the amount of gameplay in the past 12 months. The second section measured each variable in the research framework.

The constructed variables were measured using five-point Likert scale questions ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The items were adapted from the literature, including perceived enjoyment (De Canio et al., 2021), online self-expressive value (Yoo and Park, 2016), emotional challenges (Denisova et al., 2020), brand coolness (Chen and Chou, 2019), and brand equity (Ebrahim, 2020).

4.3 Preliminary analyses

4.3.1 Common method bias mitigation and testing

To minimize common method variance (CMV), the study used self-reported questionnaires, and steps were taken to ensure confidentiality and anonymity. The questionnaire was developed to ensure that the items were clear to the respondents. Maxwell and Harman (1968) single-factor test was conducted and showed no serious issue. Five factors were extracted; the first factor explained 38.44% of the variance, lower than 50%, indicating no CMV issue.

4.3.2 Tests for the reliability and validity of the measurement model

The reliability and validity of the reflective measurement model were assessed and the results are presented in Table 2. The composite reliability values were above the recommended threshold of 0.7, indicating model reliability (Hair et al., 2017). The Average Variance Extracted (AVE) was analysed to confirm convergence validity, which was greater than 0.5, indicating adequate validity. The heterotrait-monotrait (HTMT) correlation ratios, calculated as per Henseler et al. (2015) to gauge discriminant validity, were below the critical value of 1, confirming discriminant validity (Table 3).

5. Results

5.1 Estimation of the structural model

After conducting preliminary analyses, the structural model was evaluated for collinearity using the variance inflation factor (VIF) to confirm the absence of multicollinearity issues. The VIF for each item was less than the recommended threshold of 5. The R-squared values and the significance of the path coefficients were used to evaluate the model (Hair et al., 2017a, b). The model had considerable explanatory power since perceived enjoyment, self-expressive value, and emotional challenge combined explained 58.3% of the variance in perceived brand coolness, which in turn explained 44.2% of the variance in brand equity (Table 4). A partial least squares (PLS) algorithm was used to estimate the path coefficients, and a bootstrapping method was used to test their statistical significance (Hair et al., 2017a, b). The results support the direct hypotheses (H1, H2, and H4); however, (H3) was not supported (Table 5).

5.2 Moderation analysis

To examine moderation effects, we treated gender as a categorical moderator with values of 'male' and 'female.’ We employed PLS multigroup analysis (MGA) to determine the variations in path coefficients for both genders (Sarstedt et al., 2011). The results in Table 6 demonstrate significant gender differences in the path coefficients between online self-expressive value, perceived emotional challenge, and perceived brand coolness (supporting H5b and H5c). However, the gender differences in the path coefficients between perceived enjoyment and perceived brand coolness and between perceived brand coolness and brand equity were not significant, thereby failing to support H5a and H6 (Table 6).

6. Discussion

Asia–Pacific is a vital market in the gaming industry due to its large gaming consumer base, while retailers invest in immersive gaming experiences to expand consumers’ stays in physical and digital stores and increase their engagement and, potentially, their purchases (Salem and Alanadoly, 2023; Yoo et al., 2023). Meanwhile, McKinsey’s 2022 report emphasized the importance of virtual branded fashion and in-game collaborations to engage fashion consumers in the coming five years (Balchandani et al., 2022). On the other hand, Taylor et al. (2019) highlighted game-theory as a formal approach to conceptualize decision-making processes in gaming environments. In this emerging research topic, identifying how gaming influences fashion branding strategies and brand reach is an urgent research gap.

This study aims to explore the effects of gaming constructs, including enjoyment, self-expression, and emotional challenges, on consumers' perceptions of brand coolness and its impact on brand equity. The results showed that players of branded games perceived these brands as cool when they experienced enjoyment, self-expression, and emotional challenges. Additionally, the study found that consumers are more likely to be attached to and satisfied with fashion brands when they perceive them as cool, reflecting on their consumption of these brands. These findings align with previous research on luxury brands, which found that a positive perception of brand coolness is related to enjoyable interactions with consumers (Loureiro et al., 2020). On the other hand, brand equity was found to be influenced by consumers’ perceptions of brand coolness. Consumers develop awareness, satisfaction, and loyalty towards fashion brands they perceive as cool (Salem et al., 2023a), which impacts their virtual—and maybe physical—consumption of those brands.

Drawing upon game-theory, fashion brands -practically those catering to the younger generations-can enhance consumers’ experiences using gameplay strategies, thereby cultivating a perception of 'coolness' around their brands. A closer examination of the Asian market, considering the recent inclination of fashion brands to update their targeting strategies, reveals that integrating immersive gaming into a market characterized by intensive gameplay can profoundly engage consumers, tapping into their preferences, and cultivating lasting loyalty. The burgeoning gaming market in Malaysia, following the lead of the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese markets, presents an opportune landscape for gaming collaborations to emerge, offering compelling branding strategies that resonate with and captivate the Malaysian consumer base. This phenomenon fosters a mutually beneficial dynamic wherein fashion brands thrive amidst competing markets, while consumers reveal enriched and gratifying immersive brand experiences.

7. Study’s implications

7.1 Theoretical implications

This study extends the theoretical conceptualization of brand coolness by connecting it to Web3 immersive experiences. The findings highlight three main theoretical implications through a comprehensive framework based on game theory. First, the results found that the core values of enjoyment, self-expression, and emotional challenge accounted for nearly 58.3% of the variance in perceived fashion brand coolness. This suggests that creating engaging gaming experiences could enhance brand coolness and significantly drive positive consumer perceptions. Raman (2021) has connected gaming and gamified enjoyment to various marketing constructs, but the present study’s novel contribution is linking gameplay enjoyment to brand coolness as a behavioural outcome of brand communication efforts.

Second, the results indicate that brand coolness is directly related to core gaming values and overall fashion brand equity. Gaming values, as strategies in fashion-branded gaming, are significant drivers of brand coolness, and these variables collectively explain 44.2% of brand equity.

Thirdly, female online gamers were found to have a stronger relationship between brand coolness and brand equity as gaming payoffs compared to their male counterparts. Although this finding contradicts those of some studies that have highlighted a higher impact on male gamers (Lier and Breuer, 2020; Polo-Peña et al., 2021), it can be readily understood in the field of fashion, which is mostly dominated by female interests (Ajitha and Sivakumar, 2019; Michon et al., 2007; Raman, 2021). According to our results, female online gamers responded more strongly than male online gamers in terms of their overall equity towards fashion brands.

7.2 Practical implications

This study offers four key insights for practitioners in developing effective marketing and branding strategies. First, the results indicated that all three core values of online games are crucial. However, enjoyment has the most significant impact on brand coolness, followed by self-expression, and emotional challenges. To make their brand appear cool, fashion brands should incorporate online games into their marketing strategies and focus on enhancing enjoyment for their target audience in game development. Additionally, fashion brands can use interactive video games to showcase their collections (Barnett, 2020), which can positively influence brand perceptions.

Second, the relationship between online self-expressive value and brand coolness was proved significant and positive, indicating that brands are likely to be considered cool when consumers can display and reflect their self-image through a game. Games can evoke pleasant feelings and curiosity (Wu et al., 2022) as well as customizing avatars and characters with stylish outfits can boost player enjoyment. Practitioners should collaborate with games that feature different levels of character customizations (outfits, accessories, and beauty attachments) that gamers can relate to, as these strategies can also impact the emotional challenge involved in playing the games, which this study shows can make a large contribution to perceived brand coolness.

Third, the study reveals that gamers' perception of a brand’s coolness influences their connection and loyalty to it. Fashion brands can leverage online games to enhance their brand equity by creating and promoting games as a channel to reach target consumers and communicate brand coolness. This can lead gamers to connect with the brand emotionally, spread positive word-of-mouth, and consider the brand a priority option when looking to buy fashion products.

8. Conclusion

In conclusion, this study reveals that interactive/immersive branding, such as in-game collaboration or advergames, affects consumers' perceptions of brand coolness. By providing enjoyable experiences, self-expression opportunities, and emotional involvement through cooperative gaming, fashion brands can enhance perceived coolness, uniqueness, and fun. Gender differences were observed, particularly in female self-expression and emotional challenges in fashion-branded games. These results help understand the coolness of brands in Web3 immersive experiences and have a practical impact on fashion brands’ positioning and equity in competitive gaming and fashion markets.

9. Limitations and further research

Despite the valuable contributions of this study, some primary limitations warrant attention in future research. First, while core gaming features were examined with regard to perceived brand coolness, it is essential to recognize that this relationship may be subject to variation when considering other game characteristics. Future research should explore the effects of these features on branded and brand-integrated games, including interface design, usefulness, and ease of use, as proposed by the technology acceptance model.

Second, this study did not cover brand-level factors, such as luxury to mass market segmentation, which could encompass a range of brands from couture to activewear. Future studies could evaluate the influence of branded gaming in different market segments. Third, while the current study focused on Asian consumers, a cross-cultural examination would benefit brands by considering the global presence of both fashion and gaming brands. Fourth, the small sample size may have affected the generalizability of the findings. Future research may consider larger and more diverse samples, representing a wider range of fashion consumers and gaming enthusiasts.

Figures

Game theory framework

Figure 1

Game theory framework

Conceptual framework

Figure 2

Conceptual framework

Respondents' demographics

VariableFrequencyPercentage (%)
Gender
Male8150.6
Female7949.4
Age
15–2513886.3
26–412113.1
42–5710.6
The number of playing games in past 12 months
Few times5534.4
A lot10565.6

Source(s): Table denoted by authors

Construct reliability and validity

ConstructItemLoadingAVEVIFComposite reliability
Perceived enjoyment (PE)PE10.8540.8641.8290.950
PE20.8822.122
PE30.8211.626
Online self-expressive value (SEV)SEV10.8810.7992.1080.923
SEV20.8952.475
SEV30.9052.669
Perceived emotional challenge (PEC)PEC10.7600.5941.6150.897
PEC20.8231.994
PEC30.8202.186
PEC40.8161.976
PEC50.7501.676
Perceived brand coolness (PBC)PBC10.8370.7052.2990.923
PBC20.7641.749
PBC30.8782.870
PBC40.8782.908
PBC50.8352.380
Brand equity (BE)BE10.9200.7273.0660.889
BE20.9313.527
BE30.9373.755

Source(s): Table denoted by authors

Discriminant validity HTMT ratio

ConstructBEPBCPECPESEV
BE
PBC0.780
PEC0.7230.708
PE0.6310.7620.713
SEV0.7140.7450.8630.658

Note(s): BE, Brand equity; PBC, Perceived brand coolness; PEC, Perceived emotional challenge; PE, Perceived enjoyment; SEV, Online self-expressive value

Source(s): Table denoted by authors

R2

EndogenousR2
Perceived brand coolness0.583
Brand equity0.442

Source(s): Table denoted by authors

Hypothesis testing

HypothesisPathPath coefficient(β)SET-statisticsp-valuesDecision
H1PEà PBC0.4360.0835.2790.000Supported
H2SEV à PBC0.3280.0873.7640.000Supported
H3PEC à PBC0.1010.1060.9510.342Not Supported
H4PBC à BE0.6650.05611.9080.000Supported

Note(s): PE, Perceived enjoyment; PBC, Perceived brand coolness; SEV, Online self-expressive value; PEC, Perceived emotional challenge; BE, Brand equity

Source(s): Table denoted by authors

Results of the gender multigroup analysis hypothesis testing

HypothesisPathPC difference (male vs female)p-value PLS-MGAp-value parametricp-value Welch-SatterthwaitDecision
H5aPEàPBC0.0500.7610.7490.751Not Supported
H5bSEV à PBC−0.3710.0320.0280.030Supported
H5cPEC à PBC0.4340.0250.0240.026Supported
H5dPBC à BE−0.1900.0870.0280.030Not Supported

Note(s): In Henseler’s MGA method, the p-value lower than 0.05 or higher than 0.95 indicates the 5% level significant differences between specific path coefficients across two groups; p < 0.10

PC, Path coefficient; PE, Perceived enjoyment; PBC, Perceived brand coolness; SEV, Online self-expressive value; PEC, Perceived emotional challenge; BE, Brand equity

Source(s): Table denoted by authors

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Corresponding author

Alshaimaa Bahgat Alanadoly can be contacted at: s.alanadoly@heco.helwan.edu.eg

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