By Death_Unicorn 8 Comments
Let’s get this out of the way. I’m not the biggest fan of ads, I hardly watch television anymore because of all the commercials, and 30 second ads before videos boil my blood. There is nothing worse than trying to watch a show or video that is supremely excellent but having to watch corporate propaganda being shoved down your throat first. Banner ads annoy me to a lesser extent but the grievance is still slightly there. Glad we could get that off our chest.
We seem to be entering a stage where advertising is experiencing a revolution. “Smart Advertising,” if you will, is becoming more of a thing. Companies are opting out for advertising that actually has a soul, being user-friendly, entertaining, and consumable in a bite-sized package. This would serve as an alternative to the old school of advertising, where information is shoved into the consumer’s throat, via pop-out ads and the like. Personally, I find this disgusting, and it often results in me being less likely to buy a company’s product when they force one to watch the ad while blocking the content that they were there for in the first place. Thankfully, there seems to be a shift taking place. With smart games, awesome trailers, quests sponsored by companies, and huge campaigns driven by the manliest of men, advertisers seem to be getting more in touch with the consumer and are trying to add variety to our lives, and variety, I can get behind.
I define advertising as the way a company goes about raising the awareness of its product, educating potential buyers on why it is the best among its peers, all in an attempt to change the buyer’s consumption habits. Wikipedia defines advertising as, “a form of communication intended to persuade an audience (viewers, readers or listeners) to purchase or take some action upon products, ideals, or services. It includes the name of a product or service and how that product or service could benefit the consumer, to persuade a target market to purchase or to consume that particular brand.” I would define “Smart Advertising” with the same denotation as advertising while adding the lost obtrusiveness, and added engagement of the community.
A couple of weeks (or months ago, I’m bad with time) Old Spice launched their “Smell like a man” campaign where Isaiah Mustafah, also known as the “Old Spice guy” would speak directly to the consumer, answering internet queries and finally answering our pleas to define what makes a man, manly. People actually would go on YouTube, and seek out the ad, and in the absence of throat-shoving, consumers wanted to watch the Old Spice ad. Now this, to me, seems like an outrageous success. It was/is “cool” to talk about the Old Spice ads, and hell, even Alyssa Milano got into it, which not only raises the company’s reputation but also gives the illusion that the company actually cares about the consumer more than how thick Proctor and Gamble’s wallet is. The ads themselves were smart, user friendly, and most importantly personalized and invaded the consumer conscious of millions. It became a social media event as consumers were contributing to the ad through the Old Spice man’s twitter account where the advertisers could personally address the people generating a feeling of involvement which, I think, is the basis of advertising intelligently. After all, which advertisement would a consumer rather heed, the one that is goofy and fun to watch, or the obnoxious distracting banner ads advertising a competing brand? Now I will not speak of Old Spice product itself since I’ve never used it and hey, it might be a piece of crap, but the advertisement agency successfully entered the consumer conscious of millions of consumers and did so well, seeing as the agency behind the campaign, Wieden & Kennedy, claims a sales increase of over 100%. So obviously, this type of ad works.
Advergaming is not at all a new term; however, it is an awesome alternative to regular advertisements often using simple flash games to convey a message and attempt to get the consumer excited for a product. Flash game websites like Kongregate have been doing this recently; their game White Castle Chase provides a simple semi-entertaining flash game that serves its purpose well enough. Since Kongregate is a website consisting of flash video games, and they need revenue to manage hosting, I see no better way of generating that revenue than making a game that is sponsored by a company willing to pay to sell their product. Another example, would be that of the recent 8-bit Expendables game, an awesome, fun little game that provides mindless entertainment and piques our nostalgia, while still conveying a message: “Hey, The Expendables is coming out!” - all without being intrusive. And the last example that comes to mind, Doritos’ Dash of Destruction, is a free XBLA game developed by the modest indie dev NinjaBee. The game was free, and offered a tantalizingly easy to accrue 200 point gamerscore. While there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with the game, it seemed like its only drawing power was its easy gamerscore. In other occasions, overkill can occur. If revenue overrides the primary purpose of a website, and creativity gets hampered due to advergaming, it can be a huge negative and in no way am I touting that advergaming should replace actual games. And this brings us to the dreaded in-game advertisements.
In game advertisements are another form of advergaming and can completely ruin immersion and sometimes feel outright forced yet at other times can be perfectly well suited and natural. In Alan Wake’s downloadable content expansion, “The Signal” there is a long drawn out cutscene where it is made extremely clear that Verizon is Mr. Wake’s cellphone provider. But on the other side of the coin, there are examples where product placement can enhance the experience and actually add some form of subtle immersion. In various racing games while driving through bustling cities, if ads are placed where one expects to find them, it can enhance the experience, and make the overall package more realistic. For example, if one is driving down Time’s Square in , one would expect giant and extravagant LED screens popping out with vibrant ads for various trifles. It can sometimes be better than having those same screens being filled out with corny imagined off-brands so the game developer won’t get sued (even though, sometimes these off-brands are hilarious). Overall, advergaming is confusing; at one end of the spectrum where it can be an awesome substitute to conventional advertisements and enhance a game experience, yet at the other where it becomes overly saturated, limiting creativity, and eventually shoving advertisements down a consumer’s throat.
Finally, we have Giantbomb, and Whiskey Media in general. Whiskey Media is doing a great job getting a revenue stream, while still not putting advertisements in your face. Even though we have had some advertisements that don’t seem too fitting (Eat, Pray, Love), overall the team has been doing a great job. When advertising for Halo: ODST began the ever impressing (which I think should become more common) acquisition of an awesome skin to the various Halo: ODST related pages strewn through the site, all the while engaging the community in various contests about Halo: ODST. Dragon Age: Origins had a similar advertisement campaign on GiantBomb, where they encouraged the community to make their own advertisements for Dragon Age, in the form of image macros and community-built videos. This made the campaign a community based event, and rather than forcing 30 second videos about Dragon Age before any and every video, the staff got the community interested and invested. Finally, the newly made quest system allows a fun way to advertise. While the initial attempt at this using BestBuy made the quest a little too easy and not really related to computers, having a banner ad where members could discuss what they looked for in a computer was pretty ingenious. In the future companies could use the quest system to raise customer awareness about their product using the wiki page. I know I love learning about videogame-related goodness through the quest system, why not learn about the Gears of War universe through a Gears of War 3 sponsored quest? It would engage the community, raise awareness of the product, and acquire revenue, a perfect example of smart advertising. Luckily, it seems Whiskey Media will be continuing down this path, since they tout on their website the outrageous successes they have experienced using these advertising methods, all to sway companies to continue doing smart advertising.
We live in a consumerist, materialistic society. People have attics filled with objects they no longer use (I know I do) and every day we see countless memos telling us that the old things we have are obsolete and you, the consumer, needs to go outside and buy a replacement, or in this day in age hop on to a computer and get it delivered. I get it, this is how our society runs, but if we can somehow make these messages commanding consumers to consume, more fun and user-involved, not only can companies increase sales, but the consumer, or at least I, can retain a greater sense of his dignity and feel less like a tool. When advertisements inhibit the experience that I am scouting for, at the end of the day I get tired of it. As I’ve said I can no longer watch television because the myriad mindless messages from sponsors that pollute the airwaves. Which is why I really hope this revolution becomes a full fledged deal, and not only websites start following the brave leaders carrying us forward but television networks can also learn a thing or two, along the way. While I could continue rambling about advertising in a smart matter (trailers come to mind) at the end of the day advertising is a form of revenue that keeps a lot of things free, and by no means should free things stop being free, but this revolution in advertising that we (I hope) are experiencing is one that I (and you?) can gladly get behind.
So what do you, a consumer, think? Do you think this is just nonsense? Are you tired of television? Do you find the Old Spice guy attractive? Do BestBuy laptops put the twinkle in your star? Now, excuse me, while we get a word from our sponsors…