I’ve seen a few people lately complaining about this:

After updating my version of SWAT4 to the latest patch from Vivendi, I soon discovered that the game was phoning home to grab posters to place in the environment of the game’s levels. Not only did it do this for every level that was played, but it also informed the advertisers of how long each poster was viewed, and by which gamer. Expect to see this kind of advertising and brand placement becoming standard fare in the very near future.

Here’s another article on a similar note:

Like other marketers, Hollywood studios are desperately seeking ways to reach viewers who are turning away from prime-time television. They’re following these audiences to the Net, and in the process are finding ways to create online advertising that’s as seductive as TV advertising.

This article caused a fuss until it became apparent that the situation was being exaggerated, but this comment from a reader deserves note:

I can’t say who I am, but I do work at a company that uses Wikipedia as a key part of online marketing strategies. That includes planting of viral information in entries, modification of entries to point to new promotional sites or “leaks” embedded in entries to test diffusion of information. Wikipedia is just a more transparent version of Myspace as far as some companies are concerned. We love it (evil laugh).

On the other side, I love it from an academia/sociological standpoint, and I don’t necessarily have a problem with it used as a viral marketing tool. After all, marketing is a form of information, with just a different end point in mind (consuming rather than learning).

On linkblogs where I saw these stories, the usual reaction was outrage. How dare advertisers try to subvert my gaming experience with their stupid messages? I go to the net to get away from ads for crappy movies, these people think I want to see them now? Viral marketing through wikipedia? The nerve!

Yes they do. They think we want to see them because, on a regular basis, we tell them as much. The majority of people claim they hate advertising and would like to see less of it. And then comes January. In January there’s a football game called the Superbowl. People happily announce they’re tuning in “just for the ads” and then discuss them as though they’ve just been to Cannes.

When they’re not ironically Tivo-ing the Superbowl to see ads, many of these people are paying Nike and Sean John and other companies to wear ads for those companies on their bodies. If your chest was a billboard, it would cost Nike a few hundred a month to slap a logo on it, but instead, people pay Nike to do it. Hate advertising? Au contraire. We seemingly can’t get enough of it.

We’ve allowed companies to stick ads anywhere there’s a flat surface. We’ve put up with commercials before movies, obvious product placement, bouncing promos going across the screen during the shows we watch, “special advertising sections” in magazines, tuning into the network morning show to hear about the network evening show, swamping airwaves with so many ads that radio barely carries music anymore, ads on cable television, companies like Pepsi and Nike who seem to think that twenty minutes without anyone seeing their logos might cause their entire company to vanish, and most of all, rewarded these companies by purchasing their products. We forward around pictures of funny ads and links to video captures of commercials. We’ve never challenged big business’ apparently god-given right to slam a logo into our forehead 24/7 and now we suddenly want to complain? This is the world we’ve made; we shouldn’t whine about having to live in it.

Why is a videogame suddenly some kind of sacred space? Why do we roll our eyes at the idea of some marketer thinking people are going to be thrilled about these newfangled video ads, when every January we happily declare that we love ads, so long as they’re flashy and expensive and entertaining? Though I have to wonder where some of the people who are just now saying “enough!” have been, I’m glad to have them on board at last.

The good news is, despite horrific visions of the future, we actually stand on the brink of a beautiful new age in ad-free living. In addition to Tivo, just plain TV shows on DVD are a breath of fresh air. As long as you’re patient, you can watch a whole season of a TV show without commercials, network icons, 1/3 screen promos, and so forth. Although advertisers are busily trying to get around our defenses, avoiding the most obnoxious advertising on the internet is child’s play. Most people who regularly surf the net have trained their eyes and brain to distinguish real content from ads and effective tune the latter out (a lot depends on the quality of the sites you visit…personally, any site that regularly feels it needs to throw huge ads in my face is one I can easily drop from my bookmarks list.) As prevalent as advertising is these days, it’s starting to become easier to avoid it (which explains why they’re ramping up the offensive.)

Advertising has a purpose, sure. It informs us of products and services we might not otherwise be aware of. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to do. We’ve allowed advertising to mutate into something bizarre, some kind of parasitic organism that requires our eyes to live and seeks only to reproduce itself. Nike showing us their new model of sneaker is one thing, but just a Nike logo on an otherwise blank page? Advertising, what, the concept of “Nikeness,” whatever that might be? It’s not enough to buy the product, we have to develop a relationship with the brand. We have to become one with it, nurture it in our very lives. And then, maybe someday, what was once just a piece of paper with weak adhesive on it will become a “lovemark”.

What’s a “lovemark”? Let’s let the site tell us!

Lovemarks are a new way of thinking about the things we love. Lovemarks are better than brands, because they are about Love and Respect: they speak to us as thinking and feeling human beings. Lovemarks embody Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy.

Look around that site. Read some of the stories. Discover how juice, candy, and a notebook changed peoples’ very souls.

This is the bizarre quasi-existence that advertising promises.

There’s one surefire way to defeat advertising, especially television advertising. Sadly, I don’t remember where I first read of this idea. Whenever you see an ad, as soon as it’s over, think of Gilbert Gottfried’s voice — no other voice will do — announcing what you just saw an ad for. For example, after a Coke commercial promising fun and excitement all the days of your life, imagine Gilbert going, “IT’S A SODA!” After a McDonald’s commercial, Gilbert would say, “IT’S HAMBURGERS!” A Gilette ad? “IT’S A RAZOR!” You only have to do it a few times and the spell is broken. It drives home the inanity so perfectly.

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6 Responses to IT’S A BLOG POST!

  1. Steven Berg says:

    Even better than ignoring ads on web sites: if you use Firefox, get Adblock and make the ads go away forever.

  2. Chris Allen says:

    The idea of ads in games has be debated at my videogame company…a lot. Our latest project is weighing in at over 15 million dollars. And still growing. To that end, as a business, the publisher would like to offset the costs by finding other alternative revenue sources, such as advertising in games.

    The downside is then by licensing cars or allowing ads, the parent company of the advertised item has a say on how their trademark is used. Most car companies won’t allow the **models** of the cars (not actual cars mind you, just the models) to have any realistic damage. You can’t blow up a Coke billboard in a shooting game. That sort of thing. It starts to affect game design.

    As the PC game market becomes further depressed and the costs for making next-gen games go up, expect to see more of this. The fact that we haven’t lynched movie industry leaders for allowing ads in theaters is a sort of green light, no?

    Videogames are sacred because they are a release from reality. They are interactive playgrounds, not the passivity of television. However, there is an extreme Catch-22 to ads in games: games are a reconstruction of the real world and a fantastic escape from reality, but without reminders of the real world, the experience isn’t as believable and loses a bit of the sheen.

    You touched upon this with comments about the shirts and shoes: if a driving game doesn’t feature over 150 cars from real world companies, then the game gets dinged by critics and players. High Heat Baseball fans created mods to import real ads into stadiums, because the fake ones messed with the perfection of the image, if one might wax poetic.

    The idea of viral marketing is especially popular with the videogame industry after the huge success of ilovebees for Halo 2. “The Tipping Point” is a great book on how situations in fashion, disease, television and crime have ‘tipped’ and grown into full blown epidemics. An interesting read to be sure.

    If we do allow ads in our game, maybe we should hire Gilbert Gottfried as our narrator…that’d be pretty fantastic.

  3. Nathan says:

    That’d work for everyone… except Gilbert Gottfried. He’d be, like, the last vulnerable consumer.

    (And don’t block ads when you visit my sites, OK? Please? I promise no pop-ups, and none of those flashing banners that cause seizures.)

  4. Shawn Fumo says:

    Isn’t Gilbert doing the Aflac commercials? Still, that’s a good idea to diffuse the ads. :) I don’t watch as much TV as I used to, so I find myself tolerating commercials less than I used to.

    One weird experience I had was a project for school where you had to note down all the scene changes during a show and keep track of the commercials. The problem was that when it got to the commercials, I’d maybe start writing stuff down and then suddenly the show would be back on and I’d realized that I’d tuned out the rest. My method of watching was so ingrained that it was actually difficult for me to actively keep track of the commercials without just zoning out waiting for the show to start up again.

    And I saw someone post a link to ilovebees a while back with no context. I started to look at it and had no idea what was going on. Thanks for the reveal that it was connected to Halo2… I’ll have to look at it again under that light.


  5. Chris Allen says:

    ilovebees was a 5 hour or so long radio show presented in bits across the internet and about 1400 phonebooths. the original site was supposedly a woman’s website that was hacked by some outside force, which turned out to be the Halo 2 invasion.

    Anyhoo, the ‘alternate reality’ game genre is pretty interesting to me and, considering the paralells to geo-caching, I imagine Dave might fancy it a bit as well.

    Here’s the radio show in it’s entirity, with the best idea of the order. Wander around the site for more AR games as well. I could TinyURL it, but where’s the fun in that?

  6. stealthcomic says:

    A little rambling rant on Wikipedia…

    As much as Wikipedia has been trumpeted as the ultimate power to the people text source, I have always been more than a little suspicious of its reliability. It does point to some interesting material, but it’s really no more reliable than a google search or “Bob’s house o’ answers, Net Branch” website.

    This latest use of Wikipedia reminds me of the H.L. Menken bathtub hoax. People will believe anything they read in what they consider to be a reliable source and Wikipedia has been touted as a reliable source. The fun part is going to be getting my students to realize that there IS a difference between Wikipeida and, say, the ABC-CLIO database. I’m not saying that there’s no bias in academia, but at least it’s a LITTLE easier to spot than the free-for-all “knowledge” of Wikipedia. Gah.