On-line games and advertising, it’s a natural combination. Ads want to collect the attention of eyeballs. Period. Collecting the attention of targeted eyeballs is even better–eyeballs generally attracted to a certain lifestyle, recreational activity or demographic. While this has always been true of every sort of ad, on-line ads have an advantage–they can be interactive.
Let’s face it, traditional on-line ads have a bad rep. In fact, if traditional on-line advertising had a personality, it would be my gaudy, drunken uncle wearing his circa 1970s polyester leisure suit, making an obnoxious toast, insulting every guest sitting around the Thanksgiving Day table. Banner ads, pop-up ads, customized ads–flashing, blinking, blurring, distracting and obstructing your view from the content or game or other on-line experience you intended to consume–have become an unfortunate part of the commercial web-based landscape.
Games, however, have found ways to integrate ads into the user-experience, often triggering urges in gamers to go get the product, now. They borrowed the concept of product placement from TV and movies and put the impact of these things on steroids, having gamers interact with the products in the games they are playing. Pogo.com is notorious for this, advertizing such products as ice cream and orange juice. They insert name brand items into the games as an integrated part of the game that gamers must interact with to participate in the game.
Seeing the enticing graphic of a tub of strawberry ice cream over and over again, that you must concentrate on to complete your game, gets your sense memory going about what that ice cream tastes like, feels like and where you can go get some. Same goes for the frosty carton of orange juice. Yes, I admit to falling victim to this manipulative device, and have stopped playing a game craving and even going out to get the product I was playing with.
This reminds me of an older ad campaign by the now obscure Blimpie sandwich and sub shop. They played this TV ad late at night in college towns, knowing the nocturnal habits of college students who are often up late studying or partying or both and who are always on the prowl for easy, tasty, cheap food. Blimpie, which was often open late at night and even 24 hours in some cases, played a TV ad that just showed a giant sub sandwich and the Blimpie logo, saying over and over again in a strange tone, “Blimpie,” “Blimpie…” Sales for Blimpie skyrocketed as a result.
There are other games, however, that are wildly popular, such as app games like Angry Birds. App games are still using the banner and pop-up ads as their primary source of revenue, allowing for the free download of the app. While I appreciate the free games, I feel compelled to report that I have never, not once, clicked through to an ad. Not ony will I not click-through, I don’t know what the ads are–I just see them as distractions as I’m trying to concentrate on a game, much like buzzers and flashing lights in a casino.
Now, make me play with the products in the game–you’ll have my attention. If Angry Birds were made to knock down piles of Campbell’s Tomato Soup cans and Ritz Crackers, I’ll notice. I’ll likely even have these products on my lunch menu in the very near future after playing with them often enough. I wouldn’t want to see this on every level of the game, but maybe the first game of each set would be enough to reinforce the message.
And because I can’t help myself, if this is true of products, what about other types of messaging such as social marketing–spreading prevention messages for health and behavioral health issues or other social problems such as bullying and violence prevention. What great things we could communicate through games!