Thursday, December 15, 2005

If You Work In Advertising, Kill Yourself

The other voices
that have already chimed in on this Round Table pretty much nailed every sentiment I wanted to express.

Marketing tends to make me vomit, yet there are a few instances where I might consider it appropriate.

I would find ads appropriate in any game modeled on a shallow world of sleazy corporate interests that place profits over people. So, y'know, sports games and car racing. That's about it.

Must admit, though, this does sound interesting. The best of luck. I recommend only using sponsors that would allow ceaseless mockery of their products -- sooo, yeah, you'll need the best of luck.

Let's roleplay

Say you're an ad exec. You're Soulless McAsshole, in charge of corporate branding for the InaneCorp Branding Factory. You decide to set up some research on the efficacy of this New Hot Product (NHP in prick-speak) coming out in the fall.

So you go down to a mall. Set up a stand. You're displaying your NHP prominently, chatting up high school girls, generally acting like a pushy, insufferable, fake-ass jerkoff. In other words, smooth like butter, baby. Or a greased weasel.

You show off the NHP. You ask, "So, would you tell other people to buy this?"

The pretty plastic suburban couple respond as a single unit, their eyes twinkling with general malaise. "Oh, definitely," they say. "We'd tell all our friends about it." Of course, they have no friends.

The giggling teen girls, they chew gum and twirl their hair and say crap like, "Oh, like, totally. It's cool, yeah, it's cool," using the same tone of voice as when they assure their father that his taste in music is not complete shit. Of course, teen girls think everything new is cool, until someone decides it's no longer new enough.

The stoned dude, he looks at it, nods his head. "Yeah, man, it's alright." Of course, he's fucking stoned. You could have showed him a small guillotine used for castration and he would've said it's alright.

You flash your teeth and think, "We have got a winner."

So based on these absolutely meaningless responses you launch a blitz campaign. You tell your overlords that the product tested perfectly, that it was already hot and in and there was just a fuckton of buzz. Buzz everywhere. Absolutely insane amounts of buzz, the sewers were backed up with buzz and beginning to fester and smell and suffocate the homeless.

You start placing ads. Your key demographic is all that matters, so you push in that direction. The key stupidity of marketing is the idea that creating awareness of a brand is the single deciding factor in whether people purchase your product. That's good, go with that.

It's just like e-mail spam. People love that flood of excrement in their in-box every day. Or billboards. Why yes, I would like to know where the nearest car dealership is as I drive down the road in my fucking car -- hmm, maybe I should pick up a spare car on my way home.

So you're spamming all the target demographic's key media, just laying it on, the NHP is the killer app, the must-have toy, it will cause riots and floods and possibly lead to Armageddon.

The ads are, naturally, enormous lies, but they have flash and pizazz and you got some fancy psychiatrist guy to touch all the right buttons without imparting any information. You never give the customers information -- not ahead of time, not during purchase and certainly not after they've forked over their money and discovered the NHP is really a POS.

You send the NHP to a bunch of celebrities, especially dumb, shallow, privileged, rich blondes. "Just carry it around with you, get one shot of you with it, flash your tits if you have to. What am I saying, you've done this a million times before."

Sure enough, on the cover of Fit In! Magazine (Top essay: How to lower your self-esteem) there's this vapid, loathsome sellout in an assless designer dress, the NHP positioned by the corner of her partially open mouth, providing just the kick that the hint of an erect phallus presents -- totally professional.

You buy up time during the trendiest evening shows in order to run a 20-second spot which was designed by a too-clever-by-three-fifths fresh-outta-film-school twenty-something and is so fucking artsy that people find it unbelievably clever but can't seem to hold the product name in their mind for longer than three seconds. Total success. It repeats every twenty minutes.

You make sure that stores are stocked chockful of the NHP. You tell your salespeople to push that baby, push that little fucker like it's crack, make those consumers choke on it.

Let's say the product is an overpriced, cheaply-made pair of sunglasses released as part of a movie tie-in (the movie had a black guy and a white guy and they were soooo different but really they ended up saving the world and getting along and the quirkiness was just hilarious) and the videogame is due out in spring followed shortly by the obligatory porn parody (all companies involved being subsidiaries of InaneCorp).

As soon as a potential customer walks in the store the thralls spring into action. "Can I help you? The awesomest most greatest thing I've ever seen is this NHP, it's so totally you. Did I tell you it's you? There's a discount. Yeah, all the other stuff in this store is garbage, substandard, I'm not supposed to let anybody know, but the NHP is the only legitimate thing we sell here."

BAM! Sales are up. For some reason. Must be them intrusive advertisements.

Of course, all that money spent oversaturating the market and buying off the media to hawk your shit has resulted in a substantial net loss. And it doesn't take long before people tire of the incessant stupidity of your commercials, if they pay any attention to them at all (you might even pause for a moment to reflect on how DVRs are making your job so difficult -- maybe it would be worth it to push some restricting guidelines on the cable industry). And now you have to defend your market space from bastards trying to outbid your payoffs -- damned vultures, you bribed those retailers fair and square.

The next NHP that comes along requires you to go even bigger. InaneCorp wants to see some actual profit this time, and since you assured them that the marketing done last time boosted consumer brand loyalty they ask you to work your magic again. The price will be higher, due to increasing 'development costs', but that's just how things work.

Bigger. More. Consume. Grow.

You decide to go all out. You find some bald guy to slap a logo on his fat head. You paste up posters at bus stops and on taxi cabs and in public restroom stalls. TRL gives your new product a twenty-minute sermonette/handjob delivered fresh from a teeny popstar fuckdoll. Tombstones plastered with splashy graphics, graffiti artists pissing your moronic logos in the ultimate commodification assrape of a typically defiant artform, cut-and-paste marketing kits sent to notable blogs. Dirigibles over sports arenas, collector's cups, phony websites cross-pollinated with automated text-messaging services, you're all about the synergy, baby.

It's never enough. Never enough to justify the ever-spiraling budgets or the fact that you're an empty husk of corporate greed and manipulative insipidity.

Eventually you're slash-and-burning swathes of rainforest to spell out the name of your next big thing for satellite images.

Buy Shit!

I'm not impressed with current marketing techniques. Knowing that the crapfest is going to become more prevalent in videogames just cues up my gag reflex and boosts my internal filters. I hardly notice ads anymore -- even the clever ones might register a laugh and then get purged from my system. In fact, I've noticed that trying to pay close attention to ads often makes me feel ill; Now that's conditioning.

Aggressive marketing is a blight, it is a mind-numbing pandemic, it skews the noise-to-signal ratio of useful information toward the noise end in a major way. I'm not against advertising one-hundred percent -- but I'm certainly against the wasteful and mendacious tidal wave of garbage that is slotted into every available media crevice.

We cannot expect a comfortable, supportive relationship between game companies and advertisers. Will we see design documents being vetted for product mentions?

Inevitability is often tossed around -- it's the excuse that people making stupid decisions use in order to justify those decisions to suckers.

Anybody know how I can get some ad revenue?

This post sponsored by InaneCorp

1 comment:

Thomas said...

You know, it's funny now that you bring it up: in the few advertising classes I took while getting my Comm degree, the professors were very gung ho about all kinds of obnoxious ad strategies--direct mail, sponsorships, etc. Tickled them pink. But when I pressed them, or actually read the textbook for information, the only conclusive evidence anyone seems to have about advertising is that it has to be out there. Nothing else about the ad matters--not how funny it is, or where you put it. The product just has to be somewhere in the public eye. The rest, as you've said, usually happens as sleight-of-hand somewhere.

I wonder, though, how long it'll be before "creative" marketing starts to seep through instead of glorified billboards. Will we have viral marketers in MMO's, chatting loudly about their "favorite" soda?