Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thoughts on Advertising

This is actually a topic that I've been thinking about for a while now, going back to a conversation I had at with Corvus Elrod at his "moving to the West Coast" party. We were discussing advertising in games, and generated a lot of interesting points. As a storyteller, it is anathema for him to see anything that pulls a player out of the game experience, and have them thinking about products in the real world. I agree with this, to a point. When one thinks of the rise of casual games, and the free product business model, it has to be conceded that advertising is one of the main revenue streams (and therefore driver of) the games industry. Armor Games was a company that I though had nothing but cheesy, vapid fare, until I was given a disk by the people of the Indie Games Showcase. Some of their offerings, particularly in the puzzle category (which I usually avoid), blew my mind with their innovations. This company, which is producing quality (though flash) games, is completely supported by the ads on their site (as far as I can tell). 

However, I just bought a new cell phone (a Google G1, in fact, and I love it), and got my first telemarketing call on it a few days afterward. Rather than encouraging me to buy whatever product they were hocking, all that call did was remind me to add my number to the "Do Not Call" list. So, the real question here is, why don't I mind unsolicited advertising next to games I play online, or even in my email, but there's a national response to telemarketing and spamming?

One word: Interference.

If advertising interferes with what you're trying to do, then it's a problem. Calling my phone, or sending me email, wastes time that I would otherwise spend doing other things. Interrupt me, and you're not hooking me as a customer. If I'm already on a website (or watching TV, or at some sort of sporting event), I'm an audience member already. If I happen to look at an ad that is up while I'm waiting for the next play, that's not interfering with what I'm trying to do, it's not breeding any resentment in me. In fact, if it's entertaining enough, I might even be glad it's there. Just look at how many funny/amazing commercials have been posted, by random people, up on YouTube. I readily admit that I would not buy Brawndo if they hadn't gone with an over-the-top, hilarious ad campaign.

Personally, I have no problem with advertising. In its most basic form, it's just trying to get you to buy something. That's fine, if we didn't buy things, we wouldn't really have an economy. Buying things drives innovation, and makes our lives easier. I even don't have a problem with targeted advertising. Some people say it's an invasion of privacy, and it is slightly, but personally, I'd rather not be pitched Depends while I'm checking my email. I see nothing wrong with companies collecting information about buying habits, customer satisfaction and whatnot. It's all supposed to make things more efficient and convenient.

However, if advertising gets too pervasive, too omnipotent, then we have a problem.

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