Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Ethics of Advergaming 

The use of videogames as advertising media is a new trend that is gaining a lot of momentum. GameDev.net has just posted an interesting article on the topic:

To reach kids and teens to promote Disneyland's 50th anniversary this year, Walt
Disney Co. will use one of the hottest — and most controversial — gimmicks in
the media business: "advergaming." Advergaming is when companies put ad messages in Web-based or video games. Sometimes the entire game amounts to a virtual commercial for a TV show or product. Sometimes advertisers sponsor games; sometimes they buy ad space integrated into them.

But ad critics such as Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital democracy decry
them as "digital infomercials" that blur the lines between content and commercials and often collect data on consumers playing the games. "These are not just harmless games. It's part of the brainwashing of America," Chester says.

Forrest Research predicts advergaming will grow into a $1 billion business
this year. As marketers try to target kids and elusive Gen Y consumers, Madison
Avenue is waking up to the fact that Webwise younger consumers like video games — and disdain pop-ups, banner ads and other less-subtle forms of online
advertising. And rather than get a kid's attention for just 30 seconds with a TV
commercial, advergames can capture them for minutes or hours.

Ethical issues will obviously come out of advergaming. One of them is that it’s getting increasingly difficult to determine whether we are being exposed to ads or to “content”. With TV ads for example, we usually can differentiate main programs and ads. Advertisers are however increasingly inserting marketing messages into the programs themselves, like with a cereal box left very visibly on a table.

Watching TV is a passive activity as opposed to the immersion of gaming. The active interaction with advergaming then has a tremendous marketing power, as well as much mass manipulation potential…

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