A clutter crisis indeed. The Persuaders, a Frontline documentary on advertising and how it has adapted and become what it is today, says it best. Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age states, “You stand in an elevator looking at advertising in the corner of the elevator car. And you go to play golf and you go to pick the ball up out of the cup, and there's an ad in the bottom of it. And you look up at the sky, and there's skywriting. And you look at a bus passing, and there's advertising.” And isn't it true? Every day we process upwards of 3,000 ads a day; with those kind of numbers, corporations are desperate to break through the “clutter” that they have created (The Persuaders). In order to market to us and hold our attention, they have to stand out from the rest, reach out to a new group and offer something new. Like I said, it is indeed a clutter crisis, one creating an urgent need to find new ways to market every day.
And they've found a way to do that, to break through the clutter and reach out to a different group of consumers. They've done this through video games. The PlayStation, the Xbox, the Wii... there's plenty to choose from, and many different consoles means many different games to sneak in an advertisement here, and a picture there. I only have experience with one console, the PlayStation 3, and I am witnessing first hand how Sony is becoming an advertiser friendly company.
Advertisements aren't found so much in PlayStations games, but in the online portion of the network called PlayStation®Home. This “Home” is an online realm where PlayStation users can interact with other online users, create their own apartment, and purchase their own mini-games such as mini golfing and pinball. Before, the Home was simply a place for a person to create an online sim and have fun, playing video games with other people just like any other gaming device. But then came the advertisers. Desperate to break through the every day clutter that advertising has created for itself, they have turned to video games.
For example, I recently saw a free mini-game that I could download in PlayStation®Home. But this game had a little something new included: presented by Sprint. In the past, it used to just be a video game. But it was now a video game presented by Sprint. Sprint is seen here trying to create a connection for the player, to brand itself into the video gaming realm and create a connection that wasn't there before.
And then I think, so what? I know that there are advertisements everywhere, and this further proves that point. None of this really bothers me, and in all reality it doesn’t keep me awake at night, but I’m not thinking of myself here; I’m thinking of my younger brother.
Zach is twelve, not really young anymore, but he is and always will be my little brother. I know that he’s not gullible and he knows fact from fiction; the thing that worries me though, is not only will he be told what to wear and how to act everyday through a TV screen, but now even now video games will be telling him to join the army after high school, and to drink Red Bull to be cool. What used to be an escape, a way to relax and get away from “the real world” has now become the act of placing yourself into a virtual world that mirrors your reality even in its capacity to persuade and sell to you.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not excluding myself from this category, because I know that when I was younger I was affected by all these things, and that I still am; advancements in technology and science are giving the media new ways to grab our attention every day, therefore I am being drawn in anew all the time. The difference for me though is that I’m just a little better at staying true to myself compared to five years ago. I was in that same position Zach is in now, always doing what was cool, what my friends were doing, but not always doing what I wanted to do. So I don’t feel unjustified in my anxiety revolving around my little brother.
These ads make me angry, and I believe they make me angry because they scare me. I mean think about it: there is now a whole new level of advertising and marketing techniques strictly for PlayStation®Home. It makes me feel the same way that an article in Signs of Life in the USA made me feel. The article, “If You Have a “Buy Button” in Your Brain, What Pushes It?”, by Sandra Blakeslee, is about neuromarketing and how marketers are looking for those “buy buttons” using brain imaging technology, “making it possible for companies to see more quickly and accurately what their customers want, like and feel that they need” (200). When I first read this article, I immediately thought of mindless zombies compulsively buying a new pair of socks every time a Nike commercial came on. However, as I got to thinking about it, I realized that this science and these eerie attempts at “getting inside of our heads” wasn't just ridiculous advertising, but that the ideas really frightened me. Figuring out why we buy what we buy, and trying to exploit that to create more effective commercials? That sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi book; that sounds scary.
When I look at why I feel this way, and why neuromarketing creeps me out, at first I'd say because it's just plain weird. I mean I can go onto the PlayStation website, click on an individual link for PlayStation®Home, and find the airplane game where Red Bull has its name plastered all over the sides of buildings and obstacles for a Red Bull airplane to fly between. Or play the latest shooting game presented to me by the US Army.
Are you kidding me? This, to me, is ridiculous. It's a video game, plain and simple, but it's being sponsored and branded by my cell phone company, and the television station that brings me Family Guy. See, right there; I'm already making connections between a television station and a game on the PlayStation®Home. That's exactly what marketers wanted me to do, because connecting a TV show that I watch and enjoy to a video game automatically makes me think that the game will be fun and enjoyable too. But despite that fact, there's nothing I can do to erase those “presented to you by” messages. So sure, I can think that they are stupid, and they can make me angry; but then I wonder why they are there.
I try answering this question, but of course I come up short. I don't really know why marketers thought it would make sense to try and sell me a telephone service through an ad on a video game. But the fact that they are there reflects the nature in which advertisers work. It makes them out to seem desperate to catch our attention, to break through the clutter, in every way possible. It worries me because if marketers feel like they have to prey on the younger generation by tapping into video games, a direct hit for most, it feels as if they have sunk to a level that they had not breached before; a low level, not a new high.
Marketers have found a way to directly reach out to my younger brother through his video games. He plays them because they’re fun, because he's one of the countless young boys who simply enjoy them; his motives are as innocent as twelve year old boys should be, but marketing and advertising have turned this action into something much more sinister. Video games are becoming just another way to persuade and control us. Little kids are malleable, shaped by what they see and who they look up to, and corporations have set out to capture their attentions right out of the gate. It scares me because I have a younger brother who I want to grow up knowing he is cool no matter what everyone around him says. I want to be able to say that he wants those new pair of shoes just because he likes the color blue, not because he saw an ad for a new pair of Nikes playing before a game demo on his PlayStation. I want him to grow up staying true to himself, and not being ashamed of being different, of being who he wants to be.
I haven't set out
to prove that all corporations are evil, and that they want our minds to turn us
into consuming zombies. I realize that these are all just products of
advancements in technology and science. I know that marketing and persuasion was
bound to reach the virtual gaming realm eventually, but that doesn't mean I have
to be okay with it, or any less surprised. I find it frightening that our
society feels the need to market in a fantasy world, regardless of the fact that
very real people are involved in it. It's frightening that marketers will go to
any means to sell and to catch consumer’s attentions and desires. But every
cloud also has a silver lining. I find it encouraging that they have turned to
video games; if they are pushed to that level of desperation, it must mean that
we are fighting them off and adapting to their advancements on the lower levels,
right? If they have lost their ability to hold our attention with their
commercials and their magazine campaigns, so much so that they are now turning
to the younger generations through video games and game consoles, then it gives
me hope that we are learning how to defend ourselves from their “charms”. And
even now, Zach agrees with me; he thinks the commercials on PlayStation®Home are
downright ridiculous and pointless. It makes me smile that even after seeing a
new pair of Nikes on a game demo, maybe, just maybe, he'll end up skipping the
Nikes completely and buying a new pair of shoes just because he likes the color
Blakeslee, Sandra. “If You Have a “Buy Button” in Your Brain, What Pushes It?” Signs of Life in the
USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2009. 197-201. Print.
Dobson, Jason. "Red Bull Charges into PS Home as First Major Sponsor." Joystiq. Web. 17 Nov. 2010.
The Persuaders. 2004. Narr. Douglas Rushkoff. Frontline. PBS Online. Web. 17 Nov. 2009.
Ogden, Gavin. "Advertisers Abandoning PlayStation Home? | Edge Magazine." Edge Magazine - Video Games, Game News, and Gaming Jobs | Edge Magazine.. Web. 17 Nov. 2010.
Copyright 2010, Jordan Harvey