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Avatar-Based Marketing 52

hempman writes "This article (which I wrote!) from the current issue of Harvared Business Review offers a new perspective on marketing real-world products in virtual worlds to virtual consumers with the aim of generating real-world revenue. It examines the frontier of marketing. Although companies are beginning to see the potential of marketing in 3D games and virtual worlds, it's important that they think not just about the 'where' of this new market but also about the 'who.' That is, when marketing in virtual worlds, do you target the flesh-and-blood user who controls the real-world wallet? Or do you target the wallet-wielding consumer's avatar, which likely represents a powerful but hidden aspect of his personality and could influence his purchases -- or at least provide a window into his hidden desires and preferences?"
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Avatar-Based Marketing

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:02PM (#15503425) Journal
    Only to be prompted with a the 1.11 patch. I wait for it to install and then get into the game with my level 55 priest. I summon my undead horse but for some reason it's no longer called an undead horse, it's an "Undead Ford Mustang." Oh well, I can live with small changes to make my game cheaper.

    I ride out of town and instantly am killed by a level 60 alliance rogue. Wait a minute, was he wearing a Starter jacket? And for some reason, instead of scrambling everything he's trying to say to me, he's just repeating "Do the Dew! To the EXTREME! etc."

    My priest trainer is no longer a priest trainer but instead a "Scientologist Enlightener" that offers me an application for Scientology. Well, those high in-game ad bidders should make this game free, right?

    I suddenly realize I'm no longer using Traveler's Backpacks but instead have "Jansport Bookbags." My alt's Boots of Swiftness are now "Nike Airs." In certain instances, you don't kill monsters, you kill Democrats and Ragnaros has been replaced with Hillary Clinton.

    My chracter's rings have all been renamed "Stones of Jostens (GooooOOO Jostens!)" and everytime I disembark from a zeppelin or boat, the goblin tells me "Thank you for floating United Airlines!" and I realize why "ted" is painted all over the boats. My engineer can now make T-mobile phones for players with personalized ring tones because they're too annoying to be contained only in real life so let's add them to the virtual world!

    I no longer "mail" items but instead have to visit the Fedex shop in major cities and stand in long lines. Oh, and when I get the mail, a huge AOL symbol appears on my screen with the "You've Got Mail" soundbite. And I no longer have a repair bill as long as I purchase my AllState equipment insurance at the bank in each city.

    What's going on!? Well, at least the log-in server is stable ... right? Then again, it doesn't really matter how stable it is if everyone stops using it.

    So ... tell me why this is a good thing again?

    I once read an article on how to market to everyone--even poor people--by selecting key traits of their demographics. It's essentially profiling a user of an already existing product and identifying them as a key possible consumer for your product. And it makes me f*cking sick to see it so far widespread that it's going to happen in freaking video games which we're probably going to end up paying for anyways. Don't try to cover up your attitude towards the rest of mankind. It's evident that you lack a soul and will stop at nothing to market a product ... whether it require you to destroy communities, communication, the environment or even a kid's gaming experience.

    From the article:
    Advertising has always targeted a powerful consumer alter ego: that hip, attractive, incredibly popular person just waiting to emerge (with the help of the advertised product) from an all-too-normal self.
    To which I reply, you make me sick.
    • My sentiments exactly -- I always try to buy the unmarketed (or at least less-marketed) products [unless it's inferior] just because I hate marketing so much. I'm sorry -- I hate marketing METHODS so much. I have no problems with marketing telling me the facts, but marketers seem to be all too geared toward fact/reality-twisting.
      Dear marketers: you're going to ruin my game experience to plaster "BEST BUY" or "FedEx" all over?... I already know Best Buy and FedEx exist, throwing it all over my world when I
    • While your sample is a bit extreme, is it that different then advertising for ingame services ingame? I used to play DAoC, back before housing. I had a LGM weapon smith, I had a huge stock pile of weapons to sell, but no way to inform people. So I had a friend who loved going on raids, I gave him a 5% commission for each person who contacted me and said they heard about it from him. So he would go on raids and advertise (in character, it was a RP server) for my weapon sales.

      Like whys for a messaging service
    • Reminds me of the late Bill Hicks where he onced asked a crowd if there were any advertisers/marketing people present, to which a few people responded yes. He then promptly told them to kill themselves, they of course laughed since this was he standup routine after all. He then reiterated, seriously, please kill yourself, you are the fucking scum of the earth. It was pretty damn funny. But anyway, I have to agree with you, these people make me sick.

      just lending my support
    • Now put your fictional scenario into a game setting like Grand Theft Auto, and it sounds like a great addition to making the game more realistic. If I'm wandering around a massively multi-player urban cityscape, I wouldn't mind if I'm doing it in Nike's with a Starter jacket on. As games get more realistic, it's not surprising that real products are making their way into them.

      You see this stuff in movies all the time. Does it really break the story when Bond rides around in a BMW? No, because that's what I'
      • Does it really break the story when Bond rides around in a BMW?

        Yes. In "Tomorrow Never Dies" the quantity of pointless BMW's floating around and their general obtrusiveness greatly decreases movie immersion. It wrecked it for me.

        Not surprising. An unnoticed ad is an ineffective ad. You're dreaming if you think advertisers are willing to be unobtrusive.


        Modern marketing - a great substitute for a quality product.

    • ...and just as you're finishing up your ad-ridden tour, a blonde guy in chainmain and a shirt with a golden ankh appears, tosses you a bubblegum-machine ankh pendant, and says "Hey, try Ultima Online. We still don't have in-game ads. ...I mean, not yet." And then that Everquest chick appears and beats him to pulp, and you realise it's wiser to log off before she starts her spiel.


      (Okay, I was just kind of excited when I saw the "Avatar-Based Marketing" headline. Sorry. Got a bit carried away.)

    • While your example is VERY extreme, I wrote an article about how marketers might actually try to cross over into the Fantasy MMO world. While their products make sense in a modern day themed game, fantasy games offer a distinct challenge.

      You can read my article here [blogspot.com]. While it will inevitably be intrusive in some shape or form, at least they can make it entertaining.

    • I've used it before, I'll use it again.

      By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself.
      No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can.
      Kill yourself.
      Seriously though, if you are, do.
      Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers.
      Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, y

    • I failed to mention when I posted my self-promoting item that I was looking for feedback to my argument -- and I sure got it! But I'm not just interested in whether "avatar-based marketing" is a force for good or evil. I'm also interested in whether it even makes sense! // So, while I laughed out loud at your clever tirade, I'm more interested in your thoughts concerning a) whether companies can successfully (and they won't be successful if they generate more ill will than good) use the idea of avatar-based
  • by aftk2 ( 556992 ) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:10PM (#15503491) Homepage Journal
    You target the avatar - I mean, how could you even do it otherwise? If I'm playing a fantasy MMORPG, which am I more likely to do, for my character.

    Purchase some super elite sword for a couple bucks?


    Purchase Pepsi, because I drink Pepsi in real life.

    Now, I know this goes into more detail - who am I targetting? When I advertise the virtual items that can be purchased, am I making a commercial that might appeal to me as a person, or my Half-Elf as a character? Or something. I think the obvious answer is that you simply need to communicate the value that the item has, regarding the world in which it exists. If I'm playing a fantasy game, let me know that this is a kickass sword, whether through its abilities or just its appearance. If I'm playing a social game online, let me know that these virtual flowers might just woo the avatar of some woman with whom I'm playing. Communicate the purpose of the items in question, and I think the marketing takes care of itself.
  • It's worth being modded down troll for, but I believe you mean the HARVARD Business Review.

    I've read the Harvared Business Review, and well, it's worth buying just for the pictures.
  • I gave up trying to get published in the Harvard Business Review. Now I send my articles to the Harvared Business Review -- it's a lot easier.
  • Inevitable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Raven ( 30575 ) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:20PM (#15503592) Homepage
    Games in modern settings are going to get advertising. It's just gonna happen, at least to some of them. However, games that are not in modern settings won't. Also, very simple. No idiot is gonna put a Nike in WoW or a Ford ad in System Shock. In games within their own alternate universe, it makes no sense to advertise, because it would only annoy. Games set in the real world are the market for this type of advertising. Historical games might go for historical ads... I wouldn't mind seeing an old Coca Cola sign on a shop set in WWII. Nor would I mind seeing a Ford ad on a billboard.

    My only request is that the ad art be distressed to match the environment. This means that (for example) a billboard ad should have some stains on it. A poster on a wall should have water marks, dirt and grime (if that fits the setting at least). In other words, the ad should not look artificially clean so that it looks out of place. In a clean settings, sure... but in a realistic setting, with graffiti, grimy walls, etc, it looks ugly when the ad itself is artificially clean like a browser popup ad.

    Summary: Fantasy ads bad, so they won't happen. Realistic ads fine, and we definitely will. Even historical ads are ok, if historical ad content is used (or historical LOOKING ads). And ads should fit the environment, via dirt/damage decals.

    • No idiot is gonna put a Nike in WoW or a Ford ad in System Shock.

      Perhaps but how about idiots who get paid to do so?

    • Summary: Fantasy ads bad, so they won't happen

      dude, if I could purchase a 1-Hand Blunt weapon with a delay below 25 and damage above 30 for under 15K plats for my EQ Paladin, I would not care in the least that it resembled a Pepsi Can on a Stick. If that bothers your "gaming experience," you are free not to group with me.

      And if Citgo wants to pay me to put their logo on my breastplate while I stand buffing the crowds in front of the Main Bank on the Plane of Knowledge on a Saturday Night, I am very much op
    • I can think of a couple of games that actually improved the experience of playing because they did this sort of advertising so well. The best one was Need for Speed Underground. Everywhere you look, there's billboards, signs, etc... for various stores. But they were in the right places (like downtown, not in the posh upscale neighborhood). It made the game feel more realistic, like "Wow, I know all those stores. I must be really driving at breakneck speeds!" subliminal messages were playing in your head. Li
    • Summary: Fantasy ads bad, so they won't happen.
      I wish I could believe that, but as history has shown us time and again, marketing types tend not to be all that clear on the meaning of the word "bad."
    • Question you should be asking is not "does it makes sense to put adds here" and not even "do these adds detract from the game" but "will it make money". If money gained from having product placement surpasses money lost to disgruntled customers then it will happen.
    • It's too late. Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee had Sobe machines that you could buy energy drinks from to restore your health. Made no damn sense.
  • Defeat the evil Hamburglar and you will be rewarded with the Pepsi Powerup! Invincibility magic for 10minutes when used.
  • hempman writes:
    "This article (which I wrote!) from the current issue of Harvared Business Review [...]"

    You don't say?
  • So they're going to market lingerie to all those 'women' playing night elves? I somehow doubt that the characters that people play represent their true personalities.
    • Last thing I need in a game is lingerie ads. While I may play young sexy female with a sniper rifle in some games, I'm just a fat and ulgy [creimer.ws] male gamer in real life. Besides, I hate G-strings. :P
      • With most long video games, I usually prefer to play as the female character if there's one available. If I'm going to be staring at a character's derriere for hours on end, said derriere may as well belong to a female.
        • Exactly! When I was at Atari testing UT2004, I always picked a female character since everyone else picked a male character. Whenever someone got taken out by a sexy female with a sniper rifle, everyone knew it was me. To add insult to the injury, I would play under the name of "Sunny Day" from Backyard Baseball. If my assistant was also in the game, he would the name "Abner Doubleplay" (Sunny's sidekick in BB) and we would work together. I can't tell you how many testers wanted to kill Sunny and Abner. :)
  • I remember people were pretty upset back in beta when it was introduced. Even though it's tucked away in the video settings menu!
  • Because targeting the player himself opens up all sorts of nasty data privacy issues. Could you trust Blizzard/Squeenix/Codemasters not to sell/provide your registration info to in game marketers?
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday June 09, 2006 @01:59PM (#15503927) Homepage
    I suspect this concept will hit the "excessively annoying" level before it hits the "profitable" level. There [there.com] tried this; you could pay real money to buy branded clothing for your avatar. It was a flop.

    Next bad advertising idea: discount widescreen TV displays which, when running 4:3 format content, fill the blank screen area with ads.

    (On an unrelated note, there's supposed to be a blank line between the paragraphs above, but the new, extra-complicated CSS based Web 2.0 Slashdot implementation is broken. Bulleted lists are even more broken.)

    • Re: b0rked formatting:

      (On an unrelated note, there's supposed to be a blank line between the paragraphs above, but the new, extra-complicated CSS based Web 2.0 Slashdot implementation is broken. Bulleted lists are even more broken.)

      The fix for it eating the first p tag between lines is to start your post with a p tag, before any text.

      You also have to do it before any line that changes its indentation, such as when you end a blockquote. This post, for example, starts with a p tag, and there's also on

    • Those displays already exist. The diner in my hometown has several of them. They're 16:9 displays which have two 4:3 input sources split to the left and right sides*. On the left side of the screen is a ballgame, CNN, or something else. On the right side of the screen is a PowerPoint-style slideshow of advertisements for local merchants. I'm sure the diner doesn't have to pay for the TVs, and they probably get some commission on the ads they agree to run.

      * Yes, this causes the video to be stretched ver
  • Ok, so one of my first degrees was in Business (Marketing and Sales), and I used to design games back in the stone age.

    I think that the most effective advertising online is as follows:

    1. Humorous - If someone tries to sell me Coca-Cola while I'm online in say WoW, I might hate it, and In The Real World (ITRW) might even start to dislike Coke and choose Pepsi. But if they were to have the Coca-Cola symbol only it was Coca-Noca-Cola but otherwise the same, that's kind of funny, so it might give me a positive
  • I guess that with proper artwork some stores and services, such as Weapon Masters [weaponmasters.com], e-Gold [egold.com] and Garb the World [garbtheworld.com], plus flower delivery and some kinds of foods and restaurants (but nothing in the "fast-" category), could be adversised without much trouble inside medieval settings. But other than the above, I think it would be very difficult.

    PS: I'm not affiliated with the above sites. I just happen to use them. :)
  • Just ask yourselve how many people in your audience are in your audience because they tried to escape from ad burdened entertainment like tv, radio, movies.

    Let the ads in and loose your audience. Ask tv execs what happened to their young male audience.

    Now I do realize that this is temporary state. Just as the net is slowly being taken over by the sheep who love brands (myspace) this too will happen in games. For games aimed squarly at the average consumer ads are okay, they will swallow them as they do el

  • Remember when you went to a movie, you might see a short news reel or a cartoon and then you saw the movie you paid to see.

    Now it has gotten so bad that if you show up early to find a good seat, you'll suffer through either a series of slides of local advertisements or a hollywood "behind the scenes" documentary. Then you suffer through 15 minutes of movie advertisements and paid advertisements denouncing movie piracy. I often forget which movie I came to see.

    So I've almost completely quit going to movie

  • We already have "Avatar-Based Marketing". It's called SPAM.
  • To those people here claiming that "unobtrusive advertising would be okay". You're either dreaming or in advertising/marketing yourself.

    The whole point of an ad is to communicate a message. If you haven't noticed it then it hasn't worked. Doesn't matter if it's in context or not. Only ineffective advertising is unobtrusive i.e. pointless.

    The scientific evidence for subliminal advertising is close to nil.

    90% of modern mass media marketing is nothing more than an arms race to get mindshare. That's why a

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"