Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Made a violent video game? Then why not let the Advertising Standards Authority do your marketing for you?

Not for the first time, the Advertising Standards Agency has banned the advertising campaign for a violent video game. On this occasion, the Xbox game Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. According to the ASA, the poster was "graphic and too shocking to be seen in an untargeted medium". The print and TV ads were banned too.

If you want to know the exact plot of the game, it can be found here. If not, suffice it to say, it involves two reluctantly co-operating amoral antiheroes - a mercenary and a "medicated psychopath" - embarking on a killing spree. It's the kind of premise you could easily imagine being behind one of Hollywood's more extreme action movies - not so much a 'buddy movie', perhaps, as a 'bloody movie'.

The thing is, though, mightn't being banned have been the whole point of the ad campaign?

Let's say you're the game's producer, Eidos, or you're whoever's been commissioned to market Kane & Lynch: what kind of ad campaign might people who like violent, extreme video games respond to?

Not exactly a difficult question, is it?

Hence poster images implying torture and featuring the boast, "Grittier and nastier in tone than anything you've seen before, the violence here is visceral, brutal and very, very real."

As for ASA sanctions; well, what stronger way could there be to back up a statement like that than having the ads banned? Oh, and should the national press then pass this news on to your potential customers (and it almost certainly will), well, so much the better, frankly.

Your marketing strategy in a nutshell, then: produce 'shocking' ad > ad gets banned by ASA > game receives a) additional free publicity (literally free - the ASA can't even fine you), b) an endorsement of its claims towards previously unseen levels of violence, and c) an additional outlaw cachet in the eyes of its target audience. Job done. And thank you, ASA.

Granted, aside from banning ads and generating bad publicity, the ASA hasn't the power to do much more to an offending company than - as it has done with Eidos - "advise them to seek guidance from the CAP Copy Advice team before publishing future, similar non-broadcast material". And how or if those powers might, realistically, be improved upon, I have no idea. But if the ASA really wants to discourage violent ads for games like Kane & Lynch, rather than achieving the reverse, more than likely it's going to have to arrive at some much more sophisticated methods than simply banning them.

After all, when your game is based on the, erm, philosophy that "this world is separated into two kinds of people: asses and badasses," good publicity probably wasn't ever really what you were after.

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