When’s the last time you clicked on a banner or Facebook ad? Or responded to a spam e-mail? For the former, maybe you do it once or twice a year. For the latter, hopefully never — or, at the very least, you did it once, realized your mistake, and never did it again.
Every day, Internet users are inundated with marketing messages, some believable (“Sign up for our game now and get one month free!”), some not so much (“Make $5,000 monthly with a simple home business!”). For me, it’s gotten to the point where I pretty much view any kind of marketing messaging with a jaundiced eye, even the ones that come from what I know to be legitimate businesses and reputable companies.
I think the years — and for some of us, decades — of experience dealing with these kind of half-truths and outright falsehoods has hardened us to all the most direct and easy-to-verify marketing messages, like the “one month free” example. Every time there’s a new game coming out, or a significant expansion to an old game, the responses from the community to less quantifiable claims are easily predictable:
- We have great PvP! (Yeah, right)
- We’ve fixed error X! (Sure, you did)
- Account security is a top priority (Then why did I get hacked?)
- Our F2P game isn’t pay-to-win! (Bull)
…and so on. “Gamer” and “cynic” have become roughly analogous terms.
We can attribute some of the cynicism regarding new MMOs, and the hype associated with them, as companies rehashing old concepts that we’re already tired of, or that are done better by other games, and trying to pass them off as new. But even if a game does do everything different and wonderful, would we open our minds and hearts enough to believe it?
And why doesn’t our skepticism regarding video games, and other Internet phenomenon, bleed over as much to other forms of advertising? I don’t watch a luxury car ad and think, “I bet it isn’t really comfortable” or an ad for a movie and think, “I bet it isn’t really action-packed.” Sure, they might exaggerate their product’s quality, but I rarely feel like I’m being outright scammed.
(Unless it’s one of those Quibids.com ads. Stay the holy living hell away from those “penny auction” sites, they’re scams of the highest degree.)
I think companies that market primarily through the Internet, especially gaming companies, have to adapt their messaging to take the “new mass market” into consideration. Without sounding too elitist, I think that people who use a computer regularly are smarter than people who don’t. Smarter people resist advertising more than stupid people. That’s why we still get spam — because there are a few idiots who keep believing it, thus ruining everyone’s inboxes in the process.
More facts and less marketing-speak are an obvious place to start. More than ever these days, we can play games before making a purchase decision, whether in the form of demos, free trials, or betas, so when a game touts itself as having “great PvP” or “a robust crafting experience,” it’s easier to call a company on its bullshit. Once you’re seen as a “liar,” it’s hard to win players back.
This is where I think ArenaNet excelled in the buildup to Guild Wars 2. Lengthy and numerous developer posts that explained their systems by the people designing them, rather than just a few canned marketing messages, helped lay bare these crucial elements of the game. Hint: If a company doesn’t want to tell you how its product works, be instantly wary.
Not everyone takes the time to read a long blog post, though, much less every blog post about every part of a game. That’s what the more “flashy” kinds of marketing, from video trailers to flashing ad banners are meant to do — reach a wider audience, but in doing so, offer fewer solid information.
But are these really effective? The first step with any business is to get people to notice your product. Flashy, eye-popping stuff does that. And sometimes, that’s enough. But if the Internet community, and especially gamers, are really as cynical as we think they are, is it enough to just pop up in their faces with a “Click here to find out more!” ad or e-mail? Do you need more info, even if it’s just in the ad itself?
I’m digging the current Rift ad that shows Scott Hartsman displaying a forum post asking for more land to explore, which is followed up by the message that, well, there’s more land to explore in the expansion. That’s a better ad, in my opinion, than the earlier “We’re not in Azeroth anymore!” ad that only seemed to invite scorn from WoW steadfasts, even as it was trying to feed off of the anti-WoW sentiment. (Even the latter group looked down on the early incarnation of the game as a WoW clone of the highest degree.) I even prefer it to the other one that just showed a bunch of rifts and mass combat. That all looked cool, but didn’t really tell me much besides, “There might be a lot of people on your screen doing stuff.” Perhaps Trion realizes that Storm Legion is going to appeal to the existing player base, or those who tried the game and left, and therefore isn’t trying to reach a market that’s unfamiliar with the game and needs lots of glitz to be drawn in.
When I was at Press Pass, my boss drove me crazy whenever I was tasked with coming up with copy for an ad. He wanted loads of details, bullet points, and all kinds of general text that I felt cluttered up the visuals. I’m starting to come over to his way of thinking a bit more now, though most of the ads we did were for expansion sets for our TCG, which appealed more to existing fans than to potential new players, as is the case with the Rift expansion.
Then again, as the old saying goes, “A person is smart; people are stupid.” Maybe all you need to draw people in is a pretty picture — preferably one with boobs. (“Click here, m’lord!”) You won’t get the discerning skeptic, but gullible people’s money is worth just as much, and, with their loose pocketbooks, maybe they’ll contribute more to your bottom line anyway. Or maybe there’s just a very clear division between the two types of marketing — pretty pictures and gaudy banner ads for the masses, and long-form dev blogs for the diehards. And maybe companies aren’t really interested in converting one into the other.