I remember watching Minority Report a few years back, and having a friend say “Yeah right man there’s no way they can do that” in response to the extremely targeted 3D advertising ubiquitous in the film’s scenery. My response, almost discarded at the time, was simple, “They will soon.” Advertising equals dollars, and after all that’s what makes the world go ‘round. Once confined to billboards and TV spots, they now own the internet and are on any shred of free digital space they can find. But, as I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed they’re starting to gradually take up a larger part of our digital lives with every passing day. There is, of course, been blatant product placement and merchandising tie-ins in TV and games, but they don’t interrupt the shows I watch or the games I play, so I can forgive that. We’ve learned to live with TV commercials, going so far as to DVR a show so we can fast forward through them, so now they advertise during the show in huge, fat, view obstructing fashion. It’s been a long time since standard internet pop-ups bothered us too – most browsers automatically kill those. So advertisers have been forced to get creative.
Let me give you an example – I was over on 1up earlier, and I clicked on a trailer link for BloodRayne: Betrayal. While the movies bombed, the games were alright, so I wanted to see what was new. Now videos sometimes take a while so I went into this with intent of being patient and giving it some time. Here’s what I was treated to: first was an overall slow loading page, where advertisements on the top and side bars loaded before any actual content did. Second came the video player through which the trailer would be seen. Once the video started, it wasn’t actually the trailer for BloodRayne at all, but a 15-second unskippable commercial for Comedy Central. This in itself is usually enough for me to cancel loading the video and not watch it altogether these days, lest I put a hole in my LCD in a desperate attempt to strike the advertiser. But today I let it go only to find that there was still more advertising to be done. Now covering 90% of the video player (which was a couple seconds into the Comedy Central ad), a video window pops up for Season of the Witch. If you are wondering, by the way, it’s out on Blu-ray and DVD 6/28.
I’m not blaming 1up, I read their stuff all the time and will continue to, but it’s just an example of a widespread epidemic. I’m not exaggerating though. Here’s a screenshot. A video ad pre-empting an ad before the video I wanted to watch. Then, the pièce de résistance: “The video you are trying to watch is currently unavailable.” Pure excellence. So where does this all end?
Bad news, it doesn’t. Microsoft’s Kinect will be the newest platform of annoyance. In 2012, they’ll be introducing NUads (Native User-interface Ads), a form of interactive advertising. For instance, during a commercial, a user can say “Xbox Tweet” to automatically tweet about the brand to all of their followers. “Xbox More” will send you more information, and “Xbox Near Me” will bring up a list of local retailers. Microsoft’s Mark Kroese heralds the arrival of NUads with flowery prose to try and get us excited about it on the Microsoft Advertising blog. He notes that it “transforms traditional, linear TV advertising into an interactive experience by using the voice-and gesture-control of Kinect for Xbox 360.” The goal of this service, according to him, is to “break down the barriers between consumers and content on the TV screen.” I’ve never met anyone who actively tweets about their favorite brands, but maybe it’s just because NUads doesn’t exist yet to allow them to become brand extensions for further advertising. Microsoft has a much happier phrase for that of course – “Social Advocacy.” Kroese also highlights how users can use real time voting and give feedback for advertisements. One thing reported by Gamasutra and others that Kroese omits in his laud of the program is that ads will also be embedded in the dashboard and in-game as well. The second this interrupts gameplay of any sort for me I am done.
Perhaps I’m being too tough on this and it won’t be as big of an intrusion as I’m thinking it will be. I suppose if it doesn’t interfere with gameplay it really won’t bother me all that much. What actually bothers me more is the claim that this is a revolutionary thing that will “unlock the incredible potential in interactive TV” with such gusto and unmitigated chutzpah. What advantage will Xbox users gain from this? What about those who pay for an Xbox Live Gold subscription? Will their payment shield them from the ads? While this is great for Microsoft to court advertisers and drive their own revenue streams, no matter how you cut it, it doesn’t seem like a game changer to the players to me.