When Advertising Attacks: Marketing to the Lowest Common Denominator

“THIS hurts you.” -Harbinger, Mass Effect 2

I recently began playing Dragon Age: Origins. No, that isn’t a typo, I don’t mean DA2. I just started Origins (if being some 30 hours in can be considered “just started”) because when the game was released, it was released to a campaign of really stupid, and just plain insulting, advertising. My readers, I present to you, the trailer entitled “Violence”:

I would have been interested in the game by virtue of it being a BioWare RPG. Unfortunately, this trailer, with a Marilyn Manson song over a fantasy setting (WHAT) and blood being sprayed everywhere like it’s God of War (or way worse, Splatterhouse) made me scratch my head. It was playing up violence, gore, and a sex scene that probably took up 60 seconds of total game time. I was immediately put off by the trailer and decided not to pick up the game. It makes me wonder who they (presumably EA and not BioWare, right? BioWare can do no wrong, right?) were trying to market Dragon Age to. Because let’s face it, the average gamer is an adult. A grown-up. Most of us have advanced beyond the point of being beckoned to play a game based on the promise of fountains of blood and lots and lots of sex (there’s still more than in most games, but it’s all pretty PG-13). Most gamers don’t want to be painted as horny losers who salivate at the sight of digitized blood (even if some of us are, that’s not how we want to be seen!). Yet EA has proven time and again that they don’t think very highly of their consumers. If they’re advertising to the kind of person who buys it based on this kind of trailer, should we really be surprised that there’s a fringe minority getting upset about the gay romance options in the sequel?

Stupid ads send me into a Reb Brown screaming frenzy.

Fast forward a couple of years when I’ve recovered from the insulting marketing and I discover just how phenomenally inappropriate it was to set a lot of those scenes to a “YEAH THE OLD ULTRA-VIOLENCE, PHWOAAAAR” music video. The trailer did the game an immense disservice. Many of the scenes in the trailer were from emotionally charged moments, some of which are the results of agonizing choices. It also seems to suggest that the game is relentlessly grimdark (while it’s pretty dark, it’s not without good-old fashioned levity in the face of danger). And in actuality its tone isn’t that far removed from the likes of WarCraft (the strategy game); it just has a “darker”, bloodier aesthetic.

This is far from the only idiotic advertising we’ve seen, though. And honestly it’s nothing new. This article in fact takes some inspiration from Martin Cirulis’ article in Computer Gaming World back in the ’90s entitled What’s The Deal with Sick Ads? For a memorable snippet of that time period, this was the time when BLOOD was being advertised by…a guy sitting in a bathtub full of blood. Ok, so BLOOD was an ultraviolent (if very tongue-in-cheek) shooter, but it was hardly the only stupid ad of the time. There was also a rather infamous Neverwinter Nights ad that ran in the dank pages of Maxim and featured a half-naked elf lady wearing seashells and a crab(?)who probably wasn’t in the game. It’s another case of “what audience are you trying to reach?” Again, marketing and the devs aren’t always working hand in hand but BioWare? You’re better than that. At least I like to imagine you are.

Now, EA managed to trump the Dragon Age ad with the Dante’s Inferno advertisements, but man, did they take the cake on stupid, offensive ads with Dead Space 2 or what? “Your mom will hate it”. Oh really, EA? The mom that took me to see the Alien re-release? I don’t believe you’ve ever met my mother. In any case, it’s an advertisement that makes gamers and developers look juvenile. I was in the built-in audience for Dead Space, being I liked the first one and all, and you guys had to go and make me cancel my preorder because I didn’t want to fork over my money to pay the people who were responsible for your god-awful ad campaign.

See, when they resort to this kind of crap they’re only hurting themselves. I don’t like the feeling of being insulted, being pandered to, or being expected to like something because I’m in a certain demographic.

For a comparison with the above ad, let’s take a look at the previous year’s Fallout 3 ad, which I loved. It pretty much perfectly sets the tone for the game: dark, satirical, but humorous. The violence is set to a ’40s swing tune and is very indicative of what you get when you buy the game.

Now that gets the point across without insulting you. Unfortunately, I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m not going to bore you with more advertisements. You’ll know them when you see them.

For an excellent video on a similar subject, please watch Extra Credits: An Open Letter to EA Marketing

9 Responses to “When Advertising Attacks: Marketing to the Lowest Common Denominator”
  1. Sebastian Force says:

    It’s pretty much just EA.

    That’s not only my thoughts, I refer you to my supporting argument:


    I can’t put it any better than they did.

    • Chad M. says:

      EA isn’t the only guilty part, they’ve just been pretty consistently stupid and clueless of late. I cited the Extra Credits video in the article, they make a great point about EA’s descent in crapness.

  2. Martin Watts says:

    Great article Chad and I couldn’t agree anymore with you. I imagine the DA: Origins advertisement was probably intended to make the game look more “mainstream” than your typical RPG to trick people into buying it. EA can be pretty silly when they want to be.

    Of course, my favourite advertising campaign of all time had to be Daikatana, with that advert saying “John Romero is going to make you his bitch again” or something along those lines. The backlash was hilariously brilliant, not to mention that it pretty much killed the game! Bahaha!

    • Chad M. says:

      Haha! I remember that…of course I was one of the poor saps who bought Daikatana saying “Oh it can’t be THAT bad.”

  3. Oh crap! I’m gonna go on record as saying that I actually liked the Dead Space 2 ad campaign. *ducks flying vegetables*

    Like you, I was part of the built-in audience for the game, so the ads didn’t pull me in, but they didn’t offend me or drive me away either. I will say that I just thought they were funny, and I guess I’m a bit juvenile like that (although I like to think of myself as sophisticated in some other respects, but I think there’s an eight year old somewhere missing his sense of humor ‘cos I have it).

    In my defense, it didn’t occur to me that the ads were pandering to a baser audience, and I do see the point that has been made about that in a few articles I’ve read.

  4. Joe Walker says:

    The thing that killed me about the Dead Space 2 ad campaign was the whole “YOUR MOM HATES DEAD SPACE 2” thing only appeals to people who are too young to play the game in the first place. 😛

  5. Gregg B says:

    Great article Chad, I’d never seen that Dragon Age ad before but wow, what a stinker. The Fallout 3 trailer was fantastic.

    I seem to remember an article on here about the Gamestation ads that ran quite recently saying something along the lines of ‘Cheaper than your girlfriend’ which I admittedly laughed out loud at. The ‘Your Mom hates Dead Space 2’ thing doesn’t really bother me but I understand where you’re coming from and yeah, it totally reminds me of John Romero’s Daikatana catch line.

    There was a magazine ad for Battlecruiser 2000AD that I saw back when I was a kid, it featured a panty-less Jo Guest with legs akimbo covering her privates up with the game box. At the time, I was without doubt uh, ‘aroused’ by it but I noticed the following month that some pants had been ‘put’ on to her. She was no longer naked behind that box. You can see the image here . A totally ridiculous ad but I remember it very clearly.

    • Chad M. says:

      Wasn’t Battlecruiser the game that shipped unplayable, and then they released a patch that made the bugs worse and created new ones? Seems like that’s what I myself remember most about it…

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