Obama campaign brings ads to video games

One professor dubs the strategy "San Andreas Populism."

Published October 15, 2008 5:37PM (EDT)

It increasingly looks like Barack Obama is going after bigger and bigger stakes -- and (hopefully) a bigger and bigger win. After recently putting down no less than $2 million on 30 minutes of airtime on CBS and NBC, it's just been confirmed that Obama has released what appears to be the first in-game political advertisement. You can find the ad while playing Electronic Arts' "Burnout Paradise" on XBox 360. National Public Radio also reported this morning that the Obama campaign is "running ads in 18 video games, targeting 10 states that allow early voting."

The ad features the visage of the junior senator from Illinois, and has the text "Early Voting Has Begun/Voteforchange.com/Paid for by Obama for President." It appears in the game just as a billboard would on a highway.

The company won't say how much the Obama campaign paid for the pleasure.

"There are many advantages to in-game advertising," Electronic Arts spokesperson Jeff Brown wrote me in an e-mail.

"We're in close contact with a well-defined demographic -- young people (mostly males) aged 15 to 35. Our average customer is a 27-year-old male. And where television and radio use interstitials that interrupt the consumer experience for an advertisement, in-game advertising puts the promotion directly into the content. We stream the ads onto billboards that players see in cityscapes, a stadium, etc. They don't have to stop the action, to see the ad."

He added that the Obama ad is the first political ad the company has run in a game, but "we wouldn't hesitate to run ads from other candidates."

Under what criteria could an ad appear in an E.A. game?

"There are many details, but basically if it's a a spot for a legal business and doesn't violate profanity restrictions, we run it," he wrote.

So how do video gamers respond to the ad? I checked in with Justin McElroy, an editor at Joystiq, a popular video-game blog. In an IM interview, he told me: "I think this is one of those cases where the medium really is the message. I think, on some level, gamers will respond to a candidate who took the time and money to put an ad in their game. It also shows me that Obama's got some pretty tech savvy people on the team."

Indeed it does. I know that from a tech perspective I've been constantly impressed with how Obama's been able to tap the tech crowd. McElroy also pointed out the fact that Obama made a virtual appearance in "Second Life" last year -- certainly the only candidate to appeal directly to the online furry community.

Other experts, like Davis Houck, a professor of communications at Florida State University, agreed. He wrote me in an e-mail that this new in-game ad would only help Obama further.

"I think it says loudly and clearly that [Barack Obama] is hip, knows his target audience's tastes in entertainment and technology, and, contra [John McCain], he actually does know how to use a computer, operate a Play Station, and joust in the hyper-mediated realities of 21st century America," he wrote. "In brief, this is more cultural capital he's accruing with the younger set -- the group which will put him over the top in three weeks.

"The ad's placement is basically a part of a much larger mosaic that BO has attempted to draw. Whether it's shooting hoops (and well), texting the country of his Veep choice (at an ungodly hour), and not being a square when it comes to pop culture more generally, this ad is in perfect keeping with his campaign's sensibilities. Perhaps we can coin a phrase and call it 'San Andreas Populism'?"

That works for me. Let's just hope that more of my 20-something generation gets off their collective video-game-playing butts and actually goes to the polls, or votes early by mail.

[via GigaOm]

By Cyrus Farivar

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