The other day I was watching my good friend Max as he was attempting to play a game at one of the many Pokemon sites on the web.
Max is 5.
The game was pretty lousy. Translation: I couldn’t figure out how to play (expected) and neither could Max (shocking). But Max could figure out one part of the experience on the site. The ads.
The site featured one of those win a free iPod flash banners where the user is invited to place a target over an iPod, click to shoot, and then leave the world of bad games and enter the game of wanton product pitches.
Because the game was so bad and so complicated, it wasn’t all that easy for me to convince Max that targetting an iPod was a bad idea. I tried to explain that the marketers were just trying to trick kids like Max into shooting an iPod. Max sort of bought it but believe me when I tell you that he wanted to shoot.
Informing kids about the goals of marketers is complex enough enough when the marketing messages are at least somewhat distinct from the other content. But what happens when the ad is the content and the content is the ad?
For a case in point, take a look at MTV’s latest reality show called Power Girls. It’s described by the producers in this way: “The life of a PoweR Girl at Lizzie Grubman’s New York City PR firm is sometimes glamorous, sometimes stressful but always exciting. Don’t miss the drama.”
This show is a series of marketing messages piled on top of each other and interupted only by commercial breaks. Grubman likely lined up the reality show so that she could boost up her own image that was a bit soiled when she backed her S.U.V. into a group of people and then drove away (oops). Grubman can use this show to make it clear that she is back in business and to enable potential customers to associate her brand with something other than the bumper of her car. In some cases, being known as the PR person self-absorbed enough to develop a show about yourself can actually be seen as a step up.
Of course, the marketing doesn’t stop there. Remember that Grubman’s clients hire her to get them facetime at major events where they hope to be photographed or videotaped. So it’s not too shabby that she can now throw in an appearance on her show. For example, after watching the first episode, I know that Ja Rule has a new album out. Not a bad throw-in. And I know this because the episode featured Ja doing an autograph signing at the opening of a new Bally’s in Philly. Something tells me that the same signing probably wouldn’t have registered on my radar had I not watched this MTV show (and that would be true even if I lived in Philly, worked at Bally’s, and was part of Ja Rule’s inner posse).
Oh yeah, and the Power Girls website provides a helpful list of all of the music played on the show.
If I can’t do a reasonably effective job of convincing Max not to shoot at the iPods in a banner ad, how can I begin to explain the multiple layers of marketing being forced down his throat by shows like this one?
Luckily, he prefers the Cartoon Channel to MTV, but that will change real soon.